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Major Updates

Essential Evidence on a page: No.30 Cost Benefit Analysis of walking and cycle track networks

Dr Adrian Davis

Top line: investment in walking and cycle track networks in three Norwegian cities seems to be highly beneficial to society since net benefit/cost ratios in these cities were approximately 4:1, 14:1 and 3:1, respectively (ie highly positive).1

Since the start of the 21st century there has been an increasing number of studies addressing cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of walking and cycling. These indicate that including health impacts arising from existing and new users could make a major difference to CBA results.2 One study undertaken in three Norwegian towns (Hokksund, Hamar, Trondheim) of their walking and cycling track networks directly addressed this short-coming.3 The CBA included conservative estimates of some benefit components:

  • Traffic accidents – assumed that the number of traffic accidents resulting in injury would remain unchanged because of the new walking and cycling tracks.
  • Travel time – assumed that travel times for pedestrians and cyclists remain unchanged
  • Insecurity – felt by pedestrians and cyclists moving along a road was included at a cost of NOK 2 per kilometre. Assuming an average speed of 10–20 km/h the cost of insecurity was about NOK 20–40 per hour for cyclists.
  • School bus transport – assumed that 50% of children previously using a bus would not need this if walking and cycle track networks were constructed.
  • Less severe diseases and ailments and less short-term absence – assumed that short-term absence from work would be reduced by 1 percentage point (from 5% to 4%) and that 50% of new pedestrians and cyclists would see improvements in their health.
  • Severe diseases and ailments and long-term absence/disability – moderate amounts of daily physical activity reduce risk of premature mortality in general. Risk reductions were related to just four types of severe diseases or ailments – cancer, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and musculoskeletal ailments. Estimated costs due to welfare loss for people suffering from these diseases or ailments were included. The welfare loss is estimated to be 60% of the total costs – the same magnitude as for welfare loss for people injured in traffic accidents used in Norwegian CBAs of other road investments.
  • External costs of road transport – included the external costs were CO2-emissions, local emissions to air, noise, congestion and infrastructure costs.
  • Parking costs – commute trips by car replaced by walking or cycling were assumed to reduce parking costs for businesses in Trondheim, Hamar and Hokksund by NOK 1165, NOK 560 and NOK 3254 per month, respectively.

Compared to the relatively low net benefit/cost ratios for other transport investments, investments in walking and cycle tracks provides a chance to make investments yielding considerably higher profitability to society than seen from most other programmes in the transport sector. This conclusion is supported in more recent studies.


1 A benefit to cost ratio greater than 1 represents “value for money” to the public sector.

2 Elvik, R. 2000 Which are the relevant costs and benefits of road safety measures designed for pedestrians and cyclists? Accident Analysis and Prevention, 32: 37-45.

3 S⎛lensminde, K. 2004 Cost-benefit analyses of walking and cycling track networks taking into account insecurity, health effects and external costs of motorised traffic, Transportation Research Part A, 38: 593- 606.

4 £1 = 10 Norwegian Kroner (NOK)


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