Sociodemographic and Environmental Correlates of Active Commuting in Rural America


  • Funding: This research was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01CA140319–01A1. The fındings and conclusions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the funding agency.

  • Acknowledgments: The authors thank Xingyou Zhang and Fahui Wang for their data support.



This research investigated participation rates in 3 modes of active commuting (AC) and their sociodemographic and physical environmental correlates in rural America.


The 2000 Census supplemented with other data sets were used to analyze AC rates in percentage of workers walking, biking, and taking public transportation to work in 14,209 nonmetropolitan rural tracts identified by RUCA codes, including 4,067 small rural and 10,142 town-micropolitan rural tracts. Sociodemographic and physical environmental variables were correlated with 3 AC modes simultaneously using Seemingly Unrelated Regression for nonmetro rural, and for small rural and town-micropolitan rural separately.


The average AC rates in rural tracts were 3.63%, 0.26%, and 0.56% for walking, biking, and public transportation to work, respectively, with small rural tracts having a higher rate of walking but lower rates of biking and public transportation to work than town-micropolitan tracts. In general, better economic well-being was negatively associated with AC but percentage of college-educated was a positive correlate. Population density was positively associated with AC but greenness and proximity to parks were negative correlates. However, significant differences existed for different AC modes, and between small rural and town-micropolitan rural tracts.


Sociodemographic factors explained more variance in AC than physical environmental factors but the detailed relationships were complex, varying by AC mode and by degree of rurality. Any strategy to promote AC in rural America needs to be sensitive to the population size of the area and assessed in a comprehensive manner to avoid a “one size fits all” approach.