1. Introduction

1.1 What is active travel?

Active travel is defined here as comprising walking and cycling. Active travel could be considered as embracing all forms of non-motorised transport – such as skateboards, scooters, and even kayaks – but there is little if any data available for modes other than walking and cycling. The defining characteristic of active travel is that it uses ‘human powered mobility’. (DIT, 2012, p.4).

Walking and cycling trips may be self-contained (such as a trip from home to the shops and back) or form part of a multi-modal trip (such as combining a cycling or walking segment from home to the bus stop and a walking segment from the bus stop to the office).

Active travel includes trips made for transport purposes (such as to work, school, shops and activities) or for purely recreational purposes. It does not include walking or cycling for competition.

These Guidelines can be applied to all trip purposes other than competition.

Because active travel can form a component of many trip purposes and types, active travel infrastructure initiatives can have many contexts and forms. Initiatives can include bicycle storage at bus stops or railway stations, end of trip facilities including showers and bicycle storage, on road or off-road cycleways or off-road pedestrian/cycle paths.

For simplicity, these Guidelines focus on independent initiatives – that is, those initiatives that do not have strong synergies with other initiatives or other parts of the network. More complex scenarios, such as improved pedestrian/cycle facilities delivered with an enhanced level of public transport service, are not addressed explicitly. However, the principles outlined in this and other parts of the Guidelines could be used to evaluate more complex, integrated initiatives.

Table 1: Active travel trip and initiative types addressed in the ATAP Guidelines
Trip purpose
Transport (such as work, education, shopping)
Competition x x
Initiative type
Self-standing new infrastructure (such as new pedestrian/cycle paths, signalised pedestrian cycle crossings, end of trip facilities)
Self-standing Infrastructure enhancements (such as widening or extension of pedestrian cycle paths)
Active travel initiatives as part of other transport upgrades (such as rail station improvement, including access and safety upgrades) x x

1.2 Why appraise active travel initiatives?

There is no conceptual difference from an appraisal perspective between active travel initiatives on the one hand and more conventional road and public transport initiatives. Active travel initiatives differ from these initiatives in their nature and cost, but - like other investment initiatives - they also consume scarce resources. This is the primary reason for evaluation.

Until recently, appraisal of active travel initiatives has been somewhat neglected. However, cogent policy reasons for appraisal have been emerging from an increased emphasis on active travel in transport planning and investment programming activities. In particular, a growing consensus about the health consequences of inactivity is engendering interest in the potential role of active travel – whether for transport or recreation – in improving health outcomes in the Australian community. For example, a study prepared by Garrard (2009) for VicHealth cited research results[1] that found commuter cycling to:

  • Reduce all-cause mortality
  • Improve physical performance particularly for people with a low initial fitness level
  • Have a favourable impact on body fat markers and body mass gain
  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer and breast cancer in women, and improve cancer survival
  • Be associated with reducing overweight/obesity.

The potential range of benefits and costs of active travel presented in Table 2 is clearly broader than individual health and includes other private benefits (such as reduced parking costs) and social benefits such as open space preservation. Active travel also has a range of social and private costs including infrastructure provision and maintenance, personal cycling and walking equipment (such as bicycles, helmets, shoes and the like) and possibly increased crash risk because in some circumstances cycling and walking can have higher crash risk than driving.

Table 2: Active travel benefits and costs
 Improved active travel conditionsIncreased active travelReduced motor vehicle travelMore compact communities
Potential benefits Improved user convenience and comfort User enjoyment Reduced traffic congestion Improved accessibility, particularly for non- drivers
Improved accessibility for non-drivers, which supports equity objectives Improved public fitness and health Road and parking facility cost savings Transport cost savings
Option value Increased community cohesion (positive interactions among neighbours due to more people walking on local streets), which tends to increase local security Consumer savings Reduced sprawl costs
Higher property values Reduced chauffeuring burdens Open space preservation
Increased security Increased traffic safety More liveable communities
Energy conservation Higher property values
Pollution reductions Improved security
Economic development
Potential costs Facility costs Equipment costs (bikes, helmets, shoes, etc.) Slower travel (see note below Increases in some development costs
Lower traffic speeds Increased crash risk

Source: Litman (2014) p 14.

Note: Also see Litman, p.39: “Some non-motorised improvements can cause vehicle traffic delays”; for example, “converting traffic lanes to bike lanes……..can reduce vehicle travel speeds”.

As Part T2 of Guidelines discusses, not all of these benefits are quantifiable. Perhaps for these reasons, recent Australian studies that have estimated or sourced benefit estimates from elsewhere have tended to concentrate on a more limited set of benefits. Health is generally the largest benefit category in dollar terms, followed by congestion reduction, although this balance does tend to vary between studies and between cities.

Table 3 shows the range of values used in a number of recent studies.

Table 3: Comparative Australian estimates of active travel benefits
Benefit categoriesRange of estimates ($/km)
Decongestion benefit $0.207 - $0.258
Savings in car user costs $0.135 - $0.350
Parking cost savings $0.010 - $0.024
Travel time costs savings Mostly excluded
Bicycle injury cost savings -$0.020 to -$0.370
Walking injury cost savings -$0.031 to -$0.240
Health benefits cycling $0.014 - $1.660
Health benefits walking $1.018 - $1.680
Air pollution reduction $0.017 - $0.028
Noise reduction $0.005 - $0.009
Infrastructure provision $0.024 - $0.052
Greenhouse gas reduction $0.006 - $0.022

Source: PWC (2009), SKM PWC (2011), PWC SKM (2010), Fishman et al (2011)

Note: Estimates are for a range of years between 2008 and 2010.

[1] Note that evidence referred to by Garrard is confined to cycling because of a relative absence of walking-related research