A new Arkansas Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan released by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department calls for better pedestrian accommodations, increased safety awareness and more planning on both the regional and local levels.
The report included results from a survey of 920 Arkansas residents. Nearly half of respondents have a daily commute of less than 5 miles, but the majority of employed respondents who had auto access commuted to work by car. Only 9% of respondents said they walk to work regularly.
About 34% said that they walk for leisure/recreation almost daily, 45% frequently, according to the report.
Almost three-quarters of respondents said a lack of sidewalks and trails is a factor that keeps them from walking more often. About half cited distance of their destination as a deterrent to walking, and 46% said heavy traffic and dangerous intersections are a deterrent. Only 5% said they have a physical limitation that prevents them from walking or cycling.
In terms of cycling, 44% of respondents said they bicycle frequently for recreation or fitness, almost one-third said they do it almost daily. About 20% bike to work.
Only 70 (7.6%) said they do not ride a bicycle at all.
A lack of bicycle facilities was cited by 80% of respondents to the community survey as a deterrent to bicycling. Other deterrents listed were: Motorists don’t exercise caution around cyclists (77%), traffic is too heavy (70%), there are dangerous intersections (63%) and desirable destinations are too far (31%).
The report calls for improving the physical network of pedestrian accommodations, encouraging planning and research statewide, regionally and within cities and engaging with the public, including providing information on cyclist safety.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the AHTD and the Arkansas State Police published Bicycle Safety in Arkansas in 2013. The ASP updated the state driving license test and study materials in order to better emphasize sharing the road with cyclists.
From a tourism perspective, the report calls for promoting more charity bike rides. A national survey of participants in organized recreational bicycle rides found that more than 1 million Americans participated in 1,700 U.S. recreational road-riding events and spent nearly $140 million on food, lodging, and other purchases in the process. Nationally, revenue from recreational road-riding events topped $240 million, according to the report. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor activity in Arkansas, undertaken by both local residents and tourists, generates $10 billion in consumer spending and directly and indirectly supports 126,000 Arkansas jobs, produces $2.9 billion in wages and salaries and generates $696 million in state and local tax revenue. More than two-thirds of Arkansas residents participate in outdoor recreation each year, according to the AHTD.
The report also suggests the encouragement of pedestrian activity as a solution for health improvement.
In 2013, Center for Disease Control data showed that 34.6 percent of adult residents self-report as obese, and an additional 35.3 percent report as overweight.
A 2011 study conducted by the University of Northern Iowa’s Sustainable Tourism and Environment Program found that the estimated 25,000 regular bicycle commuters and 150,000 recreational bicyclists in Iowa saves the State of Iowa $87 million in health care costs, according to AHTD.
Arkansas has shown an increased emphasis on cycling since it landed at the bottom of the list of Bike Friendly States from the League of American Cyclists in 2012. In the latest ranking, taken in 2015, Arkansas landed in the No. 36 spot.
In the past 20 years AHTD has invested $185 million in bicycle and pedestrian improvements through the replacement or installation of sidewalks, ramps, striping for pedestrian and cyclists, and Transportation Alternatives Program, according to the report.