Land Use Policies

The vast majority of post-WWII land use policies are based on the separation of different land uses, where residential areas were set apart from commercial, retail, and other land uses. This separation of land uses causes several problems:

  • Long distances between land uses (e.g., from residential areas to commercial/retail areas) make trip origins and destinations very far apart - even though bicycling is suitable for longer distance travel than walking, distances greater than a few miles may exceed the distance people are willing to bike, especially for shopping or other utilitarian trips. This makes bicycling or walking impractical as a functional mode of transportation in most areas, even when nonmotorized facilities are provided.
  • The greater number of people driving creates more dangerous traffic conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians; those who decide to bike or walk face longer distances and riskier conditions.
  • As more people are forced to drive rather than bike or walk, the situation is perpetuated as street designers build bigger roads to accommodate traffic and commercial developments are designed to serve motorists.

Movements such as "Smart Growth" or "New Urbanism" challenge this auto-centric design and seek to create more sustainable development patterns. Instead of planning solely for the automobile, these community design movements promote alternative transportation modes by including bicycle and pedestrian facilities and mixed land uses in neighborhood design.

Polices that can be used to support bicycling include:

Examples of these policies are provided below. The policies are most effective when combined with a broader strategy for growth management. Although a piecemeal approach may be useful in some instances, policies that fit into, and are consistent with, a broader framework of development management are more likely to be successful.

Form based codes

Form based codes (FBCs) focus first on the design of spaces, buildings, and streets, and second on land uses. While conventional codes use text almost exclusively to establish what cannot be done, FBCs use text and illustrations to make visible what should be done. The intended result is a more predictable creation of spaces formed to appropriately address the issues of the community, which often includes the need for more human-scale development and nonmotorized facilities. Bicyclists might benefit from the use of FBCs in two ways - the codes are more likely to encourage accommodation of bicycle parking facilities, but most importantly, the transportation facilities in an FBC development will be less auto-centric, and thus more appealing to bicyclists.

Perhaps the most popular version of a FBC is the "SmartCode," which focuses on the rural-to-urban transect. Created by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), the SmartCode is now in place in several communities and in the approval process in even more.


  • Form Based Codes Institute—provides education, outreach, standards, and forum discussions on form based codes.
  • "Codifying New Urbanism" by CNU's Planners Task Force—guide to New Urbanist zoning practices, including form based codes.
  • SmartCode Complete—provides educational, training, and purchasing options for the SmartCode.


Performance and incentive zoning

Performance zoning does away with inflexible zone requirements and evaluates each individual development based on specific performance measures. This evaluation is often done through a point system, with priority factors receiving more points, and certain point totals required for different types of development. Communities assign weights to factors based on their planning goals to help ensure they are addressed at the project level. For example, a community that values bikeability highly may weight factors like sidewalk provision of bicycle parking and traffic calming more than other features.

Unfortunately, effective performance zoning requires extensive consideration of potential extreme outcomes, making it more time-consuming to implement. Poorly-developed performance zoning might result in overly subjective standards that are controversial and therefore difficult to implement. As such, performance elements for items like parking requirements, sidewalk provision, landscaping, etc., are often imbedded into certain parts of conventional zoning ordinances instead of adopting true performance zoning codes.

Incentive zoning is a reward-based system designed to provide tradeoffs for developments to address specific planning goals. While a base level of requirements underlies each new development, incentives such as increased building heights and project densities are available in exchange for other measures like additional pedestrian amenities and affordable housing units. Similar to performance zoning, however, incentive zoning can be difficult to administer. Additionally, somewhat regular updates may be required to ensure that the incentives offered are marketable to developers.


  • "Types of Zoning Codes and Formats"—A Discussion Paper from the City of Palo Alto Department of Planning and Community Environment that describes multiple zoning types, including performance and incentive zoning.
  • "Performance Zoning" by Lane Kendig—1980 book providing comprehensive information on performance zoning.


Overlay districts

Overlay districts are commonly used in conventional zoning codes to provide additional regulations to underlying zones in certain geographic areas. They offer significant flexibility by avoiding blanket requirements and addressing specific policies in a particular area. Overlay districts may address a wide range of issues ranging from land use to noise levels. Similarly, they may cover varying geographies, such as corridors, neighborhoods, and watersheds. Their flexibility and ability to pinpoint policy areas make them useful tools to promote or require developments and facilities that accommodate bicycling, walking, and/or transit in the most appropriate areas.


  • Model Regulations—American Planning Association (APA) Planners Advisory Service (PAS) Report offer best practices in land development regulations.
  • "Administration of Flexible Zoning Techniques"—American Planning Association (APA) Planners Advisory Service (PAS) Report, available for purchase through APA—provides descriptions and implementation information about various zoning techniques, including overlay districts.


Transit-oriented development

Transit-oriented development (TOD) refers to village-like development that centers on a specific transit node. While the transit node is most typically rail of some sort, bus nodes are also used under the right conditions. Similar to neo-traditional developments, TODs include higher densities, vertically mixed land uses, good connectivity, and strong bicycling and pedestrian amenities. However, there are important differences. TODs need a higher level of activity to generate the needed transit ridership, which in turn requires greater commercial diversity and higher employment densities. TODs are also beholden to high-quality transit service that requires good transit planning.

These measures are designed to encourage greater use of transportation modes other than the private automobile—most notably transit. Since transit is a sister mode to bicycling and walking—every transit user is a pedestrian—the design is necessarily favorable to nonmotorized modes as well. For example, TODs are typically designed at one-quarter to one-half mile diameters to ensure that bicycling and walking are viable options for residents and visitors. Traffic-calming measures, stronger parking policies, and adequate bicycle facilities are also usually included.



School siting and transportation policies

The vast majority of schools recently constructed are sited in suburban and rural greenfields. This trend is due in large part to the convergence of several factors, including:

  • Cheaper land prices
  • Availability of larger land parcels
  • Minimum acreage requirements
  • Insurance premiums
  • Building code pressures to construct single-story structures
  • Associated cost and building code issues of expanding and rehabilitating schools in existing urban areas

The placement of practically all new schools away from existing neighborhoods and infrastructure, along with the typical lack of new infrastructure for bicycling or walking, has significantly affected school-related transportation behavior. From 1969 to 2001, the percentage of school children who walked or bicycled to school fell from 42 to 16 (according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School). A 2004 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that the distance to school was by far the most overwhelming barrier to children walking or bicycling to school. While this reduction has the short term effect of providing fewer walking opportunities for children, it also has the long term effect of disassociating children from walking as they get older and begin to form their own personal transportation habits and perceptions.

The following are just a few school siting strategies relevant entities can use to achieve their bikeability and walkability goals:

  • Building smaller schools reduces catchment areas and increases the percentage of students within bicycling and walking distance. Smaller schools, especially when built at more than one story, require less land and make new urban schools and retrofitting of existing schools more viable. However, the down side of smaller schools is that some of the benefits of larger schools, like lower administrative costs, will not get realized.
  • Increased coordination between school district officials and land use planners can allow for improved bicycling and walking outcomes. Planners can include school siting as a concern in long-range plans, while schools can work with planners to ensure that school location decisions are consistent with long-range land use and transportation plans.
  • The Safe Routes to School Online Guide states that "infrastructure within the school zone and beyond is a prerequisite for walking and bicycling." Well-designed sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and off-street paths should be provided to connect to surrounding neighborhoods or to prepare to connect to adjacent developments that will arise in the future. Read more on School Zone Improvements.

Regardless of where a school is sited, transportation policies are needed to ensure that children have the option and encouragement to bike and walk. The following and additional transportation policies may be considered:

  • Campaigns to support bicycling and walking, such as Safe Routes to School (SRTS), provide children, parents, teachers, and school officials with comprehensive information, encouragement, and tools to make biking and walking safe and viable school transportation modes.
  • A "No Pickup" policy within school zones requires students to use a different transportation mode to get to and from school. However, if adequate bicycling and/or walking infrastructure does not exist within the zone, this policy may be unsafe by forcing children to bike and walk in unsafe conditions. This type of policy would also require political support from the school district.
  • Reducing parking supply and/or increasing parking permit costs at high schools may encourage more students to use other modes like bicycling and walking, provided that a safe route exists and the distance to school is not too long.
  • Bicycling and walking facilities on and near school grounds must be designed to be safe, convenient, and welcoming to encourage student use.


  • Safe Routes to School (SRTS)—provides planners and communities educational materials, case studies, and guidance to encourage and enable more children to safely walk and bicycle to school.
  • KidsWalk-to-School—community-based program by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that provides education materials and resources aimed to increase opportunities for daily physical activity by encouraging children to walk to and from school in groups accompanied by adults.
  • Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting—2003 EPA study that provides information on how school siting affects how children get to school.
  • Barriers to Children Walking to or from School United States 2004–2004 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study that uses the 2004 ConsumerStyles Survey and a follow-up recontact survey to describe what parents report as barriers to their children aged 5 to 18 years walking to or from school.
  • Walking School Bus—provides information on how to start a walking school bus—a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. Most of the ideas and suggestions will translate well to a bicycling version, often called a "Bicycle Train."
  • Making Current Trends in School Design Feasible—publication by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that examines size, sustainability, and walkability solutions for new and rehabilitated schools.