Benefits and costs of footpaths

Footpaths are an essential part of any travel chain – walking and wheeling are the most basic and universal form of travel. But do we invest enough in footpaths? Compared to investment in roads and cars, probably not. That’s according to an article by Todd Litman. His recent study examines the benefits and costs of footpaths as a sustainable form of travel.

Improving walking conditions can provide many benefits. However, many streets lack footpaths and those that do exist are sub-standard.

A group of people waiting to cross the road on a a sunny day. Footpaths benefits and costs.

Litman’s article looks at cost studies in the North American context. In summary the data indicate that typical U.S. communities spend $30 to $60 annually per capita on footpaths. But footpaths only appear where there are laws to mandate them. That means that not every street has a footpath or has one on only one side of the street. This is an underinvestment in footpaths that needs to be remedied.

People who cannot drive and must use public transport and need a footpath for mobility, are seriously disadvantaged. The article compares infrastructure spending on walking (1%), cycling (2%), public transit (7%), and roads (90%). Comparisons with other factors provide more information in the article and potential funding options are discussed.

Some of the benefits

Other studies showed that increasing walking reduced vehicle miles and reduced crash rates. One study estimated that completing footpath networks would reduce vehicle miles by 3%. This would provide, per capita, about $30 in annual roadway savings, $60 in annual parking savings $180 in vehicle cost savings. Reductions in traffic congestion, pollution and health benefits add to the benefits.

Although the article calls for a significant increase in footpath spending, compared to what is spent on roads and parking, this is a small amount. Completing footpath networks also helps achieve social equity goals. The most physically and economically disadvantaged groups tend to rely more on walking including walking to transit stops.

The title of the article is, Completing Sidewalk Networks: Benefits and Costs.

From the abstract

This study examines the benefits and costs of completing urban sidewalk networks. Most communities have incomplete or lack sidewalk networks. Many of those that do exist are inadequate and fail to meet universal design standards. This is unfair to people who want to walk, and increases costs by suppressing walking and increasing motor vehicle traffic.

Recent case studies provide estimates of sidewalk expenditures and the additional investments needed to complete sidewalk networks. North American communities typically spend $30 to $60 annually per capita on sidewalks. However, they would need to double or triple these levels to complete their networks. Compared with current pedestrian spending this seems large. But it is small compared with what governments and businesses spend on roads and parking facilities, and what motorists spend on their vehicles.

Sidewalk funding increases are justified to satisfy ethical and legal requirements, and to achieve various economic, social and environmental goals. There are several possible ways to finance sidewalk improvements. These usually repay their costs through savings and benefits.

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