Economic Benefits of Active Transportation

A picture of an outdoor shopping mall

"Active transportation systems foster economic health by creating dynamic, connected communities with a high quality of life that catalyzes small business development, increases property values, sparks tourism and encourages corporate investment that attracts a talented, highly educated workforce."

 -Partnership for Active Transportation

Providing active transportation options (walking and bicycling) can benefit local economies in a variety of ways such as decreased transportation costs, increased property values, decreased health care costs, and increased employment and tourism.

81% of Millennials and 77% of Active Boomers say affordable and convenient transportation alternatives to the car are at least somewhat important when deciding where to live and work.”

  -Investing in Place for Economic Growth and Competitiveness, American Planning Association, May 2014

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has completed a white paper [PDF]  intended as a technical resource for local communities and others interested in understanding how to better estimate the economic benefits of nonmotorized transportation investments, including the different types of outcomes from these investments such as: mode share changes; environmental benefits; increased accessibility; health benefits; and related economic benefits. More information about this resource is available through the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

Links to tools and research findings about the economic benefits of active transportation are below.

Transportation Cost Savings

By enabling Americans to walk or bike instead of drive for short trips, the federal government avoids underwriting more expensive strategies for reducing congestion, managing road wear, or serving the mobility needs of those who cannot drive.” 

–Partnership for Active Transportation

Providing alternative modes of travel to automobile transportation makes the overall transportation system more efficient.  By lowering congestion, government costs related to automobile-oriented infrastructure maintenance and construction can be saved.  Individual costs of car ownership can also be saved by choosing active transportation.  According to AAA, driving costs for each commuter ranges between $0.52 and $0.78 per mile. These figures include gas, maintenance, registration, depreciation and other costs. Active transportation systems provide cost-effective alternatives to the expense of driving.


Cost of Automobiles and Dependence on Foreign OilPeople for Bikes, 2014

Evaluating Active Transport Benefits and Costs [PDF]Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2014

Commute Cost Calculator, Commute Solutions, 2017

Guidelines for Analysis of Investments in Bicycle Facilities [PDF]National Cooperative Highway Research Program, 2005

Property Values

“From a real estate perspective, trails can have significant, positive spillover effects on property values when these properties are located within reasonable distances to the trails.” 

–Rainer vom Hofe and Olivier Parent, University of Cincinnati 

Studies have shown that homes near trails sell at a higher premium and in a shorter amount of time than those farther away from such facilities. Trails have been found to be the preferred setting for individuals looking for exercise options and are the second-highest ranked amenity for new homebuyers.


Economic Benefits of Bicycle Facilities and Transportation, People for Bikes, 2014

New Research Finds that Homeowners and City Planners Should 'Hit the Trail' When Considering Property ValuesUniversity of Cincinnati, 2011

Developer and Realtor Perspectives on Factors that Influence Development, Sale, and Perceived Demand for Activity-Friendly Communities, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2010

Trail Effects on Neighborhoods: Home Value, Safety, Quality of LifeBoulder Area Trails Coalition, 2007

Property Values, Recreation Values, and Urban Greenways [PDF]Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 2004

Healthcare Costs

“Building trails is cost beneficial from a public health perspective. The most sensitive parameter affecting the cost-benefit ratios were equipment and travel costs; however, even for the highest cost, every $1 investment in trails resulted in a greater return in direct medical benefit.” 

-A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Physical Activity Using Bike/Pedestrian Trails

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents were obese in 2009 –2010. Health and Human Services recommends that Americans maintain 30 minutes of physical activity per day to stay healthy. However, 51 percent of Americans do not meet this national physical activity recommendation. This switch to active transportation, especially for quick short trips, could have a positive impact on obesity rates in America. According to the National Household Travel Survey, 25 percent of all transportation trips in the U.S. are one mile or less. These types of trips are the easiest to convert from driving to walking or biking.

Decreasing vehicle miles travelled by automobile can also improve health through improved air quality. Motor vehicle exhaust contributes to the risk of respiratory diseases and many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Active transportation infrastructure can help mitigate rising health care costs by providing alternative, healthy options for users. 


Health and Environmental Benefits of Walking and BicyclingFederal Highway Administration, 2014

Infographic: The Role of Transportation in Promoting Physical ActivityActive Living Research, 2012

Promoting Active Transportation: An Opportunity for Public Health [PDF]Safe Routes to School National Partnership, 2012

CDC Transportation RecommendationsCenter for Disease Control, 2011

The Business of Trails: A Compilation of Economic Benefits, Terry Eastin, 2018

Physical Activity and Changes in Health Care Costs in Late Middle Age, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2006

Higher Direct Medical Costs Associated with Physical Inactivity [PDF]Dr. M. Pratt, C. Macera, and G. Wang, 2000

Employment and Tourism

“When confronted with a decision of whether or not to include pedestrian and/or bicycle facilities in transportation infrastructure projects, planning officials should do so, not only because of the environmental, safety, and health benefits but also because these projects can create local jobs.”

–University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute

Active transportation systems may benefit communities by attracting bicycling enthusiasts and out-of-town visitors who spend money in the community. Studies have shown the average bicycle tourist spends $18 - $80 per day when stopping in a community, contributing to economic development. Pedestrian shoppers also spend more in stores than drivers. 

Studies have also shown that incorporating active transportation elements into infrastructure projects increases the number of jobs created by the projects at a higher ratio. Providing active transportation facilities creates a direct, positive economic impact on a community.


Economic Benefits of Bicycling Industry and Tourism, People for Bikes, 2014

The Economic Benefits of Trails, Pennsylvania Land Trust Association

Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business [PDF]Alliance for Walking and Biking, 2014

Business Performance in Walkable Shopping Areas, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2013

Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impacts [PDF], University of Massachusetts, 2011

The Business Case for Active Transportation [PDF]Go For Green, 2004