Current Environmental Health Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 278–285 | Cite as

Policies to Promote Active Travel: Evidence from Reviews of the Literature

  • Meghan WintersEmail author
  • Ralph Buehler
  • Thomas Götschi
Built Environment and Health (MJ Nieuwenhuijsen and AJ de Nazelle, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Built Environment and Health


Purpose of review

While many levels of government recognize that walking and cycling (active travel) are critical to healthy cities, a continued challenge is to identify and prioritize strategies that will increase walking and cycling for transportation. We review evidence on policies that can increase active travel.

Recent findings

The reviews included here conclude that policies related to active travel may operate at various levels of the socio-ecological framework, including society, cities, routes or individuals. The provision of convenient, safe and connected walking and cycling infrastructure is at the core of promoting active travel, but policies may work best when implemented in comprehensive packages.


There is strong evidence that active travel can result in substantial health benefits. However, there remains considerable uncertainty about the exact effects of specific policies on walking or cycling rates or safety. Further research is needed to quantify the impact of specific policies or packages of policies, especially across different settings or for different population segments.


Active travel Policy Bicycle Walking Bicycling 



This manuscript is based on a research brief prepared by the authors for Active Living Research, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We would like to acknowledge Prabhu Ponkshe, Jim Sallis, David R. Bassett, Jr., Sean Co, Ruth L. Steiner and other Robert Wood Johnson staff for their valuable feedback and contributions as part of the research brief. We also acknowledge Kyle Lukacs for his help collecting and organizing the literature and thank the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech for financially supporting Lukacs’ work. We also acknowledge Moreno Zanotto for assistance with manuscript preparation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Meghan Winters, Thomas Götschi and Ralph Buehler declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.
    Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. Physical activity guidelines advisory committee report, 2008. Washington, DC; 2008.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kelly P, Kahlmeier S, Götschi T, Orsini N, Richards J, Roberts N, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of reduction in all-cause mortality from walking and cycling and shape of dose response relationship. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2014;11:132.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Oja P, Titze S, Bauman A, de Geus B, Krenn P, Reger-Nash B, et al. Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21:496–509.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Saunders LE, Green JM, Petticrew MP, Steinbach R, Roberts H. What are the health benefits of active travel? A systematic review of trials and cohort studies. PLoS One. 2013;8:e69912.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Woodcock J, Franco OH, Orsini N, Roberts I. Non-vigorous physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Int J Epidemiol. 2011;40:121–38.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hamer M, Chida Y. Active commuting and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analytic review. Prev Med (Baltim). 2008;46:9–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hamer M, Chida Y. Walking and primary prevention: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Br J Sports Med. 2008;42:238–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Doorley R, Pakrashi V, Ghosh B. Quantifying the health impacts of active travel: assessment of methodologies. Transp Rev. 2015;35:559–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    • Mueller N, Rojas-Rueda D, Cole-Hunter T, de Nazelle A, Dons E, Gerike R, et al. Health impact assessment of active transportation: a systematic review. Prev Med (Baltim). 2015;76:103–14. This study provides a systematic review of health impacts of active travel policies CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Teschke K, Reynolds CCO, Ries FJ, Gouge B, Winters M. Bicycling: health risk or benefit? UBC Med J. 2012;3:6–11.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    FHWA. Our nation’s travel. Analysis of the 2009 NHTS. Washington, DC; 2010.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Statistics Canada. 2011 National Household Survey. In: Stat. Canada Cat. no. 99–012-X2011064. 2013. Accessed 27 Feb 2017.
  13. 13.
    Bassett DR, Pucher J Jr, Buehler R, Thompson DL, Crouter SE. Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia. J Phys Act Health. 2008;5:795–814.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Buehler R, Pucher J, Merom D, Bauman A. Active travel in Germany and the U.S.: contributions of daily walking and cycling to physical activity. Am J Prev Med. 2011;41:241–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    •• Handy S, Van Wee B, Kroesen M. Promoting cycling for transport: research needs and challenges. Transp Rev. 2014;34:4–24. This review provides outlines the key questions facing bicycling research, and provides guidance to address the research needs CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Hiatt R. An alternative to auto LOS for transportation impact analysis. Transp. Res. Board 85th Annu. Meet. 2006.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Shoup DC. The high cost of free parking. Updated ed. Chicago, IL: Planners Press, American Planning Association; 2011.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    FHWA. Funding for highways and disposition of highway-user revenues, all units of government, 2012, Table HF 10. Federal Highway Association, US Dep. Transp. 2014.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Buehler R, Gotschi T, Winters M. Moving toward active transportation: how policies can encourage walking and bicycling. Active Living Research Brief. Released January 2016.
  20. 20.
    Krizek K, Forsyth A, Baum L. Walking and cycling international literature review. Victoria Dep. Transp. Melbourne, Aust; 2009.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Sallis J, Cervero R, Ascher W, Henderson K, Kraft M, Kerr J. An ecological approach to creating active living communities. Annu Rev Public Health. 2006;27:297–322.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ewing R, Cervero R. Travel and the built environment: a meta-analysis. J Am Plan Assoc. 2010;76:265–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Larouche R. Built environment features that promote cycling in school-aged children. Curr Obes Rep. 2015;4:494–503.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Pucher J, Dill J, Handy S. Infrastructure, programs, and policies to increase bicycling: an international review. Prev Med. 2010;50:S106–25.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    •• Buehler R, Dill J. Bikeway networks: a review of effects on cycling. Transp Rev. 2015;1647:1–19. Reviews evidence on the connection between cycling levels and different types of bikeway infrastructure—ranging from cycling in the road with traffic to separated bike paths Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Fraser SDS, Lock K. Cycling for transport and public health: a systematic review of the effect of the environment on cycling. Eur J Pub Health. 2011;21:738–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Galvez MP, Pearl M, Yen IH. Childhood obesity and the built environment. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2010;22:202–7.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Heath GW, Brownson RC, Kruger J, Miles R, Powell KE, Ramsey LT. The effectiveness of urban design and land use and transport policies and practices to increase physical activity: a systematic review. J Phys Act Health. 2006;3:S55–76.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Larouche R, Saunders TJ, John Faulkner GE, Colley R, Tremblay M. Associations between active school transport and physical activity, body composition, and cardiovascular fitness: a systematic review of 68 studies. J Phys Act Health. 2014;11:206–27.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Macmillan AK, Hosking J, Connor JL, Bullen C, Ameratunga S. A Cochrane systematic review of the effectiveness of organisational travel plans: improving the evidence base for transport decisions. Transp Policy. 2013;29:249–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hosking J, Macmillan A, Connor J, Bullen C, Ameratunga S. Organisational travel plans for improving health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;3:CD005575.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Martin A, Suhrcke M, Ogilvie D. Financial incentives to promote active travel: an evidence review and economic framework. Am J Prev Med. 2012;43:e45–57.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ogilvie D. Promoting walking and cycling as an alternative to using cars: systematic review. BMJ. 2004;329:763.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Ogilvie D, Foster CE, Rothnie H, Cavill N, Hamilton V, Fitzsimons CF, et al. Interventions to promote walking: systematic review. BMJ. 2007;334:–1204.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Rissel C, Curac N, Greenaway M, Bauman A. Physical activity associated with public transport use—a review and modelling of potential benefits. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012;9:2454–78.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Scheepers CE, Wendel-Vos GCW, den Broeder JM, van Kempen E, van Wesemael PJV, Schuit AJ. Shifting from car to active transport: a systematic review of the effectiveness of interventions. Transp Res Part A Policy Pract. 2014;70:264–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Yang L, Sahlqvist S, McMinn A, Griffin SJ, Ogilvie D. Interventions to promote cycling: systematic review. BMJ. 2010;341:c5293.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Cui Y, Mishra S, Welch TF. Land use effects on bicycle ridership: a framework for state planning agencies. J Transp Geogr. 2014;41:220–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Meddin R, DeMaio P. The bike-sharing world map. 2016. Accessed 27 Feb 2017.
  40. 40.
    Shaheen S, Martin E, Cohen A, Finson R. Public bikesharing in North America: early operator and user understanding. 2012.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Hamre A, Buehler R. Commuter mode choice and free car parking, public transportation benefits, showers/lockers, and bike parking at work: evidence from the Washington, DC Region. J Public Transp. 2014;17:67–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Hansen AY, Umstattd Meyer MR, Lenardson JD, Hartley D. Built environments and active living in rural and remote areas: a review of the literature. Curr Obes Rep. 2015;4:484–93.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Pucher J, Buehler R, Seinen M. Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies. Transp Res Part A Policy Pract. 2011;45:451–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Gase LN, Barragan NC, Simon PA, Jackson RJ, Kuo T. Public awareness of and support for infrastructure changes designed to increase walking and biking in Los Angeles County. Prev Med (Baltim). 2015;72:70–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Alliance for Biking & Walking. Bicycling and walking in the United States: 2016 benchmarking report; 2016.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Elvik R. The non-linearity of risk and the promotion of environmentally sustainable transport. Accid Anal Prev. 2009;41:849–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Jacobsen P. Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Inj Prev. 2003;9:205–9.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Jacobsen PL, Ragland DR, Komanoff C. Safety in numbers for walkers and bicyclists: exploring the mechanisms. Inj Prev. 2015;21:217–20.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    •• Götschi T, Garrard J, Giles-Corti B. Cycling as a part of daily life: a review of health perspectives. Transp Rev. 2016;36:45–71. This study reviews the most relevant links between cycling and health and presents research approaches and needs, many of which apply equally to walking CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Cavill N, Muller L, Mulhall C, Harold K, Kennedy A, Hillsdon M, et al. Cycling demonstration towns: surveys of cycling and physical activity 2006 to 2009. London, Engl Cycl Engl. 2009.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Litman T. Quantifying the benefits of nonmotorized transportation for achieving mobility management objectives. Transp Res Rec. 2004;1441:134–40.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Sallis J, Spoon C, Cavill N, et al. Co-benefits of designing communities for active living: an exploration of literature. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015;12:30.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Brown V, Diomedi BZ, Moodie M, Veerman JL, Carter R. A systematic review of economic analyses of active transport interventions that include physical activity benefits. Transp Policy. 2016;45:190–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Ogilvie D, Bull F, Cooper A, et al. Evaluating the travel, physical activity and carbon impacts of a ‘natural experiment’ in the provision of new walking and cycling infrastructure: methods for the core module of the iConnect study. BMJ Open. 2012;2:e000694.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Mayne SL, Auchincloss AH, Michael YL. Impact of policy and built environment changes on obesity-related outcomes: a systematic review of naturally occurring experiments. Obes Rev. 2015;16:362–75.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meghan Winters
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ralph Buehler
    • 2
  • Thomas Götschi
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Health SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.School of Public and International AffairsVirginia TechAlexandriaUSA
  3. 3.Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention InstituteUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations