I’ve lived the majority of my life in an urban environment—but not all of it. For about ten years, I lived in Athens, Ohio—a college town with roughly 22,000 residents in the rural southeast corner of the state.
As a college student, I lived on or close to campus and walked or biked to classes. The university campus is located adjacent to the uptown business district so I also walked or biked to my part-time job, shops and entertainment.
After graduation, I moved to a north end residential neighborhood and went to work for a local non-profit agency. My job required traveling a three-county region so I seldom biked to work, but I frequently saw my neighbors walking and biking to their jobs at the university or uptown.
Athens residents bike and walk to work in large numbers. The city’s 2010 non-motorized transportation plan revealed that nearly 3% biked to work and 42% walked. That’s astounding!
But guess what? Walking and biking are not unusual in small town America. While few communities—large or small—have a non-motorized mode split like Athens, a new report reveals that biking and walking count as a significant means of transportation in rural areas.
ActiveTransportation Beyond Urban Centers: Walking and Bicycling in Small Towns and Rural America, produced by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, dispels the commonly held belief that only city folk bike and walk. From the report:
Due in large measure to lack of heavy traffic, smaller towns offer viable choices for people of all ages to travel without climbing into a car. Parents are more likely to let younger kids bike to school or baseball practice, while seniors feel more comfortable strolling to the library or local café. Many small towns and cities developed prior to World War II were originally designed with pedestrians in mind, so taking a walk downtown or riding a bike for exercise feels safe.
Modest investments to improve biking and walking safety, such as building a sidewalk or sidepath, can be beyond the budget for small towns with declining populations and limited economic opportunities. The very programs under attack by Congress right now, Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School, can be critical funding resources for rural communities. Download the report to learn more about biking and walking in rural America.