In 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation signed the Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations. This policy encourages transportation agencies to proactively provide convenient, safe, and context-sensitive transportation programs and facilities that accommodate active transportation users of all ages and abilities. Many state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other agencies have adopted similar policy statements, including Complete Streets policies.
Active transportation users include pedestrians, bicyclists, e-bike users, and those who use personal conveyances (defined by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration as roller skates, inline skates, skateboards, baby strollers, scooters, toy wagons, motorized skateboards, motorized toy cars, Segway-style devices, motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs, and scooters for those with disabilities). There is a significant body of literature describing the benefits of active transportation. For active transportation users, these modes not only address mobility and accessibility needs, but also increase levels of physical exercise, improve access to transit, and reduce out-of-pocket travel costs. For communities, benefits from active transportation include more equitable mobility for all demographic groups, healthy and active lifestyles, and local and regional development strategies to reinvigorate commercial districts as well as tourism. Apart from meeting essential mobility needs such as commuting to work or school and accessing health care, active transportation networks can also attract and sustain tourism; many rural communities benefit from being on designated, long-distance cycling routes such as state scenic routes or the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS).
For those who rely on active transportation modes for all or part of a journey, the presence of any gaps in the network reduces the accessibility of valued destinations. Gaps can also increase crashes with motorized vehicles, serious injuries, and fatalities as well as unreported conflicts. Because of the variation among user types, specific mode, land use context, community size, typical conditions of vehicular traffic, climate, and roadway design, the conditions that constitute a gap also vary. In some cases a gap impacts certain users at a specific location. For example, in an urban setting the lack of a curb ramp at one leg of an intersection can preclude wheelchair users from reaching a transit stop on another leg of the intersection. In other contexts, a gap may be larger in scale and affect multiple types of users: a shared-use path may exist from a new school campus to the edge of town, but does not extend into neighborhoods at the center of a community making it difficult for students and staff to reach the new campus. Finally, in rural areas where the road network is sparse, a portion of a long-distance cycling route that is designated on high traffic-stress segments can constitute a gap if it discourages users, degrades cyclists’ experience, and potentially increases the risk of conflicts or crashes.
There is considerable research on active transportation in the areas of safety, roadway and intersection design, travel behavior and preferences. The topic of measuring network connectivity has been extensively researched; the FHWA Guidebook for Measuring Multimodal Network Connectivity provided detailed guidance and examples of methods and measures of active transportation networks, including methods that identify infrastructure gaps.
However, much less is known about the economic, health, and social implications of these gaps, particularly for underserved or marginalized groups. Research is needed to better understand how gaps in the active transportation network affect different users in different contexts.
The objective of this research is to produce a manual on how to estimate the benefits of closing gaps in active transportation networks that provides:
- A summary of existing methods to identify gaps;
- A typology of gaps that reflect user groups and contexts;
- A practitioner-ready methodology that uses an equity lens to estimate the economic, health, and social benefits of closing gaps;
- Effective approaches to prioritizing gaps for long-range planning, programming, and/or project development activities; and
- Guidelines on how to effectively communicate the value of closing gaps to transportation decision-makers, local governments, communities, and other stakeholders.