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Zoning regulations for land use policy

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Zoning regulations for land use policy include zoning and building codes and other governmental policies and efforts to shape building practices which change the physical environment of cities, towns, and counties. Such regulations often address environmental design elements such as aesthetic and safety aspects of the physical environment, street continuity and connectivity, residential density, mixed-use development, and the proximity of residential areas to stores, jobs, schools, and recreation in existing neighborhood developments. Efforts to update or revise zoning regulations are often precursors to mixed-use development and Smart Growth initiatives (US EPA-SG codes). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased physical activity

  • Increased active transportation

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled

  • Reduced crime

  • Reduced stress

  • Improved sense of community

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that land use policies and zoning regulations support physical activity and increase walking and bicycling (CG-Physical activity, CG-PA land use 2004, , CDC MMWR-Khan 2009, Yang 2010, , , Chriqui 2016a).

As part of macro-level or community-scale interventions, zoning regulations have been associated with increased active transportation for commuting and recreation, and more frequent, longer distance walking trips (, CG-Physical activity, Chriqui 2016a). As part of broad land use policy and infrastructure improvement efforts, zoning regulations can increase bicycle trips and the percentage of the population that rides bicycles (Yang 2010, ). Mixed-use development and zoning, and pedestrian-oriented zoning provisions such as support for active recreation, bike parking, street furniture, and bicycle or pedestrian trails and paths are most strongly associated with increases in adult physical activity (, Chriqui 2016a, ); areas with more pedestrian-oriented zoning elements are associated with greater increases in active transportation and physical activity (Chriqui 2016a, ).

Replacing automotive trips with biking and walking can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change (EPA-Kramer 2013, ). Zoning regulations for land use may also lead to green space improvements, reductions in crime and stress levels, an enhanced sense of community (CG-PA land use 2004), and greater protection of natural resources (EPA-Kramer 2013). A Los Angeles-based study indicates lower levels of crime in neighborhoods with both residential and commercial zones than neighborhoods zoned only residential (Anderson 2013).

Areas with a transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning approach are associated with significantly higher rates of public transit use and active commuting than areas without TOD zoning (Thrun 2016). In some areas, especially the Southern United States, reforms to existing zoning codes are also associated with increases in public transit use (Chriqui 2016a). Public transit users have higher daily physical activity levels than non-transit users ().

Specific pedestrian-oriented zoning provisions such as crosswalks, street and sidewalk connectivity, bike lanes, and bike parking have been associated with reduced disparities in rates of public transit use and active transportation to work between low and high SES communities ().

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Zoning regulations are often implemented as a part of Smart Growth initiatives. Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley region (DVRPC-Smart growth) and Arlington, VA (Arlington-Smart growth) are two examples of communities with Smart Growth initiatives that include zoning regulations. Massachusetts has legislation that provides financial incentives to local communities that use zoning regulations to support Smart Growth projects (CSPD-MA smart growth zoning).

Washington state’s Active Community Environments also incorporate zoning regulations to encourage mixed-use development and connected streets (WA DOH-ACE toolkit 2012).

Implementation Resources

ALBD - Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design.

LHC-Toolkit 2009 - Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009.

CDC-Zoning physical activity - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zoning to encourage physical activity.

US EPA-Smart growth - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Smart growth: Program, resources, topics, partnerships, and the 2015 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

ICMA-Mishkovsky 2010 - Mishkovsky N, Dalbey M, Bertaina S, Read A, McGalliard T. Putting Smart Growth to work in rural communities. Washington, DC: International City/County Management Association (ICMA); 2010.

ChangeLab-PFC directory - ChangeLab Solutions. Pedestrian friendly code (PFC) directory.

HealthPartners-CHA - HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research. Community health advisor (CHA): Resource for information on the benefits of evidence-based policies and programs: Helping communities understand, analyze, and model costs.

WA DOH-ACE toolkit 2012 - Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH), Healthy Communities Washington. Active community environment (ACE) toolkit: Creating environments that encourage walking, biking, and public transit in Washington State. 2012.

US EPA-Smart growth tools - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Smart growth tools: Zoning and building codes.

US EPA-SG codes - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Smart Growth (SG): Codes that support Smart Growth development.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Brownson 2006* - Brownson RC, Haire-Joshu D, Luke DA. Shaping the context of health: A review of environmental and policy approaches in the prevention of chronic diseases. Annual Review of Public Health. 2006;27:341–70.

CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

CDC MMWR-Khan 2009 - Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2009;58(RR-07):1-26.

Yang 2010 - Yang L, Sahlqvist S, McMinn A, Griffin SJ, Ogilvie D. Interventions to promote cycling: Systematic review. BMJ. 2010;341:c5293.

Pucher 2010* - Pucher J, Dill J, Handy S. Infrastructure, programs, and policies to increase bicycling: an international review. Preventive Medicine. 2010;50(Suppl 1):S106-25.

EPA-Kramer 2013 - Kramer MG. Our built and natural environments: A technical review of the interactions among land use, transportation, and environmental quality. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); 2013.

Salon 2012* - Salon D, Boarnet MG, Handy S, Spears S, Tal G. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):495–508.

Anderson 2013 - Anderson JM, MacDonald JM, Bluthenthal R, Ashwood JS. Reducing crime by shaping the built environment with zoning: An empirical study of Los Angeles. University of Pennsylvania Law Review. 2013;161(3):699-756.

CG-PA land use 2004 - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity: Community-scale urban design and land use policies (2004 archived review).

Chriqui 2016* - Chriqui JF, Nicholson LM, Thrun E, Leider J, Slater SJ. More active-living oriented county and municipal zoning is associated with increased adult leisure time physical activity - United States, 2011. Environment and Behavior. 2016;48(1):111-130.

Saelens 2014* - Saelens BE, Vernez Moudon A, Kang B, Hurvitz PM, Zhou C. Relation between higher physical activity and public transit use. American Journal of Public Health. 2014;104(5):854-859.

Chriqui 2016a - Chriqui JF, Leider J, Thrun E, Nicholson LM, Slater S. Communities on the move: Pedestrian-oriented zoning as a facilitator of adult active travel to work in the United States. Frontiers in Public Health. 2016;4:71.

Thrun 2016 - Thrun E, Leider J, Chriqui JF. Exploring the cross-sectional association between transit-oriented development zoning and active travel and transit usage in the United States, 2010-2014. Frontiers in Public Health. 2016;4:113.

Chriqui 2017* - Chriqui JF, Leider J, Thrun E, Nicholson LM, Slater SJ. Pedestrian-oriented zoning is associated with reduced income and poverty disparities in adult active travel to work, United States. Preventive Medicine. 2017;95(Suppl):S126-S133.

Leider 2017* - Leider J, Chriqui JF, Thrun E. Associations between active living-oriented zoning and no adult leisure-time physical activity in the U.S. Preventive Medicine. 2017;95(Suppl):S120-S125.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

WA DOH-ACE toolkit 2012 - Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH), Healthy Communities Washington. Active community environment (ACE) toolkit: Creating environments that encourage walking, biking, and public transit in Washington State. 2012.

DVRPC-Smart growth - Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). Land use resources: Smart growth development in the region.

Arlington-Smart growth - Arlington Virginia, Arlington County Government. Smart growth: Arlington is recognized as a leader in smart growth development.

CSPD-MA smart growth zoning - Concord Square Planning & Development Inc (CSPD). Smart growth zoning: Massachusetts general laws chapter 40R.

Date Last Updated

Jun 7, 2017