Why make neighbourhoods more walkable and bikeable? Today, it’s all about the Benjamins. Or, in our case, the Bobs.
1. Good for business. Making shopping areas more walkable and bikeable is associated with higher sales. More local residents end up shopping locally, and people walking and cycling typically visit more shops than “drive-through” shoppers, who may only pick up one item on their way elsewhere. These kinds of urban design changes can also attract new businesses and decrease vacancies.
Check out these case studies from Toronto (Year 1, Year 2, Infographic), New York and Australia on how changes to the urban landscape – to make them more walkable and bikeable – increased sales, reduced vacancies, and altered transportation modes. (There is also cool information about reduced crashes and injuries following these design changes.)
2. Personal piggy-bank. Walkability and bikeability saves each of us money by allowing us to spend less on automobiles (fuel, maintenance, ownership and parking) and possibly on transit fees. The money we save is then freed up to spend otherwise – such as in the local economy as above, or in vastly improved housing options, as suggested in this research by Dr. Noel Keough.
3. Land use and travel efficiency. Designing for walkability can reduce the amount of land used for roadways, parking, and building setbacks (that mitigate traffic noise), and can thus encourage more clustered development. This is better for business (as above), can reduce the amount spent on road construction and maintenance (see Roadway Cost Savings, p.26), and means that more land can be used for value-, income- and tax-generating purposes, such as housing and business. In his article “Ring Road Re-Think” published in January 2015 in FFWD Weekly, Dr. Noel Keough estimates that we could put roughly 140,000 people on the land dedicated to the new Ring Road, at the density of the Sunnyside neighbourhood.
4. Travel time, efficiency, and enjoyment. Cities with reliable walking, biking, and transit infrastructure experience less employee lateness and absenteeism, and as a result, less employee turnover – which goes back to being good for business. Our infrastructure also affects the efficiency and enjoyment of travel. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute puts a dollar value on travel time and travel quality for different modes of transportation, at different levels of service. They differentiate between time that is usually experienced more negatively (such as sitting in traffic or waiting in the cold at a bus stop) and time experienced more positively (time spent reading a book on the train or walking in good weather). ,
5. Public health system. Sedentary lifestyles – associated with diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, depression and dementia, and some types of cancer – incur substantial costs to the public health care system. On average, Albertans spend 9 hours per weekday in sedentary activities, and 1/3 of Albertans are sedentary for more than 10 hours per day. 60% of us get enough physical activity to experience health benefits. Neighbourhood walkability directly impacts how much people walk – including those who “aren’t that into walking” – and the benefits of this to the health care system can be estimated in dollars. This has been done in different ways, including the methodology provided by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in their “Economic Value of Walking” (p.12).
The health benefits of better walking and transit infrastructure can also be expressed with regard to the benefits of better air quality. Environmental benefits are often quantified using the health care system, but other environmental benefits include open space preservation, climate change mitigation, air and water pollution mitigation, and reduced heat island effect.