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878. A Cost Benefit Analysis of an Active Travel Intervention with Health and Carbon Emission Reduction Benefits

Research Article
Chapman R, Keall M, Howden-Champan P, Grams M, Witten K, Randal E and Woodward A.
June 2018

Commentary: Layla Riley, Senior Project Officer (Physical Activity), Heart Foundation

Active travel (walking and cycling) provides numerous health benefits for people. From an urban planning and design viewpoint however, active travel contributes to a sense of vitality and social cohesion in towns and cities—reducing motor vehicle congestion and pollution in urban areas. Many cities are working to create high-quality local neighbourhoods – compact, mixed-use developments that are well served by both public and active transport facilities. This sort of neighbourhood attracts prosperous citizens who want more sustainable and less car-dependent lifestyles.

This ACTIVE before-and-after quasi-experimental study focused on investment in improving urban active travel networks. It compared two intervention cities with two control cities. It focused on the health (including injury) and carbon reduction benefits of increased active travel in two North Island provincial cities; New Plymouth and Hastings (selected based on the central government’s criteria). The MCP aimed to deliver safe urban environments that would encourage ‘novice users’ to walk or cycle to school or to work in fully integrated walking and cycling transport networks. The MCP provided NZ$13.1 million spread across the two cities for building a mix of separated cycleways, cycle lanes, walkways and associated education, campaigns/promotion.

Annual benefits for health in the intervention cities were estimated at 34.4 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and two lives saved due to reductions in cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory disease. The two ‘control’ cities; Whanganui and Masterton, were smaller but suitable to act as controls as they were broadly comparable to the intervention cities (physically close, similar climatic conditions, relatively similar transport characteristics). Whanganui and Masterton were interested in encouraging active travel, but had not received additional central government funding for this purpose.

The main mode-related finding of the (non-economic) part of the study was that, relative to the control cities, the odds of trips being by active modes (walking or cycling) increased by 37% in the intervention cities between baseline and post-intervention. The net proportion of trips made by active modes increased by about 30% relative to a background decline in active travel occurring in the control cities.

In conclusion, the present cost benefit study has focused mainly on what are likely to be the most important benefits and costs relating to an active travel intervention programme; in order to provide what few other studies have done, namely, an estimate in economic terms of the value of such a programme. Some key parameters have been varied in sensitivity analyses, but the primary conclusion remains robust, that such an intervention programme is likely to be economically worthwhile. The benefit/cost ratio of the programme (over 10:1) is well in the range to justify the investment involved, taking into account health and injury savings and the value of carbon emission reductions.

Source: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

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