Transportation and Food Access

An Image of a family visiting a farmers' market by biking.

Family visiting a farmers’ market within biking distance from their residence.
Credit: Complete Communities

Accessing healthy food involves knowing there is a nearby location that offers healthy food, traveling to that location, and purchasing the healthy food. Transportation barriers break the connection between knowing that healthy food retailers exist and actually purchasing the food. Safe, accessible transportation plays a key role in linking people to healthy food.

Active Transportation

Over the course of several decades, transportation infrastructure in Delaware and across the country has emphasized automobile travel with little regard to other forms of transportation. For those without cars, forms of active transportation like walking and biking are essential forms of travel. To ensure access to healthy food for people of all ages, abilities, and incomes, communities need to establish accessible and connected pedestrian and bicycling networks that link to sources of healthy food. Communities can improve the viability of active transportation by focusing on two areas: healthy food proximity and activity-supportive built environments.

Healthy Food Proximity

Cars allow people to quickly travel long distances with ease during all seasons, but without access to a vehicle, it is difficult to regularly travel long distances. In cities and other densely populated areas, many residents do not have regular access to a car. The USDA considers healthy food retailers inaccessible in urban areas if they are more than half a mile or a mile away from people’s homes. When healthy food retailers are located beyond this distance, the amount of time required to travel to and from the store can be challenging for people who are often managing busy jobs, families, and more. Additionally, it is difficult to carry any significant amount of groceries over a long distance, so people would have to travel the lengthy, time consuming distance to the grocery outlet more often than if it were located nearby.

Communities can address these problems by:

  • Creating ordinances and zoning regulations that permit local food sources like farmers’ markets, community gardens, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in more areas.
  • Incentivizing corner stores and mobile food vendors to sell healthy food by offering reduced permit and licensing fees to retailers who chose to sell predominantly healthy food.
  • Providing density bonuses and reduced fees to developers who incorporate a community garden into new development.
  • Working with partner organizations to establish local food banks for nearby residents.

Activity Supportive Built Environments

Active transportation is any human-powered mode of transportation such as walking or bicycling. Activity-supportive built environments not only increase physical activity, but also promote transportation equity for people who do not drive or own cars. Planning for activity- supportive infrastructure goes beyond the simple existence of sidewalks and bike lanes. For activity transportation to be a viable option, activity-supportive infrastructure must be designed with key origins and destinations in mind. To provide more equitable access to healthy food, these features form continuous, safe linkages from where people live to sources of healthy food.

Communities can foster active transportation by:

  • Creating and maintaining a continuous network of sidewalks and trails.
  • Providing bicycle infrastructure, bike lanes, and bike
  • Ensuring sidewalks and intersections are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design.
  • Planning and implementing complete streets policies to provide safe mobility options for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Providing streetscaping amenities like lighting and benches.
  • Implementing traffic-calming measures to reduce pedestrian- vehicle conflicts.

For more information on planning for activity-friendly environments, see the Walkability, Bikeability, and Complete Streets sections of the Delaware Complete Communities Planning Toolbox.

Public Transit

Supermarkets carry a wide variety of healthy food during Delaware’s growing season and at other times of the year. During winter and early spring, farmers’ markets, farm stands, and community gardens are not able to provide as much healthy food, but supermarkets continue to offer a variety of healthy food options because their size enables them to afford to purchase foods from other areas of the country. Public transit can connect people living in densely populated areas with large-scale supermarkets, which are often located outside of urban areas. However, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that people are only willing to walk one-quarter to one-half mile to get to mass transit, so if stops are beyond this point, residents are unlikely to view mass transit as a practical form of transportation. With careful planning and modification, public transit can provide practical and accessible connections to healthy food retailers.

The First- and Last- Mile Transit Connectivityvideo builds on the importance of considering public transit in the land use planning together and describes key factors to consider when trying to establish public transit as a viable option to connect people to important destinations.

Communities can improve access to healthy food via public transit by:

  • Considering food access and distribution while working with the local transit agency (i.e., DART First State) to plan, expand, and improve the public transit system.
  • Planning for the development of new healthy food retailers along existing transit lines.
  • Identifying and addressing first- and last-mile transit connectivity (i.e., walking, biking, or rolling to or from a transit hub or location).

Rural Transportation

An image of a rural area with a large highway cutting through it. Though there is a large road, no walking or biking paths can be seen.

For those who live in rural areas and do not own vehicles, distance and a lack of active transportation infrastructure (sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, etc.) can make it difficult to reach a food retailer.
Credit: James Pernol

According to rural residents, “lack of transportation infrastructure” is regarded as the biggest obstacle to accessing healthy food. While vehicle ownership rates are higher among rural residents than urban residents, there are many residents who lack regular access to a vehicle. Additionally, for multi-member households with only one car, it can be difficult to make long trips to the grocery store when other household members may need the car to travel to work, child-care locations, or any other number of competing uses. Since supermarkets are farther away in rural areas than they are in urban or suburban areas, supermarket trips require more travel time than elsewhere.

Communities can improve access to transportation to healthy food retailers in rural areas by:

  • Encouraging farm stands to sell produce directly from farm properties.
  • Offering mobile food markets run by supermarkets or nonprofits.
  • Providing public transportation by means of community vans, which offer a cheaper alternative to buses in areas with lower populations.
  • Partnering with nonprofit organizations that offer transportation (e.g., senior centers or community centers) to sponsor trips to full- service grocery stores or host on-site mobile markets.

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