What Would It Take to Make the Big Jump to Active Towns?


Strong Towns is just a few days away from #StrongTownsNTX, our regional gathering in Plano, Texas. It’s all going down on October 4th and 5th, and if you care about a North Texas community, you’re not going to want to miss out; it’s going to be an incredible opportunity to talk with experts and fellow advocates about how to make your place financially stronger. And if you know someone who’d love to attend, send ‘em our way.

We've got an amazing slate of presenters lined up for you, and we’ve been spotlighting their work on the site in recent weeks. Today, we bring you a profile of John Simmerman, the president and co-founder of Active Towns, who’s leading a presentation on making places better for bicyclists and walkers.

 Simmerman will be at the gathering in Plano, and so should you! Tickets are still available now.


The Census Bureau has released data from the 2017 American Community Survey—an annual representative survey of U.S. households designed to provide an in-depth look at where, and how, Americans live. It includes some news that might be dispiriting for advocates of active transportation: the percentages of Americans who commute to their jobs both by walking and by bicycle have declined slightly. In the case of cycling, the League of American Bicyclists ran the numbers, and found that, while there was a 4.7% dip in bike commuting, the long-term trend for cycling since 2005 is positive in 84% of America's 70 largest cities. However, there's a catch: most of the places in which bike-commuting is growing are cities in which it was already relatively popular, thus widening the gap between cycling "have" and "have not" towns.

John Simmerman, however, isn't discouraged. Nor is he interested in half-measures that might tick the bicycle mode share up by a fraction of a percentage point. Simmerman, a longtime friend of Strong Towns, is the president and co-founder of Active Towns, an initiative which seeks to tell the stories of the people, places and programs that promote and sustain a culture of activity. The goal is to inspire, educate, and support advocates who are doing the work of nurturing and expanding this culture, and building places that are conducive to it.

Simmerman, who lives in Austin, Texas, has set his sights high: he wants to see a massive increase in the number of people who cycle, to the point where it's no longer viewed as a niche mode of transportation for a small subculture. To promote this cultural shift, Active Towns is planning a full-length documentary, Making The Big Jump.

 John Simmerman of Active Towns

John Simmerman of Active Towns

Simmerman has an evangelist's zeal. He is constantly exploring, documenting and profiling established, emerging and aspiring Active Towns through his perpetual Active Towns Tour, which has taken him to over 200 cities across nearly a dozen countries. He’s frequently asked to share his findings from these explorations and examinations, as well as provide professional guidance and consultation on strategies communities can take to support positive behavior change.

We've featured Simmerman's work on our site before, and we're thrilled to have him at our Regional Gathering in North Texas! Come meet him in person there, but for the time being, let these links tide you over:

Choosing Active Towns: Simmerman was on the Strong Towns Podcast back in 2016, as part of a "bike week" campaign we did that year, to talk about the strategies communities are using to promote a culture of activity.

Making the Big Jump: Towards Cities That Cycle: In 2017, Rachel Quednau had the chance to interview Simmerman about his documentary film project. Read a condensed transcript and find out more about it.

(Cover photo: Gene Bisbee via Flickr.)