Why People Use Active Transportaion Less and Drive More

I have not been able to post for the last week and a half. I was busy completing my 129 page final document for the graduate project. If all goes well I will have a diploma by the end of summer. Basically, all I did was work on the document and sleep a meager 4 hours a night, so no time for blog, life or much of anything.

Today’s post looks at one of the main reasons Americans spend so much time sitting in their automobiles trying to get to places instead of using some form of Active Transportation. Active transportation includes, but is not limited to, walking, biking and using mass transit ( you have to walk to and from bus stops and transfer points).

Most trips are three miles or less, and many individuals can easily makes these trips by other active modes of transportation instead of the automobile.[1]

So why do more individuals not make three miles or less trips in a mode other than the automobile? Many Americans have developed a pattern of turning to their automobile first when they want and need to go somewhere. The prime reason for this has to do with the built environment. The built environment “influences physical activity participation, including recreational walking and walking to and from transit”, and communities that “feature compact development and mixed land uses encourage” active transportation.[2]

Robert Cervero and Roger Gorham argue that since the Highway Act of 1956, road development has taken on a hierarchical road network, were limited-access highways are at the top and local streets at the bottom. Highway design focuses on safely allowing the “greatest volume of traffic to pass at the highest speeds possible”, where the cul-de-sac is about keeping traffic low and slow.[3] This type of hierarchy places a greater importance on efficiently moving automobile, while almost forgetting about the pedestrian.

The cul-de-sac is a way to protect neighborhood children at play from automobiles. However, it also poses challenges for efficient pedestrian movement. For example, the cul-de-sac cuts off direct paths and forces pedestrians to walk long distances to get to places that are geographically a five-minute walk from the pedestrians’ homes. Cervero and Gorham go on to say that, “many modern suburbs limit travel choice by physically designing out all but the automobile option.”[4]

Comparison of area used for steets

Evolutiion of street patterns since 1900 showing gradual adaptaion to the car

While the cul-de-sac, or loops and lollipops, street design implies safety by buffering the neighborhood from the automobile, by making it more difficult for people to get around with other modes of transportation there is an increase in the flow of traffic over all. Without a direct route, residents drive through the entire neighborhood to the one destination they seek to get to. This is one of the reasons Americans find themselves using active forms of transportation less driving more.

until tomorrow


[1] Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. (n.d.). Portland SmartTrips

[2] Besser, L.M.,and Dannenberg A.L. Walking to Public Transit: Steps to Meet Physical Activity Recommendations, pp 1-2.

[3] Cervero, R. and Gorham, R. Commuting in Transit Versus Automobile Neighborhoods, pp. 210-212.

[4] Cervero, R. and Gorham, R. Commuting in Transit Versus Automobile Neighborhoods, pp. 210-212.

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