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What ordinances and policies promote nonmotorized transportation?

Ordinances and policies that address the connection between transportation, land uses, and neighborhood/street design concurrently are the most likely to enhance the walkability and bikeability of a community. Currently, under a system called Euclidean Zoning, many land use ordinances are zoned to separate land uses so that residential uses are not mixed in with retail and commercial uses. However, this often increases the distance between destination points (such as home, the grocery store, school, or work), making biking and walking to destinations less feasible. Thus, land use ordinances may be an important way to influence transportation mode choice.

Studies show that minimizing the distance between destination points and including a centralized, diverse, and attractive mix of uses (i.e., shopping centers, grocery stores, schools, offices, parks, etc.) at those destination locations significantly increases the likelihood of people choosing to walk to those locations (1). People are more likely to choose a nonmotorized form of transportation if the distance between where they are and where they want to go is a reasonable distance to walk (usually less than a mile). Other studies have shown that employees living within a mile of their place of work are far more likely to walk to work than those living further (2). For pedestrians, the distance the average person will walk to get somewhere is about �‚¼ - �‚½ miles, and for the average bicyclist the distance is about 2 miles (3). Any further and most people would consider walking or bicycling as impractical due to travel time or effort.

The following are some examples of land use policies and ordinances that can be used to promote nonmotorized transportation:

  • Modifying the land use zoning ordinance to include mixed use zoning to encourage diversified developments incorporating residential, retail, and commercial uses in neighborhood, town, or city centers is one step that can be taken to bring destinations closer to each other.
  • Form based codes provide an alternative to land use zoning, and are increasingly gaining popularity as flexible tools for incorporating mixed uses while simultaneously unifying the streetscape. Form based codes outline the urban design of spaces, buildings and streets in a district, but does not dictate the uses. Most form based codes are designed with the pedestrian scale in mind. Another definition is located at http://www.formbasedcodes.org/what-are-form-based-codes.
  • Transit-oriented development (TOD) encourages village-like mixed use growth and development around transit nodes. They are often designed with a �‚¼ - �‚½ mile diameter to ensure that all residents can comfortably access the transit stop and surrounding destinations on foot. Traffic-calming measures, stronger parking policies, and adequate bicycle facilities are also usually included.
  • Other land use-related ordinances that influence transportation choice are SmartCode, mixed use in-fill, performance-based zoning, and overlay districts. More information about each of these tools can be found at: http://www.walkinginfo.org/develop/policies-land.cfm.

Additionally, ordinances and policies that ensure the inclusion of infrastructure and facilities that accommodate nonmotorized travel modes are important as well, as the physical environment also influences the decision to walk or bike (4). Some policies addressing infrastructure and road design include:

  • Complete Streets Ordinances are a comprehensive re-evaluation of a state or local jurisdiction's transportation policies and plans (i.e. long range plans, financial sustainability, design manuals, etc.) to fully integrate multi-modal users. More information can be found at http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/library/details.cfm?id=3968.
    For a listing of states with Complete Streets Ordinances, see http://www.completestreets.org/.
    For an FAQ on "What are Complete Streets and why should we build them?" see http://www.walkinginfo.org/faqs/answer.cfm?id=3467.
  • Road Dieting is a process that retrofits roads that have been overbuilt for automobile travel, often modifying four lane roads down to three or two lanes to accommodate bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or on-street parking. The following paper describes the needs for and the benefits of road dieting, supplemented by case studies: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/library/details.cfm?id=2461.
    The following FAQ discusses the advantages and disadvantages of road dieting: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/faqs/answer.cfm?id=3479.
  • Context Sensitive Solutions is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in the development of transportation facilities that fit their physical setting and preserve scenic, aesthetic, historical and environmental resources while maintaining safety and mobility. The practice attempts to address concerns of all users before moving forward. Find more information at
    http://www.walkinginfo.org/faqs/answer.cfm?id=3468. To learn more about CSS, see http://www.contextsensitivesolutions.org/.
  • Neighborhood Design guidelines are in response to the lack of planning in neighborhoods with regard to pedestrians and bicycles. As many street and infrastructure guidelines were written immediately following World War II, they were designed for the automobile, with wide lanes and a lack of connectivity. Many neighborhoods can benefit from a redesign initiative incorporating supportive infrastructure to walking and bicycling. Find more information about "Subdivision and Street Design Regulations" at http://www.walkinginfo.org/develop/policies-subdivision.cfm.
    More information about how to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians in street design can be found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bikeped/Design.htm.
    Additionally, a blog about the relationship between street width and pedestrian crashes is available at http://newurbanengineering.com.

With regard to street design, there are a number of elements to consider that can be helpful in improving the walking and bicycling environment. Some of them are:

  • Street trees (location, type, frequency, etc.)
  • Lighting (human scale, aesthetically pleasing, etc.)
  • Maximum building setbacks/increased street frontage
  • Sidewalk width
  • Buffer zone/furniture zone (may include street trees, benches, parked cars, etc.)
  • Speed limits
  • Signal timing

More information about common obstacles in unfriendly pedestrian environments and how they can be improved can be found at http://www.walkinginfo.org/problems/problems.cfm.

More information:


  1. McCormack, G., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2008). The relationship between destination proximity, destination mix and physical activity behaviors. Preventative Medicine. 46:1, 33-40. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071
  2. Cerin, E. et al. (2007). Destinations that matter: Associations with walking for transport. Health & Place. 13:3, 713-724. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2006.11.002
  3. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/planning/tod_docs/walking_distance_abstracts.pdf
  4. Lee, C. (2007). Correlates of walking for transportation or recreation purposes. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 3, 77-98.