Research on the relationship between urbanicity and physical activity yielded mixed results despite many studies consistently showing that residents tended to undertake more transportation-related physical activity in a more urban environment. This study analyzed the 2017 NHTS data to examine the geographic disparities in physical activity, particularly transportation-related physical activity in the United States. Our analysis suggests the relationship between urbanicity and physical activity demonstrates a flat U-shape in graphed data. Residents are more physically active when they live in the areas from the two ends of the urbanization spectrum: inner cities and inner suburbs of large metropolitan areas and the rural parts of non-metropolitan areas. Suburbanites, particularly mid-ring and outer-ring suburbanites walk the least. Only very slight geographic variation exists in the weekly rates of walk and bike trips that are strictly for exercise. The study revealed greater variation of the weekly rates of walk and bike trips that are for non-exercise purposes. This study suggests a more complicated relationship between urbanicity, active travel, and physical activity in a broader geographic context. More research needs to examine whether and how new urbanist design can promote active travel, particularly active travel strictly for exercise, in rural areas and areas of low urbanicity.

Publication Date


Publication Type



Active Transportation

Digital Object Identifier


MTI Project



Spatial analysis, Health, Equity, Travel patterns, Travel surveys


Environmental Public Health | Other Civil and Environmental Engineering