Report: Active Transportation a Civil Rights Issue?

Are bicycle commuting and walking civil rights issues? It’s just four short paragraphs in the 48-page Active Transportation for America report issued by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Bikes Belong, but this argument is unmistakable:

Questions associated with mobility and transportation choice are not limited to issues of economic efficiency. We must also acknowledge that for many Americans driving is not an option.

More than 60 million Americans are not allowed to drive because they are too young. Another 30 million adults are not licensed to drive for a variety of reasons including economics, age, disability and choice. Eight million Americans above the age of 60 do not have a driver’s license, and many more licensed drivers choose not to drive.

A surprising number of families, especially in urban areas, do not have access to an automobile. In Washington, D.C., 37 percent of households do not own an automobile.

Access to mobility is crucial to thrive economically, socially and physically. The transportation needs of these large segments of the American population need to be met with a mix of bicycling, walking and public transportation options. Transportation in America must be accessible for all Americans. Bicycling and walking are crucial in providing universal mobility.

I think this argument is as powerful as many of the typical arguments involving health and economic benefits. I think it’s as important an argument for bicycling and walking as the environmental argument. All it gets is the four paragraphs I’ve reproduced here.

Perhaps the report’s writers think the civil rights issues is assumed in other areas of the report. I believe, however, the civil rights argument could be one the main arguments. Making this argument could open up a whole new stream of funding.

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Comments 5

  1. shek wrote:

    One of the things that pushed me more to be car independent was that the city was almost imposing on me to own a car. I dont like being backed into a corner. I dont like having no other options (the bus service of JTA is not an acceptable plan B)!

    Growing up in a country with a fairly recent history of independence from a foreign power, I feel very strongly about limited choices. If you think it is civil rights, damn right it is!

    Michael Lewyn ( has a few interesting papers, one of which suggest that such an automobile dependence is like a form of tax. I dont want to pay that kind of tax either. It does more harm than good.

    Posted 22 Oct 2008 at 2:19 pm
  2. shek wrote:

    good video here:

    Posted 22 Oct 2008 at 2:21 pm
  3. admin wrote:

    Shek… Thanks for those links. The tax issue is particularly interesting.

    Posted 22 Oct 2008 at 3:23 pm
  4. Kevin Mills wrote:

    As co-author of Active Transportation for America, I thank you for your attention to our report and the critical equity issues at play in transportation policy.

    Perhaps our most fundamental conclusion is that more balanced transportation systems would better meet the needs of all Americans. To get there, communities ought to be designed to serve people, not only their automobiles.

    Our report tells the story of diverse neighborhoods in Washington, DC, where the residents walk across dangerous freight rail lines to get to their train. A pedestrian bridge and a rail-trail will provide a safe and direct route to access public transportation. We also tell of efforts in Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, to offer “universal mobility” to all its residents.
    Camden, NJ, where 40% of residents do not own a car in large part due to lower incomes, aims to build a trail network to revitalize and address social and economic isolation. And we tell a similar story about recovery efforts in New Orleans.

    Those who do not drive deserve safe and convenient ways to get from where they live to where they work and play. You have helped Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to shine a spotlight on this compelling issue.

    Kevin Mills
    Vice President of Policy
    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Posted 23 Oct 2008 at 2:51 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Kevin… thanks for your comment. The report is helping us make a case for more funding in Springfield. I also wrote about the report in regard to cycling benefits for local business.

    Posted 23 Oct 2008 at 5:40 pm