Estimating the Health Economic Benefits of Cycling

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Place: Dublin

Overview

This study found that constructing a cycling-specific route separate from vehicle traffic has the potential to make cycling much safer for commuters in Dublin, Ireland, reducing mortality risk by 18 percent. In monetary terms, the benefits of reduced risk outweigh construction costs by at least two-fold.

Relevance

Although this study is technical, the authors carefully outline their approach, and this type of analysis could be feasible for communities that are considering large-scale investment in alternative transportation routes and are looking for additional measures of benefits. The benefits found in this study are high due to the high population density and high proportion of people commuting via bicycle. The numbers would be lower in less populous communities with less demand for safe cycling routes.

Location

The proposed trail runs west from Dublin, Ireland, population 527,612 in 2011.

Trail Type

The trail evaluated is a proposed 60-kilometer cycling-specific route, separated along its entire route from vehicles.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate how to use the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) to evaluate public health benefits from cycling facilities in terms of avoided cycling deaths. By translating these benefits into monetary terms, they can more easily be compared to the costs of these facilities. This research was funded by the National Roads Authority of Ireland.

Findings

  • If the route were built, the number of people living within 5km of the route who would cycle to work would increase by 35 percent, from 27.1 percent of the population to 36.5 percent of the population.
  • If the route were built, the average number of days cycled per year would increase by 63 percent, from 48 days per year to 78 days per year.
  • The annual mortality risk for a person commuting by bicycle would drop 18 percent. Depending on the proportion of residents who actually begin using the trail, this means anywhere from 3 to 18 deaths would be prevented per year.
  • The ratio of benefits of risk reduction to costs of construction range from 2:1 to 12:1.

Methods

The Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) requires four main types of data:

  1. Volume of cycling per person in the community,
  2. Protective benefit provided by the cycling route,
  3. Population that is likely to benefit, and
  4. Construction costs and public health data for the population.

The first, second, and third data types were gathered using surveys of people who lived or worked within five kilometers of the proposed route. Respondents were asked questions about their current cycling habits (frequency and distance) and hypothetical questions about cycling habits with the proposed route. Only cycling for commuting to work or school was included. The fourth data type was obtained from national-level data sources. The authors compared their sample data to census data for the study area to ensure they are representative of the area.

These data sources were input into the HEAT model to generate the following output:

  • A benefit-cost ratio of the facility, where the benefits are monetized estimates of reduced traffic fatalities for cyclists,
  • Predicted reduction in mortality rate for cyclists,
  • The value of reduced mortality rate for cyclists, and
  • The total value of all benefits from the cycling route.

Citation

Deenihan, G. and B. Caulfield. 2014. “Estimating the Health Economic Benefits of Cycling.” Journal of Transport & Health 1(2): 141-149.