A report released by the Rails to Trails Conservancy asserts that people in rural areas walk and bike at rates much like their metropolitan counterparts. The “Active Transportation Beyond Urban Centers” reveals important details about America’s travel patterns in rural communities that the Rails to Trails Conservancy hopes will garner support for more federal investment in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
The report presents The Rural Policy Research Institute’s (RPRI) analysis of the 2009 National Household Travel Survey. The RPRI uses alternative geographic classifications for “rural” areas with the belief that the “rural” versus “urban” dichotomy is too simplistic. The RPRI classifies five different types of rural communities based on the Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCAs) developed at the University of Washington. These five depend on factors including population size as well as whether these communities are tourist destinations, agricultural communities, or exurbs, and are as follows: large rural core, outer large rural, small rural core, outer small rural, and isolated rural.
Rates of bicycling in some of the smaller towns outpace those in some urban centers:
“[t]he share of work trips made by bicycle in small towns (Small Rural Core, 2,500 –10,000 people) is nearly double that of urban centers. And among all trips taken in towns between 10,000 and 50,000 population in rural regions (Large Rural Core on accompanying charts), just as many people bike as in the urban core..”
Surprising information, perhaps, but the report cites many reasons for this relatively high bicycle use, including that many of these smaller towns were founded before World War II and were originally designed with pedestrians in mind. Another reason for higher biking rates is that parents in small towns may feel it is safer for their children to bike to school, and seniors may find it easier to walk to their destinations in smaller neighborhoods.
A declining population and downturns in the economy, including the agricultural and mining sectors, are contributing to limited budgets. These rural areas depend more and more on federal programs to fill in the breaks in the transportation system that occur when cities lose their tax revenue. Federal programs include the Transportation Enhancements grants, the Safe Routes to School Program, and the Bike/Walk Pilot Program, all of which would be eliminated with the Transportation Bill.
Source: Networked Blogs