Multi-component workplace supports for active commuting

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.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Active commuting involves some form of physical exercise such as walking or bicycling as a way to travel to and from work. Multi-component workplace supports for active commuting can include physical infrastructure (e.g., bicycle parking or cyclist showers), educational or social support programs (e.g., workplace travel plans, transportation coordinators, walking groups, or walk/bike to work campaigns), or financial incentives (e.g., free bicycle parking, bicycle commuting reimbursements, or fees for car parking)1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

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

  • Increased active transportation

Potential Benefits

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

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved physical fitness

  • Improved health outcomes

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that multi-component workplace supports increase active commuting2, 3, 4. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects and determine which elements are most effective2, 5.

Active commuting increases physical activity, improves physical fitness, and improves health outcomes6, 7, 8, 9. Commuter cycling has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality and improve cardiovascular fitness for middle-aged and elderly adults7. Active commuting also reduces cardiovascular risk, especially among women8. In some cases, bicyclists and pedestrians can achieve greater than 80% of recommended daily physical activity levels through active commuting10, 11. Workplace supports can decrease rates of driving to work alongside increases in active commuting2. Workplace supports such as access to bike storage, incentives to bike/walk to work, showers, and maps or signs of nearby walking routes are associated with increased odds of meeting recommended daily physical activity levels12.

Individual, interpersonal, community, environmental, and institutional (e.g., workplace) factors all influence active commuting decisions13. Workplace and government policies that consider active transit in infrastructure and transportation plans may encourage active commuting and additional physical activity14. Workplace travel plans that restrict car parking options can increase the number of employees bicycling and walking to work10. Organizational travel plans in workplaces and schools may reduce car use; however, organizational travel plans are more likely to be effective if they include environmental changes such as bicycling infrastructure or enhanced local walkability5. Efforts that combine infrastructure improvements and promotional or educational efforts4 along with community engagement efforts can increase cycling to workplaces and other destinations15. Workplace supports can be tailored to fit small and large employers13.

Multi-component workplace supports that provide cyclist showers16 and high quality bicycle parking (e.g., shelters and secure parking), particularly in convenient locations, are associated with increased bicycle commuting17. Supports that limit or charge for car parking, offer free off-site parking,18, 19, and free or low cost recreation facilities around the worksite are also associated with increased active commuting18. Workplaces in which active commuting is common and parking lots are at a distance are likely to encourage new active commuters18. Small survey-based studies suggest additional best practices for businesses and universities to promote bicycling include bicycle infrastructure that connects campuses to surrounding areas, educational initiatives, and financial or group-based incentives for active commuting15, 20. Overall workplace features that may support active commuting include flexible schedules, the option to work remotely, shorter distance or travel time to work, and delayed start times14.

Generally, active commuters are more likely to be younger, live closer to their workplace or a public transit station in an urban area14, 21, receive a lower income, and have either the highest or lowest education levels14. Whites may be more likely to actively commute by bike than other ethnicities14. Among regular active commuters, walkers are more likely to be female, and bicyclists are more likely to be male10, 14, 21.

Replacing automotive trips with biking and walking can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and emissions at relatively low cost, although the long-term effect on traffic reduction is likely minor22, 23, 24. Transportation policies and supports for active commuting that reduce car trips may also reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions9, 25.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Nationally, the League of American Bicyclists runs the Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) program that provides assistance, tools, and recognition for states, communities, universities, and businesses that support bicycling for transportation and recreation26. The Bicycle Friendly Business program component of BFA recognizes employers that implement multi-component workplace supports for active commuting as ’bicycle friendly businesses;’ these businesses are located in every state27.

Universities can provide supports for employees to actively commute to campus, including bicycle parking and repair stations, showers, and commute planning assistance; examples include Boston University28, Stanford University29, and Virginia Tech30.

Many other non-profit organizations also provide resources designed to help employers in their area implement multi-component supports for active commuting, for example, Commuter Connections in Washington, D.C.1, 31; San Francisco, CA32; goNewHavengo in New Haven, CT33; Human Services Council’s Bike-to-Work program in Vancouver, WA34; Alamo Commutes in San Antonio, TX35; and Commute Options in Bend, OR36.

Implementation Resources

LAB-BFA Elements - The League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Bicycle Friendly America (BFA). The essential elements of a bicycle friendly America.

Peel-Active commuting - Region of Peel. Active commuting: Create your plan. Ontario, Canada.

BTWD-DC - Bike to Work Day (BTWD). Become a bicycle friendly workplace. Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Washington, D.C.

CDC-Transportation HIA toolkit - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transportation health impact assessment toolkit: Strategies for health-oriented transportation projects and policies promote active transportation.

Thurston County-WorkWell toolkit 2008 - Thurston County Washington, Steps to a Healthier WA. WorkWell Thurston County: Healthy workplace toolkit. 2008.

ODH-Active Commute - Ohio Department of Health (ODH): Creating Health Communities. Ohio Active Commute Worksite Toolkit. 2016.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 BTWD-DC - Bike to Work Day (BTWD). Become a bicycle friendly workplace. Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Washington, D.C.

2 Petrunoff 2016 - Petrunoff N, Rissel C, Wen LM. The effect of active travel interventions conducted in work settings on driving to work: A systematic review. Journal of Transport and Health. 2016;3(1):61-76.

3 Ogilvie 2004 - Ogilvie D, Egan M, Hamilton V, Petticrew M. Promoting walking and cycling as an alternative to using cars: Systematic review. BMJ. 2004;329(7469):763.

4 Goodman 2013 - Goodman A, Panter J, Sharp SJ, Ogilvie D. Effectiveness and equity impacts of town-wide cycling initiatives in England: A longitudinal, controlled natural experimental study. Social Science & Medicine. 2013;97:228–37.

5 Cochrane-Macmillan 2013 - Macmillan AK, Hosking J, Connor JL, Bullen C, Ameratunga S. A Cochrane systematic review of the effectiveness of organisational travel plans: Improving the evidence base for transport decisions. Transport Policy. 2013;29:249–56.

6 Xu 2013 - Xu H, Wen LM, Rissel C. The relationships between active transport to work or school and cardiovascular health or body weight: A systematic review. Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health. 2013;25(4):298-315.

7 Oja 2011 - Oja P, Titze S, Bauman A, de Geus B, Reger-Nash B, Kohlberger T. Health benefits of cycling: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2011;21(4):496–509.

8 Hamer 2008 - Hamer M, Chida Y. Active commuting and cardiovascular risk: A meta-analytic review. Preventive Medicine. 2008;46(1):9–13.

9 Shephard 2008 - Shephard RJ. Is active commuting the answer to population health? Sports Medicine. 2008;38(9):751–8.

10 Brockman 2011 - Brockman R, Fox KR. Physical activity by stealth? The potential health benefits of a workplace transport plan. Public Health. 2011;125(4):210–6.

11 Freeland 2012 - Freeland AL, Banerjee SN, Dannenberg AL, Wendel AM. Walking associated with public transit: Moving toward increased physical activity in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. 2013;103(3):536–42.

12 ALR-Hipp 2015 - Hipp JA. Worksite policies and supports for physical activity. 2015 Active Living Research (ALR) Annual Conference. 2015.

13 Bopp 2013 - Bopp M, Kaczynski AT, Campbell ME. Social ecological influences on work-related active commuting among adults. American Journal of Health Behavior. 2013;37(4):543-554(12).

14 Quinn 2017 - Quinn TD, Jakicic JM, Fertman CI, Gibbs BB. Demographic factors, workplace factors and active transportation use in the USA: A secondary analysis of 2009 NHTS data. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2016;71(5):480-486.

15 Vairo 2017 - Vairo N, Bopp M, Sims D. Best practices for businesses promoting bicycling. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education. 2017;55(5-6):298-310.

16 Buehler 2012 - Buehler R. Determinants of bicycle commuting in the Washington, D.C. region: The role of bicycle parking, cyclist showers, and free car parking at work. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):525–31.

17 Heinen 2019 - Heinen E, Buehler R. Bicycle parking: a systematic review of scientific literature on parking behaviour, parking preferences, and their influence on cycling and travel behaviour. Transport Reviews. 2019;39(5):630-656.

18 Bopp 2016 - Bopp M, Sims D, Colgan J, et al. An examination of workplace influences on active commuting in a sample of university employees. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 2016;22(4):387-391.

19 Panter 2013 - Panter J, Desousa C, Ogilvie D. Incorporating walking or cycling into car journeys to and from work: The role of individual, workplace and environmental characteristics. Preventive Medicine. 2013;56(3-4):211–7.

20 Wilson 2018 - Wilson O, Vairo N, Bopp M, et al. Best practices for promoting cycling amongst university students and employees. Journal of Transport and Health. 2018;9:234-243.

21 Paul 2019 - Paul DR, Deng Y, Cook PS. Cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of the active commuting behaviors of U.S. Department of the Interior employees. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):1-11.

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

23 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.

24 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.

25 Lindsay 2011 - Lindsay G, Macmillan A, Woodward A. Moving urban trips from cars to bicycles: Impact on health and emissions. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2011;35(1):54–60.

26 LAB-BFA - The League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Bicycle Friendly America (BFA).

27 LAB-BFA awards - The League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) award database: Business.

28 BU Healthy commuting - BU Employee Wellness. Healthy commuting. Boston University, MA.

29 Stanford-Active commute - Stanford Transportation. Bicycle: Helpful hints for your active commute. Stanford University, CA.

30 Virginia Tech-AT - Virginia Tech. Alternative Transportation Department. Blacksburg, VA.

31 Commuter Connections - Commuter Connections. Commuting solutions for Washington area employers: Resources.

32 SF Bike-BB - San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Bikes & business (BB): Promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation.

33 goNewHavengo - goNewHavengo. Resources for employers. New Haven, CT.

34 HSC Bike-to-Work - Human Services Council (HSC). Bike-to-Work Program. Vancouver, WA.

35 Alamo Commutes - Alamo Commutes. We provide complimentary consultations to businesses starting or enhancing their commuter benefits programs. Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. San Antonio, TX.

36 Commute Options - Commute Options. Moving our communities. Bend, OR.