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Economic Value of Walkability in Urban Planning

Walking and walkability provide a variety of benefits, including accessibility, transportation cost savings, public health, reduced external transportation costs, more efficient land use, community livability, economic development, and support for equity objectives. Current transportation planning practices tend to undervalue walking.
Sustainable Development and Walkability

Sustainable Development and Walkability

From a conventional planning perspective, walking is a minor mode of travel, and walkability deserves only modest public support. The high value placed on driving and low value placed on walking results from the methods used to measure transport activity. Travel surveys and traffic counts undervalue nonmotorized travel because they ignore or undercount short trips, non-work travel, travel by children, recreational travel and nonmotorized links. We often underestimate the importance of walking in our transportation surveys and we rarely include them in one of the effective and sustainable mode of mobility.

There is often shifting of resources (money and land) away from walking facilities to roads and parking. We intuitively know that transport diversity in general, and walking in particular, are important to society and so favor walkability improvements. Although most travel  surveys indicate that only about 5-10 % of travel is by walking. This is a timely issue because there is growing interest in walking as a form of transport, and recognition of the benefits of Transportation diversity.
Walking is an important form of access, both by itself and in conjunction with other modes (transit, driving, air travel, etc.). But since driving is about ten times faster than walking, this person spends half as much time walking as driving on public facilities, and a modest improvement in walking access (for example, a pedestrian shortcut between their home and local shops) can provide travel time savings that are comparable to a major roadway improvement. Walking accessibility can be evaluated based on the quality of pedestrian conditions and the distribution of destinations, with special consideration to access from origin to destination.

Value of Marginal Changes and Long Term Benefits

The value of marginal changes in walking conditions can be quantified based on changes in travel time costs; based on costs compared with other access options such as driving; and by using contingent valuation surveys to determine the value people place on improved pedestrian accessibility. Although there are many ways to be physically active, walking is one of the most common, and improved walkability is a practical way to increase physical activity. The health benefits of increased walking and improved walkability are potentially quite large. Walking has a relatively high crash fatality rate per mile of travel, but this is offset by reduced risk to other road users and by the fact that pedestrians tend to travel less overall than motorists.
Walkability improvements can help improve land use efficiency and community livability by reducing the amount of land required for Transportation facilities, encouraging more clustered land use patterns, improving local environmental quality and increasing community interaction. Walkability improvements can also support regional economic development by shifting consumer expenditures.

 For example, a particular sidewalk improvement may increase community livability(and therefore property values), improve accessibility, support equity objectives, provide consumer cost savings, benefit the local economy, improve aerobic fitness for some residents, reduce vehicle traffic impacts, and support more efficient land use.  Although only about 5% of trips are made completely by walking, three to six times as many urban trips involve at least one walking link, and 20-40% of travel time is spent walking or waiting.

By this measure, a major share of transport resources should be devoted to walking. However, local governments spend only about a quarter of total transport funds and other levels of government provide far less support for walking.  This discrepancy between the portion of travel by walking and the portion of resources devoted to walking becomes far larger when other public resources devoted to transport are included, such as expenditures on parking facilities and traffic services, and the opportunity cost of public lands devoted to roadways. Including these, less than 2% of total public resources devoted to transport are allocated to walking.
There are several reasons that walking might deserve more than a proportional share of transport resources: If we apply the principle that each mode should receive its proportional share of Transportation resources, this suggests that walking should receive 10-20% of total Transportation resources. These cross subsidies are two or three times greater when other external costs of automobile use are also considered, such as public resources devoted to parking facilities, uncompensated crash damages, and negative environmental impacts. More comprehensive benefit-cost analysis requires better techniques to measure and predict travel impacts of improved walkability, and to evaluate the full economic impacts that result, including indirect and nonmarket impacts that are not usually quantified in transport planning such as environmental, economic development and equity impacts. Conventional transport planning treats walking as a minor mode and recognize only modest benefits from improved walkability and increased walking.This reflects evaluation practices that undercount nonmotorized travel and undervalue walking benefits.


Other perspectives indicate that walking is a critical component of the transport system, and walking conditions have major economic, social and environmental impacts. improved walkability and increased walking can provide a variety of benefits, including accessibility, transport cost savings, improved public health, external cost reductions, more efficient land use, community livability, economic development, and support for equity objectives. Conventional planning practices suggest that the current share of public resources devoted to walking is fair and efficient, but this reflects undercounting of total walking activity, undervaluation of walking benefits, and undervaluation of motor vehicle external costs. More comprehensive evaluation indicates that walking deserves a greater share of transport resources. Recognizing a higher value to walking and walkability could have various effects on Transportation and land use planning, future planners can give due weightage to pedestrian facilities while planning.
Shashikant Nishant Sharma
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About Editor SNSharma

Author, Planning and Publishing Consultant


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