When transportation options such as walking, cycling, and transit are high-quality, people often choose to use cars less or not at all.
After decades of car-centric city planning, it is time that we invest in infrastructure that makes sustainable transportation options safe, convenient, and attractive. Features such as widened side walks, efficient transit, and separated bike lanes make sustainable transportation options inviting and practical for all users.
The following are some of the many benefits associated with building better streets.
Increased people-traffic from cycling, walking, and transit users enhances the business environment by providing more opportunities for commerce. In particular, people who are cycling, walking, skateboarding, etc., move more slowly and are more flexible than people in cars and so are more easily able to stop and buy something from local businesses while travelling.
- A 2009 study of Bloor Street, a commercial street in Toronto, showed that people who walked or biked to the area spent more per month than those who drove.
- After the New York City department of Transportation added protected bike lanes to 9th Avenue, businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales. This is particularly dramatic when compared to local businesses throughout the whole of Manhattan which only saw a 3% increase in retail sales.
- In San Francisco, two-thirds of business owners on Valencia Street thought bike lanes had a positive impact on sales four years after the city had installed them. 40% believed that the lanes helped attract new customers to the neighbourhood.
- “In Portland, OR, people who traveled to a shopping area by bike spent 24% more per month than those who traveled by car. Studies found similar trends in Toronto and three cities in New Zealand.” – Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business
Cities that provide high-quality inexpensive mobility options enable their residents to free up money to invest and spend in the local economy.
Car-centric transportation systems are economically inefficient. Cars are, per person, the most expensive form of transportation in terms of personal and government expenses. In addition to that, research done by the National Building Museum in the US, showed that only 16 percent of household car expenses stay within the local economy.
Cars also require more space per person than other forms of commuter transportation, causing congestion and appropriating space for parking that could be used for other purposes. This is noteworthy in Vancouver which has one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world.
Street designs should enable people of all ages and abilities to feel comfortable and safe using their preferred modes of transportation on the streets they wish to access. Most people are uncomfortable sharing the road with cars if they are not in one themselves (City Cycling, Pucher and Buehler). If people do not feel safe using a mode of transportation, they will not use it. This is why in addition to actual safety, perceived safety is important. All people should have comfortable and safe access to healthy, affordable, and sustainable transportation whether or not they are willing or brave enough to interact with cars on the road.
It has been shown that separated bike lanes have 90% less injury risk than roads, like Commercial Drive, that have no cycling facilities.
High quality active transportation options enable people to incorporate activity into their daily lifestyles. There is a high economic return on active transportation infrastructure investments. Smart infrastructure investment leads to a healthier population that is more productive at work, takes fewer sick days, and reduces healthcare and benefit costs.
- A 2012 study done by the Norwich medical school in England showed that an increase in cycling and walking could save an estimated £17 billion ($44.73 billion CAD) over 20 years for England’s National Healthcare System.
- The Public Health Agency of Canada’s 2011 report showed that obesity costs the public healthcare system an estimated 4.6 billion dollars in 2008, rising to about 7.1 billion dollars when taking into account 18 chronic diseases linked to obesity.
- A 2011 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, showed that Portland’s bicycle investments will result in health care savings of $388-594 million by 2040.
Streets should be designed to encourage sustainable transportation behaviour such as walking, cycling, and transit. In 2008, light-duty vehicles accounted for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions in Vancouver, the largest category of emissions in the city (2008 Emissions Inventory, City of Vancouver). In light of global climate change, it is essential that we provide people with high-quality transportation options that enable and encourage them to reduce their carbon footprint.
Streets designed to foster active transportation and transit help build strong communities by enabling community members to interact with the public sphere when they are en-route to their destinations. Cars, because of their speed and form, discourage community members from interacting by encasing them in a mini-private sphere as they move on the road. High-speed car-centric streets behave like dangerous moats, dissecting public spaces and making them less conducive to leisure activities and socializing.
As public spaces, streets should genuinely accommodate all members of our communities. Cities should allocate public space to provide for all community members’ needs rather than catering primarily to one specific transportation mode. Car-centric street designs are not inclusive of many people who cannot afford, are unable, or who do not want to use or drive cars. For example, in many cities like Vancouver, a large proportion of people cycle, walk, take transit or use other transportation modes, therefore, infrastructure investments should reflect their needs.