Active Transportation and Micromobility

Photo of people riding bikes.

Active transportation is human-powered mobility, such as biking or walking. Active transportation directly replaces motor vehicle miles traveled, so these modes are effective at reducing vehicle emissions, bridging the first- and last-mile gap, conserving fuel, and improving individual and public health. Bicycles, electric bikes, wheelchairs, scooters, skateboards, and even walking are all considered active transportation.

Electric bikes (e-bikes) can be a low-cost pathway to reduce energy consumption while serving as an alternative to car use. Their energy use can be as high as 3,800 mpg equivalent and charging costs can be less than $50 per year, even for daily riding. E-bikes have seen a recent boom in sales, with e-bike sales outpacing electric vehicle sales by 20% in the United States in 2022. About 1 million e-bikes were sold, a 13.6% increase from 880,000 in 2021. Some of this momentum may be attributed to new incentive programs such as Denver’s e-bike rebate program offering $400 for purchase of an e-bike, and $1,200 for income-qualified residents. The Colorado Energy Office will build on this success in 2023 by launching a $12 million statewide rebate program for low- and moderate-income Coloradans. California is similarly launching a rebate program in 2023, offering $1,000 vouchers for an e-bike and up to $1,750 vouchers for an adaptive or cargo e-bike for eligible residents.

Programs that offer bike- or scooter-sharing can expand the benefits of active transportation to even more people, including those that may not otherwise have access to their own bike or scooter. Local governments and partners can implement sharing programs for either manual or electric options to increase access, ridership, and public comfort and awareness for these energy-efficient modes. These programs can be thought of as extensions of public transit and can provide an effective first-mile last-mile solution for residents. Education programs have also been shown to improve ridership by teaching riders how to ride safely and how to repair and maintain their bicycles.

Providing maps of cyclist-friendly routes, bike share stations, and supporting infrastructure is another way to facilitate bike riding. An example is the Denver Regional Bicycle Map.

Infrastructure Development

Active transportation requires a dedicated network of sidewalks, bike lanes, bike paths, overpasses, crosswalks, and bike racks to ensure people can get where they need to go safely and efficiently. Transportation planners and Public Works can support active transportation by developing infrastructure that can support users' safety and convenience including dedicated and protected bike lanes and sufficient lighting along routes for evening riders. Employers can provide building upgrades like bike racks, locker rooms, or showers, and bicycle maintenance facilities to make it easier for employees to commute by active transportation. Additionally, cycling infrastructure can make cities more equitable because it can be a lower cost mode of transportation available to a broader range of residents. Analysis from CityLab showed that while all income categories have bike commuters, bike-riding skews toward lower-income households on average.

The Big Jump Project is helping 10 U.S. cities each year to improve their bicycling infrastructure and boost ridership by building biking networks and conducting outreach to encourage people to ride more.

To help improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, state and local jurisdictions have enacted several local laws. Two common examples are safe passing laws and vulnerable road user laws. Bicycle advocacy groups including the League of American Bicyclists and PeopleForBikes promote policies and infrastructure development to encourage safety for users of these active modes. And government organizations like Metro in Portland, Oregon are developing regional active transportation networks to make it easier to walk, ride a bike, and access transit through stronger pedestrian and bicycle policies.

Shared Micromobility Programs

Shared micromobility refers to fleets of fully or partially human-powered vehicles including manual bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters that individuals can access for short-term use. Micromobility options fill a gap in needs for single segment or one-way trips, allowing users to avoid the costs of purchasing, maintaining, and storing a bike. These solutions also present another way to close first-and-last-mile gaps by providing a more affordable, accessible, and equitable way for individuals to get to and from public transit options.

These shared small vehicles are typically found in higher-density urban areas, though micromobility systems exist in communities of various sizes. Users can access bikes through web- or app-based platforms and pay through membership plans or by individual rides. Memberships and payment schedules usually encourage many short trips instead of fewer long trips to minimize bicycle downtime. When a user completes a trip, they either return the bike or scooter to a docking area or, in most dockless systems, can leave it where their trip ends.

In recent years, the deployment of micromobility sharing services (bikes and scooters) has expanded rapidly in cities across the United States. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the number of shared bike and scooter trips in the 100 largest U.S. cities increased from 320,000 in 2010 to 84 million in 2018 and then again to 136 million in 2019, representing a 60% increase in a single year from 2018 to 2019. Despite a 70% decrease in 2020 ridership numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021 trips increased to 112 million, nearing the pre-pandemic levels. As one example, Capital Bikeshare partners with public and private organizations to make more than 5,000 bicycles available at more than 700 stations across the Washington, D.C., metro area. Policy and research relevant resources exist specific to micromobility, for example the Shared Micromobility Playbook published by Transportation for America and the Shared Mobility Policy Playbook by the Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center. When choosing e-bikes or e-scooters for a system, it is important to make sure that they are tested and labeled as fire safe by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), as numerous fires have been caused by untested and non-standardized equipment. More broadly speaking, municipalities should require any electric bike or scooter sold within their jurisdiction to be UL-listed.

More Resources

The U.S. Department of Transportation has published a detailed list of additional resources on the "Expand and Improve Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure" page, which includes case studies, best practices, research, and policies related to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and safety.