Fostering Walkable Communities

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, engaging in physical activity is the most vital component to improve health and wellbeing for people of all ages.

The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week and that youth achieve at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day.

The Surgeon General’s Step It Up! Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities recognizes walking as the most accessible form of physical activity as it does not require any equipment, fees, or transportation. However, many Americans face barriers to walking in their communities due to a lack of proper infrastructure, like sidewalks, cross walks, trails/paths, and adequate lighting.

In response, many communities across the country have opted to adopt and implement changes to their land use regulations by introducing pedestrian-oriented zoning that facilitates walkable environments. Unlike traditional zoning which segregates land uses (i.e. single-family homes, commercial, and industrial uses), pedestrian-oriented zoning encourages mixed-use, compact development which allows residents to access their daily needs, like shopping and dining, entertainment, housing, and recreational activities, in a more walkable fashion. Many pedestrian-oriented zoning standards include requirements for connected networks of sidewalks, bike paths, trails, greenways, and parks to encourage pedestrians to engage in active transportation and recreational activities.

One key strategy for cities to implement pedestrian-oriented goals is to adopt New Urbanist zoning and land use principles. New Urbanist zoning prioritizes the pedestrian by fostering human-scaled, walkable community areas and engaging public spaces. Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) are one example of an encouraged development in New Urbanist zoning. TODs are higher density, mixed-use developments in close proximity to transit stops. TODs can facilitate physical activity as transit users often walk or bike at one end of their transit journey. Many TODs require pedestrian-oriented infrastructure such as bike parking and street connectivity which encourages active transportation. Form-based codes and the SmartCode are other New Urbanist, regulatory tools available to local governments who wish to develop walkable, vibrant, and sustainable communities.

As part of the CDC’s Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+), Illinois PRC investigators are analyzing ways in which specific communities across the nation have sought to increase physical activity namely through the creation of walkable neighborhoods. Our investigators ask:

What roles can zoning and land use regulation play in fostering community walkability? What are lessons learned in adopting and implementing pedestrian-oriented zoning?

To answer these questions, our researchers are conducting a study that examines zoning and land use in 15-19 jurisdictions across the country that have adopted and/or implemented pedestrian-oriented zoning. The jurisdictions were selected based on the walkability-orientation of their zoning codes from data previously compiled under a study funded by the National Cancer Institute.

In the first phase of this study, researchers used GIS and Google Street View technologies to construct micro-scale street features that helped assess the extent to which pedestrian-oriented zoning provisions in each community’s zoning code had been implemented.

In the second phase, researchers conducted qualitative interviews with urban planners and zoning officials in 15 of the jurisdictions to understand lessons learned and recommendations for adopting and implementing pedestrian-oriented and New Urbanist zoning. These interviews also identified observed changes since implementing zoning changes (i.e. increased walkability, economic development, public space activation), and barriers to implementation.  Profiles were developed for 13 out of the 15 communities. To view the lessons learned and recommendations for each jurisdiction adopting and implementing pedestrian-oriented and New Urbanist zoning, click here.


Illinois PRC investigators working on this project have been examining the effects of policy and the built environment on physical activity for more than a decade. This project builds on work led by Dr. Jamie Chriqui in a national study of the effects of zoning code reforms on adult physical activity. That study has collected the zoning codes affecting three-quarters of the U.S. population — all jurisdictions in the 496 largest U.S. counties as well as those of four consolidated cities.

Members of the research team of this special interest project are:


To do this work, Illinois PRC works with these nonprofit organizations to improve walkability in communities:


Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus (identifier)The Illinois PRC is a collaborating center in the Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus, which aims to advance policy research to increase physical activity of Americans.

Funded by CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, network members conduct research on physical activity policies, specifically walking, to determine their effectiveness and best translation, dissemination, and implementation practices. Members aim to increase the number of people who meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The PAPRN+ network includes investigators at the Prevention Research Centers of five academic institutions, including the University of Illinois at Chicago:


Access two February 2019 presentations (PDFs) presented at the Active Living Conference that discuss emerging lessons learned in creating walkable communities through zoning and complete street policies.

View a February 2016 presentation (PDF) that describes the Illinois PRC’s pilot research for this network in more detail.

Find community strategies to increase physical activity on the CDC website.

Answer the Surgeon General’s call to promote walking and walkable communities: Step It Up!

Learn about other Illinois PRC efforts to reduce obesity.

Dr. Jamie Chriqui and her colleagues at the Institute for Health Research and Policy developed three resources to assist communities in implementing strategies to improve walkability through zoning and the built environment. These include a primer for public health practitioners, a factsheet about zoning code reforms and their link to increased walking, and a factsheet about how zoning elements are related to walking behaviors.

Support for the development of these resources was provided through a contract from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity and from the Physical Activity Research Network Plus (PAPRN+) collaborating center located at the Illinois Prevention Research Center.

Access a recent report from the Illinois PRC PAPRN+ Collaborating Center on Complete Streets Engagement in Public Health.


This work is a special interest project funded as a competitive supplement grant (SIP14-025) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Illinois Prevention Research Center (under Cooperative Grant No. U48-DP005010), which is administered by the Institute for Health Research and Policy of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).


Bike lanes in Seattle. Photo by Jamie Chriqui.