There are many reasons to plan for nonmotorized transportation. Walking, cycling, jogging and skating1 are increasingly popular for transport and recreation. Safe and convenient nonmotorized travel provides a many benefits, including reduced traffic congestion, user savings, road and parking facility savings, economic development and a better environment. This section presents a brief overview of the importance of considering nonmotorized transport in transport plans.
The ultimate goal of transportation is to provide access to goods, services and activities. In general, the more transportation options available, the better the access. Nonmotorized modes are important transport choices, for trips made entirely by walking or cycling, and to support public transport. In urban areas, walking and cycling are often the fastest and most efficient way to perform short trips. A built environment that is hostile to non-motorized transport reduces everybody’s travel choices. The result of this “automobile dependency” is increased traffic congestion, higher road and parking facility costs, increased consumer costs, and greater environmental degradation. Adequate pedestrian and cycling conditions are essential to guarantee everybody a minimal level of mobility (“basic mobility”). As stated in one of the primary roadway design guides,
Pedestrians are a part of every roadway environment, and attention must be paid to their presence in rural as well as urban areas…Because of the demands of vehicular traffic in congested urban areas, it is often extremely difficult to make adequate provisions for pedestrians. Yet this must be done, because pedestrians are the lifeblood of our urban areas, especially in the downtown and other retail areas. In general, the most successful shopping sections are those that provide the most comfort and pleasure for pedestrians.2
Walking, cycling and skating are enjoyable and healthy activities. They are among the most popular forms of recreation. Public health officials increasingly recognize the importance of frequent aerobic exercise.3 According to a government report, “Regular walking and cycling are the only realistic way that the population as a whole can get the daily half hour of moderate exercise which is the minimum level needed to keep reasonably fit.”4 Nonmotorized travel can contribute to the local economy by supporting tourism and quality development. Pedestrian-friendly conditions improve the commercial and cultural vibrancy of communities. Increased pedestrian traffic helps create a safer and more pleasant environment. Once visitors arrive in a community they often explore it by walking, cycling and skating. A good walking environment can enhance visitors’ experience. Some trail networks are destination tourist attractions, bringing hundreds or thousands of visitors, and thousands or millions of dollars annually to a community.
When your community implements pedestrian and cycling improvements, it is important to do it correctly. Excellent planning resources are now available to help plan, evaluate, construct and maintain nonmotorized facilities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, and no excuse for employing inadequate or outdated methods. Good planning is far cheaper than correcting mistakes later.
Many communities have provided relatively little support to nonmotorized travel. As described later in this guide, methods commonly used to evaluate roadway projects tend to favor motorized travel and overlook the benefits of improved nonmotorized access, so pedestrian and cycling programs tend to be underfunded. As a result, many areas have inadequate sidewalks and crosswalks, roads are not designed or maintained to accommodate cycling, and opportunities for pedestrian and cycling facilities and connections are overlooked.
Virtually all communities that have increased nonmotorized transport have achieved this by improvements to their walking and cycling environment. Walking and cycling facilities can pay for themselves through road and parking facility savings. For example, a bicycle improvement that shifts 100 trips a day from driving to bicycling can provide as much as $1 million in parking and roadway cost savings over its lifetime.
Few improvements will be implemented without a plan. Good planning can reduce the cost of improvements by allowing, for example, nonmotorized improvements to be incorporated into scheduled road projects. Funding is often available for nonmotorized projects and programs. Obtaining this support requires that a community have a plan that identifies and prioritizes projects and programs. It is therefore important for local governments to develop plans to be ready for opportunities that may arise.
Summary of Nonmotorized Transportation Benefits5
Mobility, particularly important for non-drivers (including children and the elderly).
Exercise, leading to increased health and well being (reduced heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, osteoporosis, stress, and depression).
Increased social interaction, opportunities to meet neighbors.