Active Living

Our sedentary lifestyles, combined with unhealthy diets, are responsible for 300,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.  Only tobacco is responsible for more preventable deaths.  Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of obesity and many chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Even modest increases in activities such as walking and bicycling can have significant health benefits and help people lead longer, healthier lives. Still, studies show that less than half of U.S. children and adolescents meet the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended requirements of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily physical activity.  Adults fare even worse.  Less than 10 percent of U.S. adults get the recommended goal of 30 minutes of physical activity per day.  The obesity rate in the U.S. has tripled for adolescents and quadrupled for children over the last four decades – and a prime culprit is physical inactivity.

Several public health policies have proven effective in promoting physical activity and reducing weight gain and obesity.  Among these policies are improved physical activity standards in schools; increased walking and biking to work or school; and modified built environments, with streets and sidewalks accessible, attractive and safe for active travel, along with multiple bike lanes and multi-use trails.  Many of these policies entail land use planning, recreational use statutes, and joint use agreements between entities to share the use of public properties or facilities.

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Featured Publications

  Understanding MN Roads (2014)

Minnesota roads make up a substantial and important part of Minnesota’s transportation system. Motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians use highways, streets, and other roads to get from one place to another on a daily basis. For this reason, Minnesota laws addressing roads apply to pedestrian and bicycle use just as much as they apply to motor vehicle use. This fact sheet discusses who is responsible for establishing and maintaining these roads and how Minnesota’s transportation system is designed to ensure safety and efficiency and meet certain goals.

  Pedestrian and Bicyclist Rights and Responsibilities (2013)

Minnesota law specifies how different types of traffic should behave when traveling throughout the state. The ability of pedestrians and bicyclists to safely and effectively travel depends on all forms of traffic understanding and following these laws. This fact sheet identifies essential rights and responsibilities of different types of traffic that support safe pedestrian and bicycle travel.

  Crossing Minnesota Roads (2013)

Minnesota law supports pedestrian and bicycle travel throughout the state as energy-efficient, nonpolluting, and healthy forms of transportation. In doing so, it identifies specific places and ways that pedestrians and bicyclists may safely cross streets, highways, and other roads. This fact sheet discusses laws that impact how pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed to cross Minnesota roads to support safe travel for all users of the transportation system.

  School-Zone Speed Limits in Minnesota (2013)

High speed roads and wide crossings can cause walking or biking to school more dangerous and less enjoyable for students, making students are far less likely to be allowed to walk or bike to school. Establishing safe school-zone speed limits is one way to make walking and biking routes safer, providing students with opportunities for increased physical activity. This fact sheet discusses how school-zone speed limits are established so that local authorities can develop strategies to enforce these speed limits, making roads safer for children to walk or bike to school.

  Liability for Volunteers in the Walking School Bus Program (2013)

A walking school bus program aims to get children to be more physically active and socially engaged by supporting walking to and from school in groups accompanied by adults. Adult volunteers are often responsible for organizing the program and walking the children to and from school. This fact sheet discusses how Minnesota law may protect volunteers from liability claims for accidents that occur while volunteering.

  Minnesota Complete Streets Policy (2013)

Across the United States, states and local communities are pursuing Complete Streets laws and policies to ensure that the state and local transportation system accommodates the needs of all types of traffic. Minnesota adopted a statewide Complete Streets law in 2010. This fact sheet discusses how Complete Streets initiatives provide a framework for bringing attention to the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, promoting active transportation, and improving public health by increasing physical activity.

  Minnesota Complete Streets Variance Process (2013)

Minnesota’s Complete Streets law allows a local government, including a county, city, town, or regional park authority, to request a variance from state aid design standards when using state funding for a local Complete Streets project. The law requires the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) to evaluate all Complete Streets variance requests using specific Complete Streets guidance publications. This fact sheet provides information about Complete Streets and a basic flow chart of its state aid variance process.

  Applying State Aid to Local Road Projects (2013)

Funding roads can be expensive, making it difficult for smaller communities to finance local roads on their own. In these cases, local roads under the control of county, city, or town government may qualify for state aid distributed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT). This flow chart provides a basic overview of the project approval process that local governments must use when seeking state aid for a local road project.

  Liability Protection for Minnesota Landowners (2013)

Minnesota law gives liability protection to landowners who allow the public to enter their land for recreational purposes without charging a fee. This fact sheet discusses how Minnesota’s Recreational Use Statute provides landowners with broad liability protection so the public can access and make recreational use of natural resources on private property.

  Liability Concerns in Minnesota: Recreational Maps (2013)

Minnesota municipalities may want to provide maps to members of the public for biking, walking, or other recreational uses. These municipalities, however, may be concerned about the liability issues surrounding the use of such maps. This fact sheet discusses ways Minnesota law protects municipalities from liability for claims that arise from inaccuracies in a map which are based on certain decisions and kinds of information.

  Liability Issues for Bike Share Programs (2013)

Bike share programs provide the public with the opportunity to rent bicycles for transportation and exercise without the expense and responsibility of owning a bike. However, bike share programs can create liability and safety issues. This fact sheet provides an overview of the liability issues that can arise and how a bike share program owner or operator can minimize risk of liability.

  Active Transportation in Minnesota: Resources Dedicated to Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Non-Motorized Transportation

The Public Health Law Center developed a series of resources dedicated to pedestrian, bicycle, and non-motorized transportation to raise public awareness of laws and programs that support these healthy forms of transportation.

  Minnesota Recreational Use

This set of resources identifies liability issues, risk management strategies and available resources for Minnesota schools allowing community recreational use of school property.  

  Wisconsin School District Resources: Recreational Use of School Property

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Public Health Law Center and Transform Wisconsin collaboratively developed two sample recreational agreement/facility use forms, a reference checklist, and a fact sheet that provides a general explanation of the liability protection provided by recreational agreements.

  Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Initiatives and Liability: Opportunities, Perceptions & Realities

Tue, 12/11/2012

Various public health policies have proven effective in promoting physical activity and reducing weight gain and obesity. Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiatives are a topic of conversation in communities looking for ways to promote active transportation. SRTS programs encourage children to make walking and bicycling to school part of their daily routines. However, concerns over accidents, injuries and “liability” may not match the realities.  This webinar provides an overview of the development and implementation of successful SRTS initiatives. 

  Finding Space to Play (2012)

Increasing physical activity is important to promote individual and public health.  Whether or not someone is physically active is closely tied to one’s access to a safe, affordable, and convenient place to be physically active.  School recreational facilities can provide valuable space for community recreational activity.  However, schools and communities must navigate a number of policy and legal considerations when schools open their property for community recreational use.  This report provides a comprehensive overview of the key legal and policy issues impacting community recreational use of school property along with a review of the current policy initiatives being pursued at the state and local levels to promote community recreational use of school property. 

  Eliminating Barriers for Community Recreational Use of School Property: Policy Guidance on Liability & Shared Use (2012)

One key strategy for promoting increased physical activity is to open school property for recreational use by the community during non-school hours.  Whether real or misplaced, liability can be a key perceived barrier.  State laws relating to school liability are complex, and vary from one state to another. This document was created to outline key concepts to consider when assessing whether to clarify or change state liability protections and provides sample language to use as a staring place for state policy change.  

  Community Gardens: Model Resolution Language (2011)

The Public Health Law Center developed model language to be used as a tool for cities and counties to use in the promotion of community gardens on both public and private land.

  Liability Concerns in Minnesota: Recreational Maps (2010)
This fact sheet provides an overview of liability protections for municipalities (including cities and school districts) when creating recreational maps.
  Bicyclist and Pedestrian Rights and Responsibilities in Minnesota (2010)
This fact sheet provides a summary of bike and pedestrian laws in Minnesota.