Showing the benefits of active transportation at the regional and project level is extremely important as active transportation projects compete in an increasingly constrained revenue environment. As advocates for active transportation, we are often challenged to provide data and research that supports the need for added investments active transportation. While the link between new infrastructure projects and increased usage seems obvious, it is often difficult to quantify the benefits of these networks or even a particular project due to the constraints created by existing data sources. In order to prove to decision makers that additional investments in walking and bicycling facilities are cost effective, provide measurable health benefits, reduce congestion, reduce greenhouse gases, etc., we must improve our modeling and data collection efforts for active transportation.
To better understand the current state of active transportation data collection and modeling in California, the Safe Routes Partnership (Safe Routes Partnership) conducted a series of structured interviews with modeling professionals across California in the fall of 2013. Interviewees were selected from metropolitan planning organization (MPO) modeling staff, private consultants engaged in developing new active transportation models and academic experts conducting research in the field. While this report specifically focused on efforts in California, many of the recommendations will apply to states across the nation.
The Safe Routes Partnership has compiled the results from these interviews into a report to provide policy makers a series of recommendations they can implement to improve data collection and modeling for active transportation. Since our models are only as good as the data they use, this report also seeks to highlight some of the major sources of data that are often used in transportation planning and the strengths and weaknesses of each data source.
There is a growing awareness of the effects of our transportation system on public health outcomes, including diabetes, asthma, obesity and chronic heart disease. Public health professionals recognize that active transportation investments provide “upstream” prevention measures that improve the health of communities by providing opportunities for physical activity. A number of innovative models have begun to emerge in California that seek to quantify this relationship between active transportation and public health outcomes. In addition to the recommendations made for traditional transportation models, brief recommendations have been developed on how these health focused modeling tools can be improved for active transportation.
By improving our understanding of the benefits of active transportation projects, we will be in a stronger position to advocate for infrastructure and programs that our communities so desperately need and want.