12 Reasons Bicycling Will Continue to Soar in Popularity

For too long biking has been viewed skeptically as a white-people thing, a big city thing, an ultra-fit athlete thing, a twenty-something thing, a warm weather thing or an upper-middle class thing. And above all else, it’s seen as a guy thing.

But guess what? The times they are a changing. More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, and bicycles have out-sold cars most years in the US since 2003.

Actually, Latinos bike more than any other racial group, followed by Asians and Native Americans. African-Americans and whites bike at about the same rate.

And, actually, most bicyclists are low-income according to census figures—as many as 49 percent of bike commuters make less than $25,000 a year.

As for other misperceptions, keep in mind that Minneapolis (in chilly Minnesota) and Arlington, VA (in suburban DC) rank among America’s top towns for biking. And the one place where bikes account for more than 20 percent of traffic on local streets is Davis, CA (pop: 65,000).

Slowly but surely, more U.S. communities are realizing that the future of mobility is bigger than cars. Biking is seen as an attractive, cost effective, healthy and convenient way to get around. Bike commuting tripled in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Portland and Denver from 1990 to 2012, and doubled in many other cities.

This success is changing what people see as possible for life on two wheels. There’s a new push to make bike-riding more mainstream by creating low-stress routes that conveniently take even inexperienced bicyclists to the places they want to go on networks of protected bike lanes (where riders are safely separated from speeding traffic) and neighborhood greenways (residential streets where bikers and walkers get priority).

But the culture shift in biking is about more than infrastructure. “It’s the transition from a small group of people who strongly identify as bicyclists to a bigger, broader grouping of people who simply ride bikes.” explains Randy Neufeld, a veteran bike activist from Chicago. The music star Beyonce has been known to pedal to some of her own concerts, for example, and the NBA’s Lebron James bikes to his games.

People who don’t ride are perplexed by this boom in biking. But it comes as no surprise to those who do—they know how good it feels to whoosh on a bike, wind in your face, blood pumping to your legs, the landscape unfolding all around. You feel fully alive!

How we got here—and where we want to go

“If you look at the bike infrastructure we had 20 years ago and what we have today, it’s mind-boggling,” says John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles.

“But we still have a long way to go to make a bike-friendly America,” Burke admits. “This is important for everybody because the bicycle is a simple solution to climate change, congestion and the massive health crisis we have in this nation.”

A quick glance at other nations shows what’s possible. Across the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made on bike—double the rate of the 1980s. Even Canadians bike significantly more than Americans. Montreal and Vancouver are arguably the two top cities for bicycling in North America despite freezing temperatures in one and heavy rainfall in the other. Why? The prevalence of protected bike lanes and other 21st century bike facilities.

12 reasons why bikes will grow in popularity

1. Expanding Diversity Among Riders

People of color and riders over 60 are two of the fastest-growing populations of bicyclists. This is a clear sign of bicycling’s shift from an insider club of Lycra-clad hobbyists to a diverse cross-section of Americans who ride for all sorts of reasons—from getting groceries to losing weight to just having fun.

2. Safer Streets for Kids

In 1969, 40 percent of all children walked or biked to school—by 2001, less than 13 percent did. Over the same period, rates of childhood obesity soared.

That prompted US Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota to add $1.1 billion to the 2005 Transportation Bill to promote Safe Routes to Schools, a variety of projects and programs in all 50 states to make biking and walking less dangerous and more convenient for students K-12. By 2012 (latest figures available), the number of kids biking and walking to school jumped to 16 percent.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

3. More Women Becoming Bike Advocates

Despite biking’s macho man image, almost a third of all trips were taken by women, according to 2009 Federal Highway Administration. That number is very likely to rise in the upcoming count, thanks to streams of women becoming bike advocates—as grassroots activists, transportation professionals and bike industry leaders.

One telling statistic confirms this trend. In 1990, about 10 percent of the crowd at the influential Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference were women, remembers Wisconsin bike advocate Kit Keller. At the most recent conference, women outnumbered men in both the audience and among the speakers.

4. Comfortable, Convenient Bike Routes

Expanding access to biking means moving beyond from stand-alone bike lanes to connected networks that give bicyclists the same ease of mobility that motorists enjoy on roads and pedestrians on sidewalks. That’s how many European nations have achieved big increases in bike ridership over recent decades.

This vision—being jumpstarted in the US by Big Jump Project—can already be glimpsed in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Indianapolis, Austin, Calgary and Fort Collins, Colorado.

5. Bikes Available When You Want Them

Bikeshare systems—where a rental bike is yours at the swipe of a credit card or clicks on a smartphone—have swept across America since 2010. Eighty eight million rides were taken on 42,000 bikes in the 55 largest systems last year, evidence that bikeshare is changing how people—including many who do not own a bike— get around town.

Meanwhile in China, a new kind of bikeshare, where bicycles are available everywhere on the streets not just at designated stations, is resurrecting biking on a dramatic scale.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

6. Riding Boosts Our Health

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity like bicycling five days a week based on medical studies showing that it reduces your chance of dementia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and other health threats by at least 40 percent. Enough said.

7. The Dawn of E-Bikes

This technological innovation—in which riders’ pedaling can be boosted by a rechargeable battery—answers many of the excuses people have for not biking: hills, long distances, sweaty clothes, strong winds, hot weather, cold weather, and not being able to carry things due to weight, says bike activist Randy Neufeld.

8. Growing Clout of Grassroots Activists

Neighbors across the country are rising up to have a say about the future of their communities. Sick and tired of planning decisions that favor automobiles over people, they advocate solutions that promote biking and walking such as Complete Streets (roads designed with all users in mind) and Vision Zero (a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities).

Many bike advocates are also expanding their vision to emphasize social justice. “We must also talk about public health, gentrification, people of color, women who feel harassed on the street, older people,” urges Tamika Butler, former director of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition.

9. Curbing Climate Change

Almost daily headlines remind us that climate disruption is a problem we must fix now. Transportation makes up the second biggest source of greenhouse gases. Seventy-two percent of all trips three mile or less are made by motor vehicles today, the vast majority of which could be biked in less than twenty minutes.

10. The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles

Sooner or later driverless cars will dominate traffic on America’s roads, which could result in a surge of bike riders. Research shows 60 percent of Americans would bike regularly if they felt safer on the streets and this new technology can dramatically reduce crashes. Also, autonomous vehicles require far fewer parking places, opening up space in the street for state-of-the-art bikeways.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

“It may be that only every third street has cars allowed on it,” muses Gabe Klein, former transportation director in Chicago and Washington. “The choices we make about how autonomous vehicles are regulated are crucial. If we get it wrong, the future is grim for any not in a car,” cautions Andy Clarke, Director of Strategy for Toole Design Group.

11. The Emergence of Bike Planning and Advocacy as a Profession

Thousands of professionally-trained people are now employed by government, private business and nonprofit organizations to improve biking in America’s communities.

12. Better Communities—Even for Those Who Don’t Bike

When National Geographic magazine and the Gallup organization recently rated the 25 happiest cities in the US, the article’s author Dan Buettner noted, “There’s a high correlation between bikeability and happiness.”

Click the map to learn more about the Happiest Places.

Even people who never hop on a bike benefit from bike-friendly improvements—a safer environment for walkers and drivers, less traffic and more vital neighborhoods and business districts.

Jay Walljasper—author of The Great Neighborhood Book—consults, writes and speaks about creating vital, equitable, beloved communities.

Automated Vehicles: Back to the Future

A version of this article first appeared on the Safe Routes to School National Partnership blog by Holly Nickel.

When I was growing up, I thought we’d all be zooming around the skies, by now, in our automated bubble vehicles – like the Jetsons. Turns out, I wasn’t too far off.

Though not for flying around in the blue yonder, automated vehicles (AV) are in our very, very near future. Already, there are actual demonstration AVs on public roads – can you imagine a car or bus without a steering wheel? Vehicles like these are being tested now.

In fact, there is currently a federal bill under consideration to get automated vehicles out on the roads faster. The bill, which has passed in the House and is currently in the Senate, seeks to set up a federal framework for AVs, allow hundreds of thousands of AVs on the roads, and would limit the ability of states and cities to regulate them.

We don’t yet know how AVs will affect communities and active transportation. But AVs bring both opportunities and dangers. If we steer the direction of AV implementation correctly, AVs could make communities better for everyone. Elimination of human error from driving could improve safety, saving lives. In all communities – but especially in low income and communities of color, where walking and biking is more common as a means to commute to work and get necessities – removing human error would reduce our high vehicle-related death and injury rates. With AVs, we could see less individual car ownership, and instead have fewer cars that spent more time taking people where they need to go and less time taking up land for parking. Fewer vehicles dominating public space could mean more room for bike lanes, sidewalks, plazas, and greenspace. AVs could potentially increase safety and access to jobs, goods, and social connection, especially for people in lower income communities, individuals with disabilities, and older adults. Also, if AVs meant fewer cars on the road, reductions in congestion, emissions, and need for parking would benefit all communities, but particularly those in densely populated neighborhoods.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

On the other hand, AVs could have undesirable outcomes. Depending on cost and the policies regulating AVs, owning them may be out of reach for people in lower income brackets. If AVs function primarily as a status symbol and as personal coaches for the rich, we are reinforcing the deep financial divide between the haves and have nots. If AVs simply replace current personal vehicles, their effect may be to increase the dominance of cars on our streets. If cars can simply circulate on their own if no parking is available, they will cause more wear and tear on the roads and an increase in deadly emissions. If owners are allowed to program their AV to speed or ignore traffic safety, people walking and biking could be in danger. Moreover, if commute time becomes leisure time, living further from work and school may become more popular, increasing fossil fuel use, air pollution, and rates of asthma and chronic disease – while decreasing commitment to walkable communities and to neighborhood design that protects greenspace and resources. Street design for AVs could siphon resources and design away from walkable, people-oriented streets.

An additional area of concerns involves safety priorities for AVs. Already, AVs do well at avoiding cars, but poorly at protecting people walking and bicycling from collisions. AVs may end up designed primarily for the safety of those within, secondarily for the safety of other AV passengers, and may place the safety of people walking, bicycling, or driving older cars as a distant third. If this is the scenario, people in low income communities and communities of color, who already experience high rates of injury and mortality while walking and biking, may experience a sweeping increase in rates of vehicle related death and injury. Plus, if our streets end up hosting fleets of circling, closely packed AVs, it could be harder for people to safely cross the street.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

To increase the chances that AVs will be positive for active transportation and low and middle income communities, there are several things that people concerned about healthy, equitable communities need to know.

First and foremost, now is the time to start learning about automated vehicles and implications for active transportation and equity; AVs are increasingly on the roads and the regulatory framework is being developed now. We can’t fall behind in our advocacy. If community members want to make sure equitable active transportation is protected, they need to think about implications for current policy priorities and start anticipating potential upcoming issues and act now. That means residents and advocates of low and middle income communities need to begin inserting their voices into the AV discussion. Depending on how the future unfolds, AVs could enhance biking and walking and equity, but likelier scenarios could lead to significant negative effects. Advocates will also likely need to figure out how to integrate biking and walking priorities into AV infrastructure, while also anticipating the potential that AV infrastructure will be competing for funding against bike/pedestrian infrastructure.

Click the map to zoom to your area.

In addition, the current AV bill that is being worked on by Congress has significant shortcomings – two of which are the most concerning. First, it would pre-empt the ability of cities and states to regulate AVs -even to protect residents from unsafe behaviors. Second, it also precludes any requirements on the sharing of data between AV makers and the cities where the vehicles are being tested and operated -limiting the ability of cities to improve safety and traffic. Some of our partners like Transportation for America (T4A) and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) are working with Congress to try and fix these issues. If you have contacts with your city’s transportation officials or other leaders, encourage them to reach out to NACTO or T4A to learn more and weigh in with Congress too.

So for now, until we are more like the Jetsons and everyone has glass bubble transportation that zooms through the clouds, learning more about AVs and inserting our voices to create a system that benefits everyone is more important than ever. The time to start is now. After all, AVs are our future and we create our own destiny.

To learn more about AVs, check out these resources:

Aging in America Part 1: Challenges for Senior Citizens

September is Healthy Aging Month. To help raise awareness we are featuring a two part series that focuses on the unique challenges aging adults in the US face, and initiatives that support them in living healthy, active lives. 

Did you know roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 everyday? Did you know, currently, more than 25 million of them live at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level? While millions had good jobs where they could save and invest in 401(k) plans, others impacted by job loss, the financial crisis, or other circumstances find themselves relying solely on Social Security- which on average, is $1,262 a month. That wouldn’t even cover rent in some of the US’s coastal cities.

Budgeting on this amount when you have the added expense of food, transportation, and medical bills, the “Golden Years” of retirement become anything but, for millions. With nearly 1 in 10 seniors (aged 65+) living in poverty it can be a challenge to get by just day to day.

Below is a map showing poverty levels among senior citizens in Pittsburgh, PA- one of America’s most senior-dominated cities.

Click image to see specific area.

Click image to see specific area.

The struggles associated with poverty are felt in every corner of the US, but for seniors, it’s a unique struggle in a country built around the young and mobile.

Lack of transportation

Transportation is one of those overlooked issues for seniors. For many of us, we simply get in our car or hop on a bike when we want to go somewhere. For seniors it’s not that easy- and often comes at an additional cost. Seniors on a fixed income must not only keep up with the cost of rising housing, medical costs, and food, but also the cost that comes with not having your own transportation.

Many seniors don’t want to feel like they are a burden so often forgo asking friends and relatives for a ride; others simply can’t afford the bus fare or live in areas where bus schedules are limited or nonexistent.


Click image to to see specific area.

Click image to see specific area.

For those with frequent medical appointments it’s a costly inconvenience that can affect their health. Which is why it is good to see how some hospitals are coming up with innovative ways to make sure their patients don’t miss an appointment by partnering with Uber and Lyft.

Rising cost of rent

We all know housing costs are rising across the board- for everyone. The lack of affordable housing impacts everyone from single parents working two to three part-time jobs to older adults.

Most seniors spend 35 percent of their income on housing. If they are just living on government benefits like Social Security, their housing is likely taking up at least 40 percent of their income (30 percent is generally the recommended threshold). This isn’t necessarily adequate housing either. In some housing units living conditions could be overcrowded, in need of serious maintenance, and/or lack plumbing.

Click image to see specific area.

Click image to see specific area.

For aging seniors in need of assistance with daily activities, options are grossly limited as well. Assisted living facilities aren’t always a viable option due to the expense- averaging more than $3,000/month. Fortunately, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has counselors that help seniors explore housing options, whether it’s continuing to live at home, finding approved housing units, or learning how to protect against housing discrimination.

Health care costs

With the senior population growing- expected to number more than 87 million by 2050- health care will become even more impacted than it is now. Because most seniors are eligible for Medicare, and some for Medicaid, the government pays for most of seniors’ medical expenses.

However, out-of-pocket costs are still high for seniors. To put in perspective, it’s estimated that a 65 year old couple retiring in 2013 would need to save $240,000 to cover future medical expenses– not including long-term care. Premiums, deductibles, co-pays, out-of-pocket prescription drugs, and non covered items like hearing aids and glasses are calculated into that cost. And on average, Medicare beneficiaries spend 15 percent of their household income on health care costs, that’s three times more than non Medicare households.

Access to nutritional foods

Food insecurity is a serious issue among seniors. Seventeen percent of Feeding America’s clients are seniors. And in the US nearly 5.5 million seniors are food insecure, 1.2 million of them live alone. 

Click image to see specific area.

Click image to see specific area.

Most seniors report that the greatest benefit of aging is having more time to spend with loved ones. Still, there are challenges millions of seniors contend with on a daily basis, which is why it is all the more important to focus on what we can do at the local level, together and as individuals. Through the MetLife Foundation, communities all around the country are reimagining ways to not only keep seniors mentally and physically healthy, but also strengthen their connection to the community- which is key.

It’s a strategy that fits into the overall movement of transforming the places we live, work, and play into vibrant, connected communities where we consider the needs of all our citizens, from kids walking to school to young and middle-aged adults biking to work to enabling seniors’ ability to get to medical appointments or activities around town.

Stay-tuned for our upcoming “Aging in the US Part 2” post that will feature initiatives from around the country that are supporting aging adults in living healthy, active lives.


Data Viz of the Week: Index Scores Summarize Community Conditions

Along with single-indicator map layers, Community Commons offers several indices that provide a community score for a particular topic. An index is based on several indicators put together, and thus allows you to summarize many factors while looking at just a single score.

Though they can often be intimidating, indices are a great way to understand how your community is doing in comparison to others.

This feature will present just three of the several indices offered in the Community Commons map room. Try adding one to your map to see how your community ranks.

Low Transportation Cost Index

This index takes into account several transportation-related indicators and scores the transportation cost for each census tract around the country. In this case, the higher the score, the lower the transportation cost. Using this index layer may come in handy when thinking about proposals to increase public transportation in your community.

Low Transportation Cost Index sized

Labor Market Engagement Index

The labor market engagement index is based on educational attainment, employment level, and labor force participation in a particular area. Using these three criteria, this index provides a score from 1-100 to summarize the intensity of the labor market and human capital in a census block group. These scores might be useful in determining where to focus on increasing employment opportunities in your neighborhood.

Labor Market Engagement Index sized

Per Capita Income Disparity Index

Indices can also be helpful in displaying disparities within and between communities. The per capita income disparity index is based on data from the American Community Survey to illustrate where income disparities exist across race/ethnicity in communities. This index provides a summary score for communities across the country, where a high score indicates high disparity.

Per Capita Income Disparity Index sized

Using an index can be helpful when you want to provide a summary of many indicators in an easy-to-understand score. Try adding one of these indices to your map today!

At Community Commons, we love to explore data and create new indices. We partner wth CARES to do these analyses, such as what we created with Environments Supporting Healthy Eating (ESHE). Look for an in depth feature on the ESHE Index later in July. If you have data you’d like to explore as an index, please contact CARES at

A New Tool to Find Areas of Opportunity

Last week Community Commons revealed a new tool developed as part of a six-week software development sprint organized by the White House’s Opportunity Project. The goal of the sprint was to develop on-line tools demonstrating “the art of the possible” using open data from federal and local sources.

When we saw the new data, we were inspired to create a new tool, the Location Opportunity Footprint, or LOFT.

LOFT is designed for:

  • neighborhood leaders seeking a grant or preparing for a community planning meeting;
  • those in economic development working to improve opportunities in community, and;
  • advocates making a case.

LOFT enables users to view the intersection of school proficiency, housing and transportation costs, and nearby jobs to find areas of opportunity. Like our Vulnerable Populations Footprint, the indicator thresholds can be modified to fit with the local context and priorities.

To create a Location Opportunity Footprint visit the Maps and Data page and select “Location Opportunity Footprint.”



LOFT is available for use anywhere in the nation. Simply enter in an address or a community name and watch the map zoom in!


The map will load with the following thresholds for opportunity already defined:

  • a school proficiency index of 50 or higher;
  • over 100 jobs available nearby per worker; and
  • the monthly costs for housing and transportation for a family at 50% adjusted monthly income of $2,000.

The areas shaded in dark red in the map below are the opportunity footprint meaning all three thresholds are met. The areas in the lighter red or orange indicate that just two of the three thresholds are met. The areas shaded in blue, purple, or yellow are where just one of the three thresholds (school proficiency, jobs, or monthly costs respectively) are met.


Like our vulnerable populations footprint, the thresholds can be customized using the sliders on the right to meet your own priorities and local context. In the image below, the sliders have been changed to show schools with higher school proficiency index, more jobs available per workers and a lower monthly cost for housing and transportation.


There’s lots more to do after you’ve defined your opportunity footprints. You can:


  • save your footprint to use later;
  • create a short demographic report;
  • create a comprehensive indicator report; or
  • map your footprint from other data in Community Commons.

For example, here is a short demographic report:


And here is a page from a comprehensive indicator report. The data are summarized for your footprint area and compared with surrounding counties, the state, and the nation.


Finally, you can map your footprint alongside the thousands of other data in Community Commons. Find the complete list of data you can map with your footprint hereloft_mapwithotherdataWe’d love to know your thoughts on this tool and how you are using it. If you’re a developer and have ideas about how this new opportunity data could be used join the conversation at

2010-2014 ACS Data Now Available in the Map Room

The team at Community Commons has been working hard in recent months to roll out all the latest American Community Survey data. We’re pleased to announce that at this time, all ACS data in the Community Commons Map Room is updated.

Next, our team will continue to incorporate the ACS data in our publicly available reports, like the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), over the next month, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out a few of our ACS favorites below.

Public Transport Commute 2014

See how public transit use has changed since the last release. Click the map to explore changes in the areas around Terre Haute and Bloomington, IN, for example.

Why does the Census collect this information?

  • For mass transportation and metropolitan planning
  • For employment planning, define banking and housing markets, and planning emergency response
  • To plan programs and services for the disabled population, bicycle commuters, carpool and ride shares, and many other groups.
  • To estimate and study the effects of long commutes on health (obesity, hypertension, etc.), and on the environment (emissions, contaminants, etc.).

Learn more from the American Community Survey.

Uninsured Population

Uninsured populations have decreased across Kentucky. Click the map to toggle between 2010-2014 and 2009-2013 data to see the changes.

What’s so interesting about health insurance data?

  • Helps identify vulnerable populations that may be at disproportionate risk of experiencing limitations in health care access, poor health quality, and sub-optimal health outcomes
  • To project the demand for VA extended health care services
  • To determine where health insurance is lacking as part of research into infectious disease and contaminants
  • To review and analyze the unmet needs of people with disabilities and to identify the characteristics of the target service population

Learn more from the American Community Survey.

Average Rent

Average rent has increased in several counties in New Mexico. Click the map to see rent prices in your area.

How can you use housing data in your work?

  • To identify rental distribution of housing units used to determine Fair Market Rents (FMRs)
  • To describe the balance of owners and renters
  • If you are a grantee receiving block grant funds from the Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnership Program, Emergency Solutions Grant and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS programs, you can use these maps to describe housing needs
  • To advocate for the allocation of low-income housing assistance in a fair and equitable manner
  • Businesses and mortgage lenders use these statistics to guide future operations.

Learn more from the American Community Survey.

Have questions about what is available now or what will be available later? Check out our “What’s New” page or contact us.

SNAP Incentives: A Win for Rural Communities

This post was originally published at the Altarum Institute and was written by Kate Fitzgerald.

While much has been written about so called “food deserts” and the connections among poverty, low food access, and high rates of chronic disease, most studies and projects have been conducted in big cities. In fact, poverty, poor health, and limited access to healthy food are often more acute in rural communities, where isolation and limited public- and private-sector resources make these challenges harder to fight (1).

A new report by Fair Food Network challenges such assumptions by digging into the growth of its healthy food incentive program, Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up), in rural communities across Michigan, an exciting trend over the past 3 years.

Consider the facts:

  • In 2014, more than a third of participating Double Up farmers markets were in communities of fewer than 50,000 people; 50 of these markets were in rural communities with populations of less than 20,000.
  • Almost 20% of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Double Up dollars were spent in these markets last year.
  • Thirty-four additional rural markets and farm stands joined the program in 2015.
  • Rural residents used Double Up at higher rates than urban shoppers, which may dispel another myth that farmers markets are an affluent urban phenomenon.
ccMapExport (9)

Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.

The key to Double Up’s growth, particularly in rural communities, is its holistic design, which makes it as easy as possible for low-income families to buy and eat fresh, locally grown produce, with benefits for health and local economic development. With Double Up, for every dollar in SNAP benefits that a family spends at a participating farmers markets or grocery store, the family receives an additional dollar to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Since low-income families spend as much as 36% of their total income on food, these additional dollars increase low-income families’ buying power for healthy food, providing families with the extra margin that they need to buy food that will support long-term health rather than maximize calories as inexpensively as possible (2).

By linking the new Double Up dollars to local produce purchases, the program encourages federal SNAP be spent locally and the additional Double Up dollars increase the economic benefit to regional farmers, participating markets, and the entire local economy. (As the program expands to grocery stores, the goal is to extend the economic impact to the state’s mid-sized farms that sell into wholesale rather than direct markets.)

In the last 5 years, Double Up has been directly responsible for at least $7 million in SNAP and incentive sales in farmers markets, representing new income and spending power for the 1,000 Michigan farmers that participated in the program each year. The economic development value of new income is greatest when farmers spend earnings in their local rural communities. In-depth evaluator interviews with six farmers participating in Double Up in 2013 found that all purchased almost all their farm inputs either in their home county or in an adjacent rural county. This indicates a high potential for local economic impact.

The evaluation also shows that Double Up supports the proliferation of farmers markets, expands and diversifies their customer base, and increases their long-term financial stability. Furthermore, it encourages existing markets to become authorized to accept SNAP.

In this way, incentives help increase access to healthy food retail in rural communities and solidify the markets’ place as an important component of the local food retail economy, critical in towns that have lost their local grocery stores. Each successful farmers market in turn creates an average of four new jobs, and every dollar spent at a market creates an estimated $2.80 in local economic activities (3, 4).

With rural communities in Michigan hardest hit by the Great Recession, integrated efforts like Double Up show promising results meeting families’ food needs while supporting rural producers and stimulating economic opportunity.

Read the entire report at Fair Food Network’s website. Also, dig into previous Fair Food Network reports, including a look at the SNAP consumers’ experience using Double Up Food Bucks.


  1. White House. (2015, May). Opportunity for all: fighting rural child poverty. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Consumer expenditure survey. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  3. O’Hara, J. (2011, August). Market forces: creating jobs through public investment in local and regional food systems. Washington, DC: Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from
  4. Sonntag, V. (2008, April). Why local linkages matter: findings from the Local Food Economy Study. Seattle, WA: Sustainable Seattle.

Kate Fitzgerald works on federal policy that links family farms with consumers to achieve better public health and economic opportunity.