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2018 State Report Cards on Active Kids and Communities Show Opportunities to Strengthen Policy for Walking

A new report out from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and the Y, Making Strides: 2018 State Report Cards on Support for Walking, Bicycling, and Active Kids and Communities, analyzes state policy in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia to provide a snapshot of each state’s support for walking, biking, and physical activity. The report cards look at 27 indicators of support across four key areas:  Complete Streets and Active Transportation, Safe Routes to School and Active Transportation Funding, Active Neighborhoods and Schools, and State Physical Activity Planning and Support. Several indicators provide key insights for where advocates and decision makers can prioritize investments in walking.

Nearly all of the indicators studied in the report cards have some impact on walking and walkable communities. From how states allocate funding to active transportation and Safe Routes to School projects, to whether states have adopted formal goals to increase walking mode share and decrease pedestrian fatalities, to policies around school siting and supportive neighborhoods for physical activity, your state’s score across these indicators creates a comprehensive picture of its support for active, walkable communities. Advocates and practitioners can also use the report cards to identify areas of weakness, which translate into opportunities to increase a state’s commitment for walking in the future.

Below are a few key areas of insight that are of particular interest for supporters of walking and walkable communities.

Designing Walkable Streets, Increasing Walking, and Making it Safer

State policies, goals, and guidance that promote walking and active transportation play a crucial role in encouraging and enabling safe walking. The report finds that overall, 34 states have some form of Complete Streets policy in place, with two new states adopting policies since 2017. New to the 2018 report cards is our analysis of the specific type of Complete Streets policy: whether the state has adopted legislation or a transportation department policy, or both, and the strength of the language within the policy for including mandatory requirements for active transportation infrastructure.

The report also looks at whether states have adopted formal goals to lower walking and bicycling fatalities and increase mode share. Most states have adopted goals to lower walking and bicycling fatalities. Only Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma have not adopted any goals in this area. One state, Delaware, has a goal to reduce walking fatalities but not bicycling. Forty states have goals to increase levels of biking and walking, while two additional states have goals to increase either walking or biking but not both.

Prioritizing Equity with Funding for Walking Projects in High-Needs Communities

Federal transportation funding goes disproportionately to fund infrastructure for motor vehicles, which receive about 80 percent of federal funding, compared to just one percent for active transportation infrastructure. Because these dollars are so scarce, it is crucial that they be used effectively. State departments of transportation have major control over how federal funds are used to make communities safer for walking. This is particularly important when it comes to a state’s commitment to ensuring that high-needs and low-income communities are receiving funds in an equitable fashion. States can prioritize equity in active transportation funding by awarding extra points in funding competitions to disadvantaged or high-needs communities, and/or by supplying required matching funds to those communities.

The report finds that 16 states provide some type of extra points in scoring for disadvantaged or high-needs communities in their statewide TAP competitions. In 13 states, the state supplies the required matching funding for disadvantaged or high-needs communities, ensuring that these communities can compete for funding without worrying about coming up with matching funding. The map below shows which states provide special consideration and/or matching funding for high-needs communities.

Supporting Walkable Neighborhoods and Schools

People who live in neighborhoods with close access to parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities are not only more likely to be physically active than people who live farther away, they are also more likely to be able to walk or bike to green spaces and physical activity opportunities. The report cards assign grades to states based on the percentage of youth in a state with recreation centers available in their neighborhood, and the percent of population of a state that lives within a half mile of a park.

New to the 2018 report cards is an analysis that grades states based on school siting and design policies. Smart school siting policies encourage schools to be located close to where students live, making it easier for families to choose walking and biking over driving to school. The report finds that 14 states encourage consideration of walking, biking, or Safe Routes to School in school siting decisions, and seven states encourage states to be located near parks or other community facilities.

The Big Picture

Overall, states made progress in their support for walking and biking from 2016 to 2018, but they still need a significant push to make deeper commitments. Most states are still scoring in the middle categories (Warming Up and Making Strides), with a similar distribution to the 2016 report cards. Additionally, we see the same regional trends as in 2016, with the Western and Mid-Atlantic states showing the highest overall scores, and the Midwest, South, and Mountain West showing the lowest scores.

For a deeper dive into the state report cards: