Active Design Promotes Physical Activity and Environmental Stewardship

Author: Thomas M. Robinson, RLA, LEED AP

The traditional perception of recreation and its benefits is rapidly evolving. Significant trends include urbanization, climate change, an aging population, changing family structures, and public health issues related to inactivity. Engineers can be leaders in adapting to this complex equation of changing realities.   Applying innovation to environmental design can greatly improve public health and reduce mortality rates. Engineers have a key role to play in creating Active Communities that support high levels of activity in daily life and provide a counter-measure to the public health challenges of our time. 

Active Design is an approach to the development of neighborhoods, streets and buildings that uses architecture, engineering and urban planning to make daily physical activity more accessible and inviting. One important component of Active Design is weaving outdoor recreational opportunities into the built environment. Healthy communities connect sustainable parks, playgrounds and schools with bicycle and pedestrian movement systems. Outdoor physical activity occurs not only at the destinations, but all along the journey. Urban ecology and green infrastructure provide a sustainable context that is inviting to users and promotes interaction with natural systems. 

Active Design principles can be applied across a wide range of scale and context, and are closely linked to other sustainability initiatives. Design strategies that increase physical activity and improve health also tend to improve air and water quality and reduce the carbon footprint. In our region, engineers are playing an important role in a diversity of projects that support Active Design.

Public Transit and Active Transportation are closely related and mutually supportive. Every ride on a bus starts and ends with walking. Nationwide, transit users take 30 percent more steps per day and spend 8.3 more minutes walking per day than people who rely on cars. 

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Monroe Avenue Green Streets, in the Town of Brighton, is a great suburban example of Active Design.  The project applies several strategies to encourage physical activity. Applications of green infrastructure improve water quality, establish a robust urban ecology, and create a more supportive and attractive pedestrian environment. The project integrates transit use and active transportation, thereby reducing consumption of fossil fuels and GHG emissions. For more on this project, visit:


Syracuse Connective Corridor, in the City of Syracuse, is a 1.7-mile long traffic-calming project with emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle facilities and accommodations for public transportation connecting Syracuse University and downtown Syracuse. This project refigured and reconstructed three existing City street sections to create a “Complete Street,” designed to enable safe operation and accessibility for all pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders. The redesigned streets include improved pedestrian facilities, bicycle lane treatments, traffic calming measures (curb extensions, raised medians), improved signage systems, formalized bus stops, and enhanced intersection and street crossings. This project provides a balance between safety and convenience for all residents and transient student populations, creating a unique and legible link between the City of Syracuse and the University. Read more about this project here.

This post was adapted from an article originally published in the August 2015 issue of Rochester Engineer. Visit B&L’s articles page for the full feature article, complete with more examples of Active Design.