Economic Benefits of Active Transportation
Active transportation means any form of human-powered transportation. It generally means walking or biking but can also include rollerblading, skateboarding, canoeing, or any other way you like to get around.
There are tons of benefits of active transportation. In fact, lots of reports have been written on just that. I’ve chosen to look at a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called Active Transportation in Canada: a resource and planning guide. The report outlines several health, environmental, economic and social benefits of active transportation.
Here’s a summary of the economic benefits of active
transportation that’ll have you rethinking bike lanes.
1. It’s cheap for you and the city
Gas is expensive so walking or biking to common destinations, like the gym or grocery store, can save you a lot of money. Active transportation is also cheaper for cities. Building and maintaining active transportation infrastructure, such as bike paths, is far less expensive than building and maintaining other transportation infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Plus, less people traveling by car means less wear and tear on roads. These benefits probably aren’t shocking to you so here’s a few that are less obvious.
2. Increased profit for local businesses
Improving active transportation infrastructure increases profit for local businesses. Research shows that cyclist and pedestrians are more likely to spend money locally. This can benefit local businesses and help maintain a vibrant downtown business area. A 2009 study by the Clean Air Partnership, supported by the Toronto Community Foundation, Transport Canada and the City of Toronto, found that people who biked or walked on Bloor Street in Toronto spent more money in the area per month than those who drove there. Several studies have found that although people who walk or bike spend less per trip, compared to someone driving, they make more shopping trips overall. Take away: bikers and walkers are more likely to spend locally than someone driving. Check out this awesome article by Citylab for a summary of 12 different studies on this from around the world.
3. Attracting creative industries (i.e. creating jobs)
Communities with more active transportation generally have a higher livability score. In fact, one of the most important parts of a liveable community is “street level culture”; this includes, local shops, sidewalk cafes, and a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists. A high livability score is great for a local economy because liveable cities tend to attract more knowledge-based businesses (aka creative industries). The United Kingdom defines creative industries as ‘those industries that are based on individual creativity, skill and talent with the potential to create wealth and jobs through developing intellectual property’. We’ll take their word for it, seeing as the UK has one of the largest creative economies in the world. Creative industries include advertising, architecture, the art and antiques market, crafts, design, including fashion design, film, television, radio, video games and other software design, music, the performing arts, and publishing. Numerous studies have shown that these knowledge-based industries and their employees are attracted to more livable cities.
Recap: Creating a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists makes a city more liveable which attracts knowledge-based industries such as advertising, design and publishing/media. This means that active transportation infrastructure can actually help attract good jobs.
4. Decreasing congestion costs
Traffic doesn’t just cause stress, it also costs you money. According to Metrolinx, in 2006 congestion cost the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area $3.3 billion. These costs come from travel delays, increased impact to the environment, increased vehicle costs from being stuck in traffic and increased chance of vehicle collision. Traffic causes extra wear and tear on your vehicle and wastes gas. Plus, sitting in traffic means you have less time to do other things. Think about it, if you have an hour commute you might not have time to go to the gym or out for a drink after work. If your commute was shorter and you were able to do these things, you’d be benefiting you’re local economy and sparking business. Here’s the full report by Metrolinx.
Promote active transportation to benefit local businesses in your community. It’s good for you and your city.
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 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, 2002