Active Transportation

This page last reviewed November 13, 2017

Active transportation includes any method of travel that is human-powered, but most commonly refers to walking and bicycling. Thanks in part to recent improvements in bicycling and pedestrian planning, Californians are increasingly likely to get out of their cars and opt to walk or bicycle instead. By using active transportation more often, Californians can make strides towards meeting their recommended daily activity levels, saving money on transportation costs, and reducing their carbon footprint. Combined with other transportation and land use strategies, active transportation can help build more sustainable communities in California.

 Bike commuting in Berkeley  arts district walk
 add description  Women biking
(Photo credits from top left to bottom right: Daniel Parks, Sarah Dominguez, John Swanton, David Marcu)

Statewide Facts

The latest Caltrans household travel survey (2010-2012) shows substantial growth in statewide active transportation trips. Walking trips doubled since 2000 to 16.6 percent while bicycling grew to 1.5 percent of all trips in California. A U.S. Census data analysis by the League of American Bicyclists showed substantial growth between 2000 to 2012 in bicycle commuting among a number of California cities. San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento were three of the top 20 cities nationwide for bicycle commuting in 2012.

Benefits of Active Transportation

Climate Benefits

Many of California’s local and regional governments have improved their active transportation planning efforts due in part to SB 375 and its requirement to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) in California expressly identify measures to increase walking and bicycling in their Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS), which are required by SB 375. ARB strongly encourages efforts to promote active transportation as a climate change mitigation strategy.

Health Benefits

A growing share of Californians struggle with various chronic health issues, such as obesity, that could be prevented with greater physical activity. At the same time, many Californians live in communities where driving feels more convenient and safer than walking or bicycling. By using an active transportation alternative to driving Californians reduce harmful vehicle tailpipe emissions, which also impact public health.

Quality of Life

In addition to health benefits, Californians choose to walk and bicycle for quality-of-life reasons. As the cost of automobile ownership continue to rise, households can save money by choosing to use human powered transportation for some or all of their trips. In recent years, events to showcase the quality-of-life benefits of active transportation have grown across the state. Multiple “car-free” events, such as CicLAvia in Los Angeles and Sunday Streets in San Francisco, provide residents a chance to experience walking and bicycling in a low-stress, car-free environment. In addition, there has been significant growth in participation in Walk to School Day, and research suggests that physically active children are more likely to become healthy, active adults.

Improving Active Transportation Opportunities

At each level- State, Regional, and local- there are opportunities to raise awareness, improve safety, and increase participation in active transportation. This can range from better safety laws for bicyclists, like the 3-foot bicycle passing distance law, to greater investments in bicycle and pedestrian amenities like those included in recent Sustainable Communities Strategies.

Local and Regional Planning

Local governments are working with health groups, environmental justice advocates, transportation organizations, and others to make active transportation in California safer and more convenient. Over 80 local jurisdictions have adopted pedestrian, bicycle, or combined pedestrian/bicycle master plans. Regional governments, MPOs, are increasing their investment in bike and pedestrian infrastructure through their Regional Transportation Plans and adopting supportive policies which their SCSs project to increase the bike/walk mode share in those regions.

Statewide Efforts

Many State agencies support active transportation safety, planning, and implementation efforts, such as the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research, Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the California Department of Public Health, the Strategic Growth Council, the California State Transportation Agency, and the California Office of Traffic Safety. California continues to pass legislation and build programs that boost use of active transportation. Examples include the Complete Streets Act, the Active Transportation Program, the Three Feet for Safety Act, the Sustainable Communities Planning Grants, and the Caltrans Complete Streets Deputy Directive.

ARB Research and State Programs

The following resources offer more information about making active transportation safer and more accessible.

Research on the Impact of Bike and Pedestrian Activity on Vehicle Miles Traveled (2013-2014)
A collection of policy briefs and technical background about the impact of active transportation policies and strategies on vehicle miles travelled.

Health Benefits of Physical Activity: Implications for Sustainable Communities (from ARB Board Meeting June 25, 2015)
A presentation highlighting the research linking physical activity and health.

California State Bike Plan
The process is underway to develop the first-ever California State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which will guide the State in developing an integrated, multi-modal transportation network for all users.

California Active Transportation Safety Information Page
Resources to encourage and promote safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized road users, including links to Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans across the state.

Tools and resources from the California Department of Public Health’s program to create walkable communities.
Caltrans Bicycle Program
Caltrans program to improve safety and convenience for bicyclists.

Safe Routes to School Technical Assistance Resource Center
Trainings, technical assistance, and resources to implement safe and successful Safe Routes to School strategies throughout California.  

For more information or to submit a comment, please contact Amy Volz