Walking and biking make you and your community healthier, and make you wealthier. By choosing to walk and bike you will be saving money on your transportation and health care costs. Creating a more walkable and bikeable community has another strong economic benefit: property values increase.
A New York Times article (Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place, New York Times, 2012) cited a recent study showing how “real estate values increase in neighborhoods. . . where everyday needs, including working, can be met by walking, transit or biking. People are clearly willing to pay more for homes that allow them to walk rather than drive. Biking is part of the picture, too. Biking and walking are part of a ’complete streets’ strategy that public rights of way should be [inclusive for all users] — not just cars.”
More evidence of increased property values comes from “Walk Score,” a popular online neighborhood-rating tool. It takes a simple concept, based upon the number of destinations and conveniences within a short walking distance, and measures it on a 0 – 100-point scale. A 10-point increase in Walk Score increases commercial property values by 5 percent to 8 percent (University of Arizona & Indiana University, 2010). A one-point increase in Walk Score is associated with a $700 to $3,000 increase in home values (CEOs for Cities, 2009).
There is a new similar tool for biking called Bike Score, which measures whether a specific location is good for biking. Bike Score offered the following reasons for cycling: “$10 saved for each 10 mile commute. One pound CO2 saved for every mile pedaled. 30 minutes per day of riding cuts odds of stroke and heart disease by 50 percent.” (Walkscore, 2012)
Better Cities and Towns gathered a selection of studies relating to the benefits of active transportation in a September, 2012 article on “Places that pay: Benefits of placemaking.” • Forbes’ Pedaling to Prosperity lays out the ways that biking saves U.S. riders billions a year. Average annual operating cost of a bicycle: $308. Average annual operating cost of a car: $8,220 (Forbes, 2012). • Copenhagen’s Bike Account study found one mile on a bike is a $.42 economic gain to society, while one mile driving is a $.20 loss. This supports political buy-in for balanced, results-oriented investments in bicycling infrastructure. (Bike Account, 2012)
Obesity has overtaken smoking as the main cause of premature deaths and represents the greatest threat to health in America. Insufficient exercise is a major cause of obesity. One of reasons Americans don’t get enough exercise is that we spend an average of 6.25 weeks stuck in our cars each year.
The Surgeon General of the United States recommended a good solution for this: “Bicycling and walking for daily travel are recommended as the cheapest, safest and most feasible means to increase the physical activity of Americans.”
Physical activity can even make you wiser. Current research at New York University shows, “exercise affects learning, memory and cognition. College students showed improved performance on recognition memory tasks after exercise.”
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Active transportation contributes to the societal goals of public health, economic vitality, equitable mobility, livability, reduced traffic congestion, reduced energy use and improved air quality. However, the single most important argument for walking and biking may be the personal health benefits attributable to the increased physical activity.
There is overwhelming evidence that improving pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure is a healthy, cost-effective and economically beneficial way to improve transportation choices and build more livable cities.
Chad Mullins is a Bike Utah Board Member and former Chair of the Salt Lake County Bicycle Advisory Committee.