Economic Returns from Active Transportation

Jane WardAs many Americans are enjoying their summer vacations, it’s a good time to look at studies on the tourism and economic benefits that bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure can generate. While this may not seem immediately relevant to our day-to-day work of making schools and neighborhoods safer for walking and bicycling, policymakers can be strongly influenced by economic arguments. 

Over the last decade, an increasing number of high-quality economic impact assessments of bicycling and walking infrastructure have been made at the state, regional, or local levels. Two sources summarizing many of those studies are available on the PeopleForBikes Statistics Library and the League of American Bicyclists’ report “Bicycling Means Business.”  On the walkability side, Active Living Research published a research synthesis entitled “The Economic Benefits of Open Space, Recreation Facilities and Walkable Community Design.”

The economic benefits from bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure fall into three general categories: tourism benefits; economic returns from jobs, business and taxes; and cost-savings such as health costs.  Some highlights from studies are included below:

  • In North Carolina, Pathways to Prosperity:  A Case Study of the Economic Impact of investments in Bicycling Infrastructure on the Outer Banks, NC documented that $6.7 million of investment over 10 years in bicycle infrastructure resulted in $60 million annually in revenue from nearly 700,000 visiting bicyclists each year.
  • In Vermont, the report The Economic Impact of Bicycling and Walking in Vermont found that bicycling and walking created at least 1,400 jobs, $41 million in wages, and $83 million in revenue from bicycle and pedestrian-related businesses and major events (which attracted more than 60,000 people to the state).
  • In the Walking the Walk report, CEOs for Cities examined home values and walkability scores in major metropolitan markets, and found that a one-point increase in the WalkScore correlated with a $700 to $3,000 increase in home values—which can then result in higher property tax revenues for local governments.
  • Specific to Safe Routes to School, researchers Muenning, Epstein and DiMaggio  examined the safety benefits of Safe Routes to School projects and found that the cost-savings associated with the reduction of child pedestrian injuries resulted in an overall net societal benefit of $230 million over a projected 50-year period.

While we all know the safety, health and environmental benefits of Safe Routes to School projects, hopefully these economic arguments can help you make the case for increased investments. 

Jane Ward, MD, MPH is our research advisor, responsible for updating our research section and blogging on research topics. She completed a career in the US Air Force as a pediatric ophthalmologist with a strong interest in international humanitarian work. Her lifelong interest in fitness and active living led her to pursue a Masters of Public Health with a focus on Physical Activity and the built environment. For her MPH internship in the spring of 2012, she bicycled cross-country advocating and fundraising for Safe Routes to School and the League of American Bicyclists Bike Friendly America programs. She is an Assistant Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and retains close ties with the George Washington University Department of Exercise Science. She enjoys bicycling for fun and transportation, triathlons, travel and spending time with family and friends on active vacations.