Active Transportation, Safe Routes to School, and Access to Parks in the Biden-Harris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

In 1969, the Nixon Administration hosted the first ever White House Conference on Hunger, and it resulted in the creation of the school lunch program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). In September 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration held the first White House Conference on Hunger since that initial conference over fifty years ago and established ambitious, yet attainable goals. As a lead up to the conference, The White House shared its National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which lays out a blueprint for ending hunger, increasing access to high-quality, nutritious foods, and supporting physical activity.

The physical activity strategies, contained in Pillar Four of the National Strategy, are focused on making it easier for people to be more physically active in daily life— in short, making the healthy choice the easy choice. At Safe Routes Partnership, we were particularly excited to see specific recommendations on active transportation, Safe Routes to School, and increasing access to parks and green space because these are easy, evidence-based ways to incorporate physical activity into everyday life. We have included some of the key recommendations from the National Strategy and why we think they are important below.

  • Expand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s State Physical Activity and Nutrition Programs (SPAN) to all states and territories to implement state and community-level policies and activities for physical activity. States select the strategies that work best for them and their communities, and many of the SPAN states focus on policies and activities that make walking and biking to everyday destinations more safe and accessible, including growing Safe Routes to School programs, supporting communities to adopt Complete Streets policies, and work with departments of transportation to improve the accessibility of federal transportation funds for small and rural communities. This program is currently funded in 16 states, so a national program would dramatically expand the benefits of this program to all Americans.
  • Connect more people to parks, particularly in nature-deprived communities.  Parks and trails are common places to get physical activity, but not everyone has safe or convenient access to those spaces. The Biden-Harris Administration is taking a multi-level approach by both creating more natural spaces and increasing access to the green and blue spaces that already exist, particularly in nature-deprived communities. As part of this effort, they are directing the National Park Service to promote car-free travel to parkland and working with a host of other federal agencies to reduce the number of people without access to parks and nature in their communities.
    • We are already seeing next steps! In September 2022, ten federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), “Promoting Equitable Access to Nature in Nature-Deprived Communities.” The White House Council on Environmental Quality will convene the new interagency group, the Nature in Communities Committee. People do not experience their lives along the contours of government agency’s jurisdiction, so if the goal is to increase safe, equitable, and convenient routes to parks for people walking and biking, the approach has to be interdisciplinary. Some of the goals laid out in the MOU include:
      • Identify and leverage federal programs to invest in equitable access to nature
      • Facilitate collaboration across all levels of government to reduce barriers to implementation and accessing federal resources
      • Developing the capacity of community leaders to implement their vision for their park spaces
  • Promote active transportation and land use policies to support physical activity. The National Strategy acknowledged that walking and biking to everyday destinations is one of the leading strategies to increase physical activity, and the generational investment in transportation from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is an opportunity to make that happen. For this goal, USDOT will provide technical assistance for government entities and communities working on active transportation, clarify how they can prioritize safety with federal dollars, and issue guidance on how modes other than motor vehicles should be considered in the planning and design process of roadways. Additionally, the National Strategy recommends the CDC continue investing in Active People Healthy Nation, which builds national partner investment and provides technical assistance to communities to access BIL funding for active transportation, as well as to develop Complete Streets policies and Safe Routes to School programs.
  • Support physical activity among children both in and out of school. Physical activity provides a host of benefits for children’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Many of the recommendations here center on physical education and fitness programs. We connect this goal to an overarching recommendation within Pillar Four that encourages state, local, and territorial governments to implement Safe Routes to School programs. Research shows us that Safe Routes to School works to get kids physically active and arrive at school ready to learn.

We appreciate the attention the National Strategy shines on the importance of active transportation and transportation access to healthy foods and safe places to be physically active. If people can’t get to the grocery store or they don’t feel safe walking to the park, they miss out on the benefits of those destinations. Through our federal policy advocacy, technical assistance, and field engagement, we are working hard to help implement the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, and invite you to do your part, too! Together, we can continue making it easier, safer, and more equitable to walk, bike, and roll to school, parks, grocery stores, and other important community destinations.