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A safe, vibrant, efficient street network is essential to the economic health of a city or region. Street design also plays a major role in facilitating access to formal and informal commerce, jobs, or the wholesale movement of goods. The up-front costs of constructing a street should be considered with regard to the benefits its design will confer throughout its lifespan.
Cost impacts of street design should be considered for individuals through value of travel time, public transportation access, fuel costs, and individual health, while the larger externalized cost to society can be examined through expenses such as those related to traffic crashes, hospital costs, negative environmental impacts, and congestion.
Health and Human Lives
The cost of lives lost and serious injuries caused by road crashes have a significant impact on the economy. Better-designed streets relieve mental and physical stress, lowering medical expenses and the need for social services.
Work and Productivity
Significant numbers of human working hours are lost as a result of time spent in congestion or injuries incurred in road crashes. These lost hours result in reduced productivity and, therefore, economic losses.
Business and Real Estate
Pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders generally spend more money at local retail businesses than people who drive cars, underscoring the importance of offering attractive, safe spaces for transit riders, pedestrians, and cyclists. Great streets have also been shown to add value to neighborhoods.
Construction and Maintenance
Narrow streets cost less to build and maintain. Using good-quality, durable materials can significantly reduce maintenance costs. Green alleys or streets and tree planting are estimated to be 3-6 times more effective in managing stormwater and reduce hard infrastructure cost.8
1. World Health Organization, Global status report on road safety (Geneva: WHO, 2013).
2. A modeling study of Portland, Oregon (USA) estimated that by 2040, investments in bike facilities (costing from $138 to $605 million) will result in healthcare-cost savings of $388 million to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 million to $218 million, and savings in the value of statistical lives of $7 million to $12 billion. Thomas Gotschi, “Costs & Benefits of Bicycling Investments in Portland, Oregon”. Journal of Physical Activity & Health 8 (2011), 49–58.
3. In America the average cost of congestion to a car-owning household is estimated to be $1,700 a year; in France it is $2,500. But traffic is so bad in Los Angeles that each resident loses around $6,000 a year twiddling their thumbs in traffic—at a total cost of $23 billion, the costs are estimated to exceed that of the whole of Britain. But these costs do not take account of the price of carbon-dioxide emissions. In total, over 15,000 kilotons of needless CO2 fumes were expelled last year—which would cost an additional $350m to offset at current market prices. In choked-up Los Angeles $50m alone would have to be set aside.
“The cost of traffic jams”, The Economist, accessed June 7, 2016 http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/11/economist-explains-1.
4. L. J. Blincoe et al., The economic and societal impact of motor vehicle crashes (Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2010).
5. Chung Yim Yiu, “The Impact of a Pedestrianisation Scheme on Retail Rent-an Empirical Study in Hong Kong.” Journal of Place Management and Development 4, No.3 (2011).
6. New York City Department of Transportation, Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets (New York, NY: NYC DOT, 2012).
7. Foster Josh, Lowe Ashley and Winkelman Steve. The Value of Green Infrastructure for Urban Climate Adaptation (Washington, DC: Center for Clean Air Policy, 2011)
8. Foster, The Value of Green Infrastructure for Urban Climate Adaptation
Adapted by Global Street Design Guide published by Island Press.
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