Evaluating the Economic Impact of Shared Use Paths in North Carolina

Source: Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) and Alta Planning and Design

Reports on designing and testing a methodology to evaluate a range of monetized benefits from four different trails.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has supported the construction of many SUPs, in coordination with local governments within the state, since the 1970’s. With the creation of a data-driven process to prioritize transportation projects that began in 2013 and continues to evolve, independent bicycle and pedestrian projects such as SUPs are now evaluated, ranked, and compete with projects from all transportation modes. This objective, performance based prioritization process currently uses travel time savings and safety benefits based on crash history as the economic criteria, but these metrics fall short in fully accounting for the range of potential economic benefits of bicycle or pedestrian projects. This research lays a foundation toward a long-term goal of the NCDOT to create new metrics for economic-based performance that can ultimately aid non-motorized transportation projects to more fairly compete for funds.

The objective of this project was to design and test a methodology for consistently evaluating the economic contribution of shared use paths in North Carolina. A comprehensive valuation framework was designed and tested based on a menu of economic impacts that were explored. These include considerations for understanding trail user and societal benefits (health, congestion reduction, pollution reduction, and safety benefits), business benefits (trip expenditures, retail sales tax benefits), and community benefits (capital expenditures, operational expenditures, property value impacts). Given that SUPs may have different characteristics, adjacent land uses, and local contexts, the methodology framework is flexible enough to allow one to measure different types of economic contributions as may be appropriate for the SUP under study. At the same time, the framework provides a standard for what and how data are collected and analyzed, given the specific economic benefit(s) of interest, so that, ultimately, datasets from different SUPs or regions can be compared or compiled to reflect a comprehensive understanding of the economic contributions of SUPs to the state of North Carolina.

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