New study reveals the social benefits of cycling and walking in the EU

By Francesco Ripa / Updated: 08 Apr 2019

A new study has estimated the social cost - and social benefits - of automobility, cycling and walking with the aim of improving cost-benefit analyses in the European Union.

Redesigning the urban environment is essential to increase levels of cycling and walking in cities. Apart from the difficulty of gaining political support in favour of sustainable transport modes, the study notes, the greatest barrier to urban redesign that local authorities face is the issue of estimating costs (and benefits). For this reason, cost-benefit analyses (CBAs) guide key decisions on investments related to major transport construction projects.

However, the design of CBAs - and the value of the parameters that they use - is important. In order to explore this further, the study developed a comparative framework to assess the costs and benefits related to car driving, cycling and walking.

The study, conducted by academics from leading Swedish, German, South Korean and Norwegian institutions, compares four CBA assessment frameworks to identify a comprehensive list of parameters. These included the European Commission’s “Handbook on Transport Costs”, Copenhagen’s CBA framework, the European Cyclists Federation’s study of “bicycle benefits” and the Canadian Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s “CBA for transportation”.

The parameters identified by the study are grouped in five areas: 1) environment; 2) travel time and vehicle operation; 3) health, accidents and perceived comfort; 4) perceived safety and discomfort; 5) quality of life, tourism and infrastructure.

The results suggest that each kilometre driven by a car incurs an external cost of €0.11, whereas cycling and walking bring benefits of €0.18 and €0.37 per kilometre, respectively. Using these figures, the total cost of automobility in the European Union amounts to €500 billion per year; on the other hand, due to their positive health effects, cycling and walking are associated with benefits worth €24 billion and €66 billion per year.

The study concludes that the analyses guiding transport investment projects in the European Union should be expanded to adequately consider the benefits of these modes and the subsequent implications for transport mode prioritisation.

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