Report Shows Opportunities to Strengthen State Policies for Physical Activity in Daily Life

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Margaux Mennesson, Safe Routes to School National Partnership | A new report out from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and the YMCA of the USA, 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.

The 2018 State Report Card rankings show that there is enormous opportunity for states to enact new, health-promoting, evidence-based policies and strengthen existing ones to support walking, biking, and physical activity. All of the indicators studied in the report cards have a great impact on a person’s ability to be physically active depending on where they live. Below are three key areas where advocates and practitioners can use these report cards to help make the case for increased funding and support for programs that improve health and well-being for our communities.

Designing Streets for Biking and Walking

One way states can support walking and biking is by adopting Complete Streets policies and strong active transportation design guidelines. This ensures that all across the state, communities must consider the needs of everyone who uses the roads, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation, and provide people with access to better quality sidewalks, bike lanes, safe crossings, and other features. The report cards assess each state based on whether they have adopted a Complete Streets policy, the strength of the Complete Streets policy, and how well the policy is implemented. The report cards also grade states based on whether they have endorsed supportive active transportation design guidelines.

The report finds that two additional states adopted Complete Streets policies between 2016 and 2018, bringing the total to 34. However, there is still opportunity for improvement when it comes to strengthening Complete Streets policies and laying out clear guidelines for implementation.

Prioritizing Equity with Funding for Walking and Biking in High-Needs Communities

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 Transportation Alternatives Program (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 extra dollars. The map below shows which states provide special consideration and/or matching funding for high-needs communities.

Supporting Active Neighborhoods and Schools

People who live in neighborhoods with safe places to be physically active and attend schools that provide regular opportunities for physical activity are more likely to lead active lifestyles. To evaluate state support for active neighborhoods and schools, the report cards look at whether states support shared use of school facilities – that is, allowing the public to use school playgrounds, fields, and other features outside of school hours. The report cards also look at school siting guidelines to see whether states consider students’ ability to walk and bike when planning and designing schools.

The report finds that states made progress in shared use, with the number of states providing funding or incentives for shared use of school facilities jumping from two to 13. The new subtopic of school siting provides a much-needed national overview of how states are doing in terms of both positive and negative school siting policies. Half of the states have some sort of positive school siting encouragement: 14 states encourage consideration of walking, biking, and Safe Routes to School in school siting decisions, seven encourage schools to be built near parks, and 13 require a minimum amount of outdoor recreational space.

The Big Picture

Overall, states made progress in their support for walking, biking, and physical activity 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, the 2018 report finds 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:

  • Download the full report to see how your state scored across all 27 indicators, reflections on what each indicator means for physical activity support, and insights on where your state can improve their score.
  • Need a primer on the state report cards? Check out a quick guide to understanding the report card scores.
  • See a fact sheet on how to use your state report card to influence decision makers and advocate for better policies that support walking and biking.
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