New WHO Tool Calculates the Health Savings of Bike/Ped Infrastructure

Sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic calming projects — they save lives. Not just by protecting cyclists and pedestrians (not to mention motorists), but by encouraging physical activity that leads to a healthy life.

La Mesa crosswalk
How much will that new traffic calming project benefit society? A new tool from the World Health Organization puts a figure on it. Photo: Tom ##

Of course, it can be hard to convince politicians to see things in those terms when it’s time to pony up for walking and biking infrastructure. That is the brilliance of this new tool from the World Health Organization.

The WHO, which is on a mission to rein in the worldwide epidemic of traffic deaths and injuries, has developed a tool that measures the health impacts of bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, calculating cost-benefit analyses as well as the economic value of reduced mortality.

Of course you need to do a little advance preparation before using the tool. You’ll need to have a fair amount of information about local travel habits at your disposal. (For example, you’ll be prompted to estimate the percentage of people who currently take walking trips and the average length of the trip.) But it’s the type of info your local metro planning agency should have publicly available. Worst case scenario, you have to perform a survey.

The tool is recommended for planners and engineers as well as advocacy groups.

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    The United States is now one of the world’s leaders in obesity and related preventable chronic diseases. We spend the lion’s share of our transportation money on road building, helping to make our society one in which driving, the most sedentary of transportation options, is king. Meanwhile, take a look at the healthiest, happiest countries in the world. Every year, countries that have embraced active transportation (walking, biking) and good public transit (trains, trams, busses) are on top of the rankings: Denmark, The Netherlands, and others. Even when you visit, you can’t avoid saying to yourself, “Wow, these Danish people look so fit and happy!” It’s because they bike and walk everywhere in a country that has made safe and accessible active transit a national priority. When I biked in Copenhagen, for instance, I’ve never felt safer on a bicycle. The safe design of bike and ped facilities in a city make it easier for peoploe to bike and walk, which in turn helps them live happy and healthy lives. This is the message we advocates can repeat again and again.

  • Anonymous

    Ben, we cannot have that type of bicycle infrastructure in the USA because John Forester has deemed it dangerous.  Did you know that you were taken in by a superstition when you were in Denmark?  Haven’t you had his training?  Then you will see the truth in Vehicular Cycling and why it is the only way to use a bicycle in the modern world.

  • The about-to-be-adopted 25-year regional transportation plan for Southern California is a dramatic departure from convention with its emphasis on transit, biking and walking, and on multifamily housing instead of single-family homes. This smart growth plan yields many benefits including reduced traffic congestion on the 10 and the 210 freeways despite a prediction of 4million more Southern California residents by 2035. The plan actually predicts a 24 percent reduction in “per person traffic delay.” The plan locates 87 percent of all jobs and 82 percent of all housing within a half mile of transit, triples funding for bike and pedestrian projects and provides a $3,000 savings per family per year due to lower auto, fuel, water and energy costs.

  • Forrester would be right if we made hitting a cyclist with a motor vehicle a felony, and killing a cyclist with a motor vehicle made you eligible for the death penalty. But until we start treating cyclist and pedestrian wrecks with motor vehicles as the major crimes they are instead of something akin to stubbing your toe only to someone else’s toes not you, VC and pedestrianism is going to be both dangerous and second class (or worse) in this country.

  • Tallycyclist

    I totally agree with Ben’s experience in Copenhagen.  EVERY single street works well for cycling, and I mean every single one.  High speed/high car traffic = separated cycle tracks.  Calm streets with slow/little traffic, use the lane like the cars do.  The cycling culture is so well established that drivers are use to dealing with them.  It’s so relaxing and enjoyable and that’s why so many people of all ages and demographics do it.  Don’t be fooled by the “mere” 19% modal share of cyclists in Denmark.  This just includes those who commute only by bike every day.  At least 70-80% of the population ride a bike periodically for some trips (local grocery shopping, etc.) so you’re bound to get way more sympathy and respect vs. a society where only 1% ever commute anywhere by bike.  


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