A variety of active transportation options along New York's Hudson River Greenway. | Photo by Boyd Loving

Active transportation is defined as a means of traveling using human-powered mobility, primarily walking and biking. Understanding trends in active transportation provides a baseline for how to grow active transportation for the future.

Figure 1. The transportation, environmental, health and social benefits can be quantified and added to account for the full economic benefits of active transportation.

The benefits of active transportation are numerous: it is a quick and convenient method of travel, it provides substantial health benefits through physical activity, and it is the cleanest and cheapest mode of travel.

Walking and biking also encourage interpersonal connections by tearing down the physically isolating barriers of a single-occupancy vehicle.

To many, these benefits may seem obvious, but only recently have we learned to quantify them using empirical data and case studies. The power of quantifying the data is enormous. These benefit assessments make a compelling case for further investments in active transportation.

In 2009, the most recent year for which national data is available, RTC estimated the annual value of walking and biking at—

  • $4 billion in gasoline not purchased
  • 14 million tons of carbon dioxide not emitted (conservatively worth $147 million)
  • $235 billion saved due to the health benefits from active transportation that result in the prevention of premature deaths

Added together, the monetary value of these savings is $239 billion per year. Depending on how quickly active-transportation use increases, these benefits will reach a value of between $300 billion to $400 billion per year just by 2020. Moreover, not all benefits are quantified nationally, such as local economic and private development; therefore, the benefits may be even higher. When the transportation, health, environmental and social benefits of active transportation are monetized, the economic incentives become clear, giving decision-makers the leverage they need to justify further investment.