Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan
Physical Activity Objective 3
Increase the number of active community environments in Washington

Active Community Environments are places where people of all ages and abilities can easily make physical activity part of their daily lives. In many communities residents do not have the choice to safely walk, bike or enjoy other forms of active transportation.(1) Active Community Environments are about creating these choices and restoring the opportunity to

Key Points

  • All Washington residents want to be able to choose their transportation.
  • Walking a mile or two each day, as a routine part of getting to school, work or shopping could prevent weight gain.
  • The built environment can make walking and biking easy and safe.
  • Many Washington communities have made great progress toward becoming active community environments .
  • Children who walk or bike to school add 20 minutes of physical activity to their day.

experience the benefits of moderate daily activity for all of Washington’s residents. People who live in Active Community Environments are less likely to be obese and more likely to enjoy a high quality of life. Active Community Environments decrease air pollution and reduce personal and infrastructure costs associated with automobile traffic.(2)

Families and Individuals

Small differences in our daily lives make a big difference in health. It only takes about 150 extra calories a day for a child to become obese.(3) Walking about one and a half miles each day for work, school or shopping would “burn” those extra calories. Through much of human history we have been able to move freely through our towns and countryside, but now, many people find themselves unable to fit daily walking into their lives. This contributes to the slow and gradual weight gain that most of Washington’s residents experience throughout their lives. People feel free to walk and bike as they go about their days when:

  • There are other people walking and biking on the streets and sidewalks.
  • There are destinations such as schools, shops and restaurants nearby.
  • Public transportation is fast, safe and reliable.
  • Stores are oriented to pedestrians, and people don’t have to cross busy parking lots to enter the front door.
  • There is protection from speeding cars.
  • It is safe to cross the street because crosswalks are well marked, traffic lights provide enough time for slow walkers to cross, curbs are designed to be easy for those in wheel chairs to use, and traffic laws are enforced.
  • Sidewalks and trails are attractively landscaped.(4,5)

Active daily transportation will improve the health of almost everyone, but many people walk and bike for recreation too. In fact, walking (or hiking) is the number one recreational activity in Washington.(6) In 2002, Washingtonians walked and hiked for recreation mostly in parks and forests. By 2006, these activities had become more urban. In addition to building and maintaining backcountry trails, investment can enhance trails and paths in urban and suburban areas too.

Strategies for Success

Cultural Competence

Approximately 20 percent of Americans have a disability and the percentage of people with disabilities is increasing. Everyone has the right to use pedestrian facilities. Active Community Environments can include features that make it easier for all residents to be active. Here are some highlights from the Federal Highway Commission’s, Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access:

  • Consult with representatives from disability agencies and organizations during all phases of project development.
  • Include people with disabilities in the first phases of programming, planning, designing, operating, and constructing pedestrian facilities.
  • Address maintenance and safety problems, such as potholes or debris, in crosswalks and sidewalks.
  • Implement simple and inexpensive solutions, such as removing newspaper stands, trash receptacles, and other movable obstacles from the path of travel.
  • Make accessibility improvements to existing facilities before other types of improvements.
  • Design accessible driveway crossings with level landings.
  • Combine parking lots to limit the number of entrances and exits.
  • Prioritize sidewalk construction.
  • Provide a raised walkway between the sidewalk and entrances to reduce pedestrian exposure to automobile movement.
  • Control curb radius to keep turning speeds low.


The Cowlitz on the Move website provides maps, pictures directions, descriptive and informative guides and accessibility information for trails throughout the county.

Share the Road License Plate

“Share the Road” personalized license plates for Washington vehicles spread the word about bicycle safety and fees support advocacy for cycling. As of October
2007, over 2450 plates had been sold.


The Mobility Education Foundation strives to change the way we think about getting around by giving teens an understanding of all kinds of transportation – not just the keys to the car. The foundation promotes mobility education so that teens can make safe choices in a world where motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people ages 4–33 and every year in Washington alone, car accidents kill 100 youth ages 14–20. Mobility education instills healthy habits that make it possible for teens to protect the wellbeing of their bodies and the planet by teaching them the risks of physical inactivity and the environmental effects of transportation decisions.