Bicycle & pedestrian master plans

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Inconclusive impact on disparities

Strategies with this rating do not have enough evidence to assess potential impact on disparities.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Bicycle and pedestrian master plans establish a framework to increase walking and biking trails, and improve connectivity of non-auto paths and trails in a particular locality. Plans typically include policies and planning methods to encourage alternative modes of travel, land use plans, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure development, and address traffic and safety concerns. Bicycle and pedestrian master plans can be developed and implemented by city, county, regional, and state governments and are often implemented in stages over time1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

  • Increased active transportation

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced injuries

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that implementing bicycle and pedestrian master plans increases physical activity and active transportation by enhancing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and connectivity2, 3, 4. Many components of bicycle and pedestrian master plans have been shown to increase physical activity, such as improvements to street connectivity, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and safety and traffic control projects5, 6, 7, especially when combined with land use design projects8. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Infrastructure improvements that support bicycling, combined with informational outreach activities such as master plans, have been shown to increase bicycling by modest amounts7. Bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure improvements such as bicycle lanes, bicycle racks, bicycle paths, walking trails, and shared bicycle programs can also promote physical activity for both confident and non-confident bicyclists2, especially as part of a bicycle and pedestrian master plan9, 10. Bicycle and pedestrian master plans have also been associated with lower rates of injury among bicyclists and pedestrians4, 11. A Canada-based study suggests master plans’ efforts to increase active living may decrease rates of diabetes when targeted to older adults12.

Replacing automotive trips with bicycling and walking can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change at relatively low cost, although the long-term effects on traffic reduction is likely minor13, 14, 15. Expert analysis suggests efforts to improve the walkability of communities, such as pedestrian master plans, as a climate change solution have low implementation costs, with the potential for significant cost savings and emissions reductions (2.8 to 3.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide over 30 years)13.

While approximately half of all U.S. municipalities have a bicycle or pedestrian master plan, urban areas with residents with higher levels of education may be more likely to have master plans than communities that are rural, smaller, or have more residents with lower levels of education16. To encourage the adoption of master plans with active living objectives, experts recommend local officials and planning organizations facilitate cross-sector collaborations between municipal departments, such as planning and public health departments, and develop and promote resources and trainings to create activity-friendly municipal plans16. Case studies of cities across the U.S. suggest that master plans can guide investment decisions and help identify local funding sources that can support implementation17. Bicycle and pedestrian master plans that prioritize infrastructure improvements to neighborhoods with the least connectivity2, 17 and engage community members in the planning process may help reduce disparities in access to and use of improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure18, 19, 20. A Houston, Texas-based study suggests infrastructure projects, such as sidewalk improvements, have value in improving walkability and making it safer for residents to walk or jog; experts recommend emphasizing these community benefits to stakeholders, policymakers, and funders when developing master plans21.

Finance options for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure can include tax increment financing, sales tax, bonds, donations, and crowdfunding campaigns22. Costs for infrastructure improvements vary significantly by location and type of improvement. For example, in 2013, the median cost for a bicycle rack was $540 and $122,610 for a pedestrian wooden bridge overpass, while the median cost per mile for a bicycle lane was $89,470 and $261,000 for a paved multi-use trail23. A Netherlands-based cost benefit analysis suggests that investments in improved bicycle infrastructure and facilities yields positive net benefits in the long-term24.

Bicycle and pedestrian master plans have the potential to increase active living options during times of global emergencies25. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, cycling for recreation appeared to increase and some communities may have expanded bicycling infrastructure more quickly than in prior years26.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated inconclusive impact on disparities.

It is unclear what impact bicycle and pedestrian master plans have on disparities in access to safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that supports active living. Research suggests that bicycle lane investments are typically made in areas of greater sociodemographic advantage34. Available evidence indicates there are likely multi-faceted, non-infrastructure barriers to bicycling for people of color and those with low incomes, such as a lack of confidence in bicycling skills, fears regarding physical safety and crime, or concerns about inequitable law enforcement tactics34, 35.

People of color experience a disproportionate share of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. and are more likely to encounter the inequitable enforcement of traffic laws and regulations by armed law enforcement officers34, 35. People of color, those with low incomes, and those without health insurance are more likely to suffer pedestrian injuries and fatalities because the communities they are more likely to live in are among the least safe for walking35, 36. More traffic citations are issued in neighborhoods with lower residential stability, higher poverty rates, and greater numbers of Black and Hispanic residents. For example, in recent years, 86% of tickets for bicycling on sidewalks in New York City were issued to Black and Hispanic cyclists35.

A Chicago-based study found that bicycle infrastructure on high traffic streets was associated with fewer cycling tickets issued, but bicycle infrastructure was less likely to be in place in neighborhoods of color. Additionally, tickets were disproportionately issued in areas without bicycle infrastructure, and to people of color, most frequently for illegal cycling on sidewalks; the study findings highlight the lack of bicycle infrastructure in neighborhoods of color and demonstrate uneven targeted policing tactics35. Bicycle lanes are associated with bicycle commuting, which may be higher in neighborhoods with residents that are more likely to be white or have higher income levels34. While residents in neighborhoods of color, or with lower incomes, may cycle even in the absence of supportive cycle infrastructure, experts suggest the multi-faceted, non-infrastructure barriers to cycling likely have a greater impact34.

Experts suggest that if bicycle infrastructure is implemented alone, it may increase disparities34. However, if infrastructure additions are part of broader interventions that address the non-infrastructure barriers for cyclists of color, then implementation may be seen as a tool for racial justice and can reduce the potential for negative interactions with law enforcement34, 35. Experts also recommend embedding equity in bicycle and pedestrian master plans by acknowledging equity as a value of the plan, establishing how they will be accountable to the commitment of equity, and state their planned actions to increase equity37.

What is the relevant historical background?

Automobile-centric design motivated many zoning patterns and urban movements in the U.S., creating community inequalities through reduced access to transportation options, increased residential segregation, and further entrenching health disparities38. Communities of color and with low incomes experience discrimination along with socioeconomic and physical barriers that restrict their access to safe, convenient, and affordable options for active transport37. This includes lack of access to secure bike parking, disproportionate traffic safety risks, and fears of crime or racial profiling35. Furthermore, people with low incomes have been displaced from gentrifying urban centers by people with higher incomes able to pay rising rents, moving instead to the suburbs where housing is more affordable, but the commute times are longer; yet another barrier to active transit39. New York City’s broken windows crime fighting strategy in the 1990s is one example of a policy that employed racial profiling as part of the aggressive enforcement of minor infractions, including pedestrian and bicycle violations; it was later found to reduce quality of life, restrict mobility, and erode public trust for people of color35, 40.

Over the last decade, cities have increasingly invested in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to support active living and harness the potential benefits for the environment, the economy, and public health. However, the built environment in under-resourced communities remains a significant contributor to health inequities for people of color with low incomes38, 41, 42. Communities with low incomes and communities of color still have fewer places to engage in outdoor activities, have less access to cooling shade, and experience more extreme heat and poorer air quality43, 44, 45.

Equity Considerations
  • How can bike and pedestrian master plans support transportation equity in your community? What could be implemented alongside bike and pedestrian master plans to increase their ability to make equitable change?
  • How does your community engage neighborhood residents, especially residents of color and those with low incomes, in the planning and development of bicycle and pedestrian master plans? Do those leading initiatives represent the local community?
  • What city planning groups or community organizations are involved in identifying neighborhoods in need of more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure? How are funds raised and allocated for planning initiatives in your community?
  • What partnerships could help develop and support bicycle and pedestrian master plans that take into consideration a multi-faceted approach to increase safe, active living for all? What is the local policing approach to bike and pedestrian infractions?
Implementation Examples

Bicycle and pedestrian master plans have been adopted by numerous cities, counties, regions, and states. Examples include Brownsville, Texas27; Anne Arundel County, Maryland; Austin, Texas; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Eugene, Oregon; Los Angeles and San Diego, California; Seattle, Washington; and New York City1.

In Houston, Texas, a community coalition, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, connected two neighborhoods with limited resources to green spaces and amenities by developing and implementing a master plan; the resulting infrastructure enabled pedestrians and bicyclists to safely travel to the city center from the eastern and western edges of the city28. Community coalitions in Hidalgo County, Texas were established with the support of public health officials to develop and implement bicycle and pedestrian master plans, which expanded local bicycle infrastructure and opportunities for physical activity across the county29.

Nearly half of U.S. municipalities had a bicycle or pedestrian master plan in 201816. As of 2015, 31 states and Washington, D.C. have pedestrian master plans or Complete Street policies, and at the local and regional level, 851 such policies have been adopted30. In some states, for example Utah, bicycle and pedestrian master plans include options for infrastructure improvements in urban, frontier, and rural counties where trails, lanes, or shoulders are needed for active transportation and recreation31, 32.

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program that supports and encourages efforts to enhance safer walking environments, especially those using master plans. Walk Friendly Communities have been recognized at various levels in 31 states. Five communities, including Seattle and New York City have been recognized at the platinum level; 15 communities have been recognized as gold, 25 as silver, 37 as bronze, and 19 as honorable mentions33.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

Urban-Fu 2022 - Fu S, Ramos K, Axelrod J. Advancing racial equity through federally funded public transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2022.

Utah-BPMP guide - Burbidge S. Utah bicycle & pedestrian master plan (BPMP) design guide. Project Task Force: Utah Department of Health, Utah Department of Transportation, Wasatch Front Regional Council, Utah Highway Safety Office, Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

PBIC-Sample plans - Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC). Sample plans.

Southworth 2005 - Southworth M. Designing the walkable city. Journal of Urban Planning and Development. 2005:131(4):246-257.

APHA-Transportation toolkit - American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA: Transportation and health.

HPbD - Healthy Places by Design (HPbD). Advances community-led action and proven, place-based strategies to ensure health and wellbeing for all.

UNC-Bushell 2013 - Bushell MA, Poole BW, Zegeer CV, Rodriguez DA. Costs for pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure improvements: A resource for researchers, engineers, planners, and the general public. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Highway Safety Research Center; 2013.

US DOT-PBIC - U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC).

ChangeLab-Healthy plans 2012 - ChangeLab Solutions, Raimi & Associates. How to create and implement healthy general plans: A toolkit for building healthy, vibrant communities. 2012.

ChangeLab-Roadmap - ChangeLab Solutions. A roadmap for healthier general plans step by step: Who does what?

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA); 2016.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

ChangeLab-Planning for health equity - ChangeLab Solutions. Long-range planning for health, equity & prosperity: A primer for local governments.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 PBIC-Sample plans - Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC). Sample plans.

2 Lowry 2017 - Lowry M, Loh TH. Quantifying bicycle network connectivity. Preventive Medicine. 2017;95(Suppl):S134-S140.

3 Henao 2015 - Henao A, Piatkowski D, Luckey KS, et al. Sustainable transportation infrastructure investments and mode share changes: A 20-year background of Boulder, Colorado. Transport Policy. 2015;37:64-71.

4 Pedroso 2016 - Pedroso FE, Angriman F, Bellows AL, Taylor K. Bicycle use and cyclist safety following Boston’s bicycle infrastructure expansion, 2009-2012. American Journal of Public Health. 2016;106(12):2171-2177.

5 Cerin 2017 - Cerin E, Nathan A, van Cauwenberg J, Barnett DW, Barnett A. The neighbourhood physical environment and active travel in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2017;14(1):15.

6 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;27:341-370.

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

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

9 Parker 2011 - Parker KM, Gustat J, Rice JC. Installation of bicycle lanes and increased ridership in an urban, mixed-income setting in New Orleans, Louisiana. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2011;8(Suppl 1):S98-S102.

10 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.

11 Kerr 2013 - Kerr ZY, Rodriguez DA, Evenson KR, Aytur SA. Pedestrian and bicycle plans and the incidence of crash-related injuries. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2013;50:1252-1258.

12 Arnason 2019 - Arnason T, Tanuseputro P, Tuna M, Manuel D. Municipal transportation policy as a population health intervention: Estimating the impact of the City of Ottawa Transportation Master Plan on diabetes incidence. Canadian Journal of Public Health. 2019;110(3):285-293.

13 Project Drawdown-Walk - Project Drawdown. Climate solutions: Walkable cities.

14 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.

15 RAND-Sorenson 2008 - Sorenson P, Wachs M, Min EY, et al. Moving Los Angeles: Short-term policy options for improving transportation. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2008: Monograph Report 748.

16 Peterson 2019 - Peterson EL, Carlson SA, Schmid TL, Brown DR, Galuska DA. Supporting active living through community plans: The association of planning documents with design standards and features. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2019;33(2):191-198.

17 Riggs 2016 - Riggs W, McDade E. Moving from planning to action: Exploring best practice policy in the finance of local bicycling and pedestrian improvements. Case Studies on Transport Policy. 2016;4(3): 248-257.

18 Lubitow 2016 - Lubitow A, Zinschlag B, Rochester N. Plans for pavement or for people? The politics of bike lanes on the “Paseo Boricua” in Chicago, Illinois. Urban Studies. 2016;53(12):2637-2653.

19 Lee 2017a - Lee RJ, Sener IN, Jones SN. Understanding the role of equity in active transportation planning in the United States. Transport Reviews. 2017;37(2):211-226.

20 Noyes 2014 - Noyes P, Fung L, Lee KK, et al. Cycling in the city: An in-depth examination of bicycle lane use in a low-income urban neighborhood. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2014;11(1):1-9.

21 Knell 2019 - Knell G, Brown HS, Gabriel KP, et al. Cost-effectiveness of improvements to the built environment intended to increase physical activity. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2019;16(5):308-317.

22 Miller 2018 - Miller S, Coutts C. A multiple case study of local & creative financing of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Case Studies on Transport Policy. 2018;6(2):257-264.

23 UNC-Bushell 2013 - Bushell MA, Poole BW, Zegeer CV, Rodriguez DA. Costs for pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure improvements: A resource for researchers, engineers, planners, and the general public. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Highway Safety Research Center; 2013.

24 Fishman 2015 - Fishman E, Schepers P, Kamhuis CBM. Dutch cycling: Quantifying the health and related economic benefits. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(8):e13-e15.

25 Nikitas 2021 - Nikitas A, Tsigdinos S, Karolemeas C, Kourmpa E, Bakogiannis E. Cycling in the era of COVID-19: Lessons learnt and best practice policy recommendations for a more bike-centric future. Sustainability. 2021;13(9):4620.

26 Buehler 2023 - Buehler R, Pucher J. COVID-19 and cycling: A review of the literature on changes in cycling levels and government policies from 2019 to 2022. Transport Reviews. 2023.

27 RWJF-Brownsville 2014 - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Brownsville, TX: 2014 Culture of Health Prize Winner. 2014.

28 Brookings-Farber 2023 - Farber K. How Houston is connecting two disinvested neighborhoods to green space and amenities. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute; 2023.

29 CDC-Castillo 2019 - Castillo EC, Campos-Bowers M, Ory MG. Expanding bicycle infrastructure to promote physical activity in Hidalgo County, Texas. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2019;16:190125.

30 CDC-Step it up status 2017 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Status report for Step It Up! The surgeon general's call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2017.

31 BikeUtah - BikeUtah. Utah active transportation plans: If it isn’t planned, it won’t be built.

32 Utah DHHS-Bike master plan - Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Department of Health (DOH). Utah bicycle & pedestrian master plan design guide.

33 WFC-State map - Walk Friendly Communities (WFC), Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Walk friendly communities state map.

34 Braun 2021 - Braun LM. Disparities in bicycle commuting: Could bike lane investment widen the gap? Journal of Planning Education and Research. 2021:1-16.

35 Barajas 2021 - Barajas JM. Biking where Black: Connecting transportation planning and infrastructure to disproportionate policing. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2021;99:103027.

36 Dodds 2017 - Dodds A. For the greater good: A Complete Streets approach can benefit low-income communities. Roads & Bridges. 2017.

37 Berg 2020 - Berg A, Newmark GL. Incorporating equity into pedestrian master plans. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2020;2674(10):764-780.

38 McAndrews 2022 - McAndrews C, Schneider RJ, Yang Y, et al. Toward a gender-inclusive Complete Streets movement. Journal of Planning Literature. 2022;38(1):3-18.

39 Urban-Stacy 2020 - Stacy C, Su Y, Noble E, et al. Access to opportunity through equitable transportation: Lessons from four metropolitan regions. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2020.

40 Kamalu 2018 - Kamalu NC, Onyeozili EC. A critical analysis of the 'broken windows' policing in New York City and its impact: Implications for the criminal justice system and the African American community. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies. 2018;11(1):71-94.

41 Prochnow 2022 - Prochnow T, Valdez D, Curran LS, et al. Multifaceted scoping review of Black/African American transportation and land use expert recommendations on activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations. Health Promotion Practice. 2022.

42 Brookings-Semmelroth 2020 - Semmelroth L. How Wilmington, Del. is revitalizing vacant land to rebuild community trust. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2020.

43 KFF-Ndugga 2022 - Ndugga N, Artiga S. Climate change and health equity: Key questions and answers. KFF. May 24, 2022.

44 CAP-Rowland-Shea 2020 - Rowland-Shea J, Doshi S, Edberg S, Fanger R. The nature gap: Confronting racial and economic disparities in the destruction and protection of nature in America. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress (CAP); 2020.

45 TPL-Chapman 2021 - Chapman R, Foderaro L, Hwang L, et al. Parks and an equitable recovery. San Francisco, CA: The Trust for Public Land (TPL); 2021.