Policy Factsheet

Urban Design and Land Use Policies

Reasons for Policy

  • Only 27% of students in grades 9-12 get the recommended amount of physical activity per week1
  • The direct costs of inactivity each year in the US are approximately $24 billion1
  • Approximately 200,000-300,000 premature deaths each year are due to physical inactivity1
  • Approximately 40% of children are inhibited from walking or cycling to school because of perceived traffic dangers2

Community Groups

  • Local Builder's Associations
  • Local Government

Policy Components

  • Build commercial areas within walking or biking distance from residential areas (mixed land use)
  • Safe, clean, and continuous sidewalks
  • Use of landscaping to make walking more attractive
  • Improved street lighting
  • Adding bicycle lanes
  • Use of traffic calming strategies (e.g. center islands or raised crosswalks)

Desired Outcomes

  • Increased physical activity
  • Improved safety for pedestrians/fewer pedestrian injuries
  • Improved health
  • Reduced obesity
  • Cleaner air

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

On average, changing community- and street-scale urban design and land use policies can achieve:

  • 35% median increase in physical activity1

Community Examples

Links to Policy Examples

Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development.


  1. Heath G, et al. The effectiveness of urban design and land use and transport policies and practices to increase physical activity: a systematic review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2006;3(Suppl 1):S55-S76.  

  2. Giles-Corti B, Kelty SF, Zubrick SR, Villanueva KP (2009). Encouraging walking for transport and physical activity in children and adolescents: How important is built environment? Sports Medicine, 39(12), 995-1009.  

  3. Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.