Why are the relatively modest costs of sidewalks, bicycle lanes and paths, and pedestrian improvements met with suspicion and hostility by the conventional auto-oriented transportation community? What are the true costs and the true benefits of these projects?
Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has provided many of these answers in his latest publication, Evaluating Non-Motorized Transport Benefits and Costs.
Litman challenges the perception that non-motorized transportation improvements (for travel modes such as walking, bicycling, and wheelchairs) only benefit a small subset of users. He claims that they, in fact, benefit nearly everyone, even the most dedicated motorists. After all, people who consider themselves motorists must get to and from their cars and benefit from accessible, convenient, and efficient connections between their cars and their destinations.
Conventional cost-benefit analysis heavily favors car-oriented projects at the expense of considering the importance of a diverse and dynamic transportation system that includes non-motorized modes as integral to the overall system.
Litman meets the typical arguments against non-motorized transport projects with well-considered and practical responses, summarized here;
- Inferior Good: Road projects are an indication of wealth, according to critics of spending on non-auto transportation projects. One look at many wealthy communities – those with many walkers, bicyclists, and pedestrians – proves that providing an array of transportation options is the key to and an indicator of community well-being.
- Slow and Inefficient: While walking and bicycling are often slower than traveling by car, non-motorized transportation is often very efficient, and those transportation options actually increase efficiency through cost savings and the benefits of connecting places, people, goods, and services.
- Excessive Costs and Subsidies: The true costs of roadway projects are rarely considered by the models typically used to justify them. These include increased crashes resulting from higher speeds and volumes, and the decrease of physical activity due to car travel. Similarly, the true benefits of non-motorized projects are rarely considered when arguing against such projects.
- Unfair to Motorists: Non-motorized transportation projects do not benefit motorists and should not be funded with transportation dollars. The true cost of road subsidies, however, is rarely considered by proponents of this view. Litman also argues that non-motorized facilities offset the negative impacts of roadway projects such as air pollution and water-quality issues.
- Inefficient and Wasteful: The lack of demand for bicycle and pedestrian facilities is often cited as a reason to not “waste” funds on such projects. The most successful places, however, are those that provide diversity of transportation options and connections. Those places become centers of social and economic life by attracting people who arrive by or use the non-motorized facilities.
So Litman concludes: Diverse and robust transportation networks – including motorized and non-motorized facilities – are the most efficient and cost effective when the true costs and benefits are calculated. Litman provides specific cost and benefit categories and explains how non-motorized transport projects can be more accurately analyzed and justified, which should be a big help going forward as researchers like all of us at Simple Solutions Planning & Design continue to make progress on showing what a great return-on-investment non-motorized transport is for officials and developers.
Photo by Victoria Transport Policy Institute