The Value of Dedicated Cyclist and Pedestrian Infrastructure on Rural Roads

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Place: Rural towns

Overview

This study found that rural communities have a high demand for dedicated cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, separate from main roadways, and users are willing to pay small fees to use these trails. These trails are most likely to be used by those living close to small towns and villages, who use the trails for recreation and transportation.

Relevance

Although the study was conducted outside the U.S., the general findings indicating important factors in determining trail use and willingness-to-pay are likely applicable to many rural communities in the U.S. where residents do not have safe places for cycling or walking. Also, the authors ask questions about both existing facilities and a hypothetical facility and find similar results, helping to validate results from other studies that ask respondents about how they would use a hypothetical trail.

Location

The study is based in three towns in rural Ireland: Tullamore, Greystones, and Passage West. They were selected because they have high-speed, secondary roads with dedicated cycling and pedestrian facilities immediately adjacent to them.

Trail Type

The trails included are both adjacent to secondary roads and shared by cyclists and pedestrians. The trail in Passage West is a rail-trail parallel to the main road. The trail in Greystones is within the road boundary, separated by a grass strip. In Tullamore, cyclists and pedestrians currently share the main roadway with cars, and respondents considered a hypothetical new trail.

Purpose

While funding for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is becoming more common in urban areas, fueled in part by research demonstrating the benefits for urban residents, it remains difficult to justify this investment in rural areas. This study aims to fill this gap in rural transportation policy by assessing the value of separate infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians in rural areas. This study was funded by the National Roads Authority of Ireland.

Findings

Households used the trails for walking an average of 33 trips per month and for cycling an average of 9 times per month.

Whether the respondent lived in a small town or village was the most important factor in determining the number of walking trips the respondent would take, and the second most important factor in determining the number of cycling trips the respondent would take. Walking distance to town was more important than actually living in town for both walking and cycling trips.

The greatest predictor of the number of cycling trips is whether the respondent had three or more cars in the household. The authors point out that this may be a proxy for household income, and higher-income households may be more likely to take cycling trips.

Households with children ages 4 to 17 were more likely to take walking and cycling trips, and trail use decreased the farther the respondent lived from town.

On average, respondents were willing to pay €0.33 per walking trip and €0.36 per cycling trip. This value for walking trips was higher for respondents farther from the trail, suggesting that the trail may be a destination for some respondents. It was lower for respondents farther from the trail, which may be because they have other recreation options and would use it less.

Respondents in Tullamore, where the trail was hypothetical, were willing to pay less for walking trips than respondents living in towns with existing trails, but were willing to pay more for cycling trips. This could be due to a particular demand for safe cycling routes in the community, or it may demonstrate the difficulty respondents had in evaluating a hypothetical versus existing trail.

Methods

The authors conducted intercept surveys of trail users along the two existing trails and household surveys in all three communities. It is unclear whether the household surveys were administered in-person, via mail, or via phone. They received 607 completed surveys.

Respondents were also asked questions about how they use existing cycling and pedestrian facilities and how cycling and walking behavior would change if a facility were available, as well as questions regarding demographics and car ownership. The authors compared responses to demographic and car ownership questions with national data to determine whether their sample was biased. They used responses to survey questions to estimate a statistical model predicting the total number of walking and cycling trips per month in the summer and winter.

Willingness-to-pay for a facility was estimated by asking respondents whether they would be willing to pay a particular amount. If they said yes, then they were asked if they would be willing to pay the next-higher amount. If they answered no, respondents were asked the next-lower amount. The respondent’s willingness-to-pay is estimated as being within the last value accepted and the final value rejected.

Citation

Laird, J., M. Page, and S. Shen. 2013. “The value of dedicated cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure on rural roads.” Transport Policy 29 (2013): 86-96.