WMATA finds that biking, walking improvements near Metro stations pay off

Metrorail is the backbone of the D.C. region’s transportation system, but that doesn’t mean each station exists in a vacuum. For many people, walking and biking from their station to their ultimate destination is a key part of the Metro experience, whether we consciously recognize it or not. That’s a driving idea behind WMATA’s Metrorail Station Investment Strategy, which set out to identify simple ways to expand the usefulness, safety, and reach of the rail system to nearby workers and residents.

The agency notes that walking is the leading way riders get to a Metro station, coming in at about a third of all riders. Meanwhile, biking only accounts for approximately 1 percent of riders. While some of that is attributable to peak-hour bike restrictions, biking network connections to stations also play a role. These numbers could likely be higher if many suburban or semi-urban stations improved key pedestrian and biking connections that made it feel safer to cross busy intersections or to ride on adjacent streets. But how exactly would these investments pay off?

Detailed in its summary report (PDF), WMATA identified hundreds of potential projects across the six jurisdictions, and quantified the financial benefits these would bring to the region in terms of safety. From the WMATA Office of Planning’s PlanItMetro blog (emphasis in original):

“In short, we’ve estimated that a $13M investment in some of the 394 top pedestrian projects leads to a $24M discounted revenue impact for Metro and its funders over the course of these projects’ useful life, a net positive benefit of $11M.”

That’s nearly a two-to-one benefit, largely in avoided costs associated with crashes, over 30 years. (Edit: The summary report emphasizes that as there is not data available on ridership and nearby bike lanes, the regional monetary benefit is derived from greater bicycling safety and fewer crashes.) The post continues, noting that the benefits also extend to other factors:

  • “New pathways shorten someone’s travel time, making Metro a more attractive option for the trip they are making;
  • New sidewalks may open up the station to an ADA customer who had to rely on paratransit before to get to where s/he was going; and
  • New bike lanes provide a separation between both moving and parked cars, and the bicyclist, making her safer.”
Ballston recs

Wayfinding recommendations in Ballston, Arlington County. Source: WMATA.

WMATA notes in the report that while the projects are up to the jurisdictions to fulfill, it hopes that its scoring methods – based on factors such as improving access to jobs, building off of existing WalkScores – helps them prioritize what to build next. For example, a wayfinding project in the walkable Ballston area would be immediately useful since many people are already walking there.

Also, as the summary-report maps explain, many of the suggested projects are already moving forward or funded in some way: cheap, simple ways to foster a multi-modal region and make the process of taking Metro safer and more simple.

Photo, top: People walking to the Clarendon Metrorail stop (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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