Research: Mode Share and Travel Behavior

The built environment—which includes buildings, streets, parks, and other man-made physical surroundings—affects a person’s choices regarding opportunities for physical activity and the safety of engaging in physical activity.


Mode share describes the percentage of trips made or of travelers using a given form of transportation (walking, bicycling, public transportation, or private vehicle). Mode share is influenced by the built environment—the buildings, streets, parks, and other human-made aspects of the physical surrounding.  The built environment can affect a person’s choices regarding forms of travel, opportunities for active transportation and physical activity (Brown et al., 2013), and safety while engaging in active transportation.

The decision to walk or bicycle for short trips often depends on time, purpose, or environmental factors (Simons et al., 2013). Research shows that features of the built environment, such as sidewalks, street lights, traffic and road safety, hills (Broach et al, 2012), trees (Giles-Corti et al., 2011), land-use mix, residential density (Dalton et al., 2011), and overall walkability (Wineman et al., 2014), are related to travel behaviors. Additionally, social connectivity can be an important complement to the physical environment (Hume et al., 2009).

Thus, Safe Routes to School programs include multi-prong approaches to increasing biking and walking school mode share, including physical improvements to the infrastructure around schools, partnerships with local law enforcement to ensure that traffic laws are followed in the school vicinity, and education and encouragement to build a culture of active transportation. Similiarly, consideration of built environment factors that promote active transportation and physical activity can be crucial when siting schools (US EPA, 2003). This section highlights research demonstrating that street characteristics and the built environment can promote physical activity and active travel behaviors, especially among children to and from school.

Research Highlights:

Walking and Bicycling Mode Share Generally

  • Low-income populations have the highest rates of walking and bicycling to work (Snyder, 2014).
  • People of mixed race and Asian Americans have the highest rates of commuting on foot, followed by Latinos at moderately high rates and whites and African Americans at the lowest rates (McKenzie, 2014; McDonald, 2008).  [But note that this does not include walking as part of public transit use, which is very prevalent for African Americans.]
  • Latinos and Native Americans have higher rates of bicycle commuting than whites. Bicycle ridership is growing most rapidly among African Americans and Asian Americans (League of American Bicyclists, 2013).
  • Well-connected street networks are associated with higher participation in walking (Wineman et al., 2014).
  • People bicycling consider distance, number of turns, slope, intersection characteristics, traffic volume, and biking infrastructure for commuting and utilitarian trips (Broach et al., 2012).

Mode Share and Safe Routes to School

  • Since 1969, there has been a dramatic increase in driving children to school as well as a corresponding decrease in walking to school. In 2009, 12.7% of K– 8 students usually walked or biked to school, compared with 47.7% in 1969 (McDonald et al., 2011).
  • The strongest and most frequently reported barrier to walking to school is distance (Van Kann et al., 2015; Gustat et al., 2015; Larsen et al., 2009; Beck, et al., 2008).
  • Parents’ perceptions of route safety are an important influence on child participation in biking and walking to school (DeWeese et al., 2013).
  • School participation in Safe Routes to School programs has been connected with increases in walking and biking to school (Stewart, Moudon, and Claybrooke, 2014; McDonald et al., 2014).
  • In a study in California, children whose school route included a Safe Routes to School construction project such as a sidewalk or crossing improvement were more likely to show increases in active transportation than children who did not pass these projects (15% increase compared to 4%) (Boarnet et al., 2005).
  • Mode share differs across sociodemographic populations, and participation in walking and biking are important components of health equity. Children from low-income households and children of color, particularly Latinos and African Americans, are more likely to bike or walk to school than whites or higher-income students (McDonald, 2008).
  • Shorter distances, presence of street trees, and lower neighborhood income were associated with increased likelihood of active transport to school in Ontario (Giles-Corti, 2013).
  • A review of the literature found that walkability, traffic speed/volume, access/proximity to recreation resources, land-use mix, and residential density were the environmental characteristics most consistently associated with overall physical activity for children (Ding et al, 2011).

Key takeaway: A new survey of residents in Roxbury, a lower income, minority neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts found that despite a shared preference for protected bike lanes across racial groups, there are racial variations in bicycling practices and behavior that can better inform bicycle infrastructure design.


This research project aims to better understand perceptions and attitudes towards bicycling and bike share, as well as the barriers and opportunities for expanding bike share usage in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, particularly in low-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods with residents who are predominantly people of color.


The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is among the first MPOs in the United States to integrate public health (physical activity, air pollution, and traffic crashes) into transportation planning, policy, funding, research, and modeling.


This study assesses the environmental and perceptual correlates of walking and walkability for fifth graders from three communities attending two schools: A new urban/LEED-ND pilot community, mixed, and standard suburban community.


Accessibility metrics tend to be reported as cumulative metrics, which are straightforward to calculate and communicate. However, more meaningful metrics assign different weights (utility) to different destinations based on travel time, instead of assigning arbitrary importance to a specific threshold.


Bicycling is healthy: it increases physical activity, improves cardiovascular health, and reduces obesity and disease. Bicycling also can be an excellent mode of transportation for people of all ages. In fact, bicycling to school has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness and overall health among children and adolescents.



  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released new standards on January 18, 2017 to guide transportation agencies in their measurement of performance, with specific inclusion of transit, biking and walking. 
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Journal Article, Research

Key takeaway:

  • A comprehensive approach to bicycle safety incorporates bicycle education in addition to road engineering.
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Key takeaway:

  • In this study, urban location and decreased distance to school were related to adopting or maintaining active transportation to school.
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Key takeaway:

  • Performance measures directed toward bicycle and pedestrian travel modes are key for evaluating and advocating for active transportation infrastructure and programs.