C40 Healthy, Livable Cities – Direct Technical Assistance Grant – Enabling cities to effectively and efficiently measure the wider benefits of climate action
In March 2017, the Planning & Development Department along with Houston Health Department was awarded a direct technical assistance grant from C40 on the evaluation of environmental and health benefits for improving walkability and bikeability. C40 is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, which supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change. Through the 6-month process, C40 and the consultant team from Arup worked very closely with Houston local team to develop the evaluation methodology for benefits analysis. The final report was completed in November 2017 which addresses the environmental, economic, and health benefits of the White Oak Bayou Greenway. The methodology and findings from this grant study will be included in a toolkit for assessing the intersectionality of public health and active transportation, and will be extended further for the evaluation of improving bike facilities and sidewalks in Houston.
Guided by the mission the Houston Bike Plan, the report identified the ways in which a safer and more connected bike and pedestrian network encourages more people to engage in active transportation. An increase in active transportation can potentially reduce the rate of obesity, diabetes, and other health-related problems and costs, and help the city to achieve savings in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions.
The City of Houston is participating in this research with C40 to inform the future development of similar biking and Bayou trail projects and has chosen White Oak Bayou Greenway because of its rich data about users. For example, number of users per year is 1,282 and it is estimated that 705 of those users are new to cycling. White Oak Bayou Greenway is an off-street hike and bike trail within the city limits and is located away from main highways, offering a pathway that feels safe for all users, not just the avid cyclist. The White Oak Bayou Greenway offers the opportunity to analyze detailed data on health, economic, and environmental benefits and the City of Houston has pulled from the report some initial findings:
With this being only one of the many hike and bike pathways, analysis of the White Oak Bayou Greenway reveals a subset of the numerous benefits that could be realized once more trails are introduced in Houston. The social value of physical activity on the White Oak Bayou Greenway is expected to provide positive improvements in the risk of disease, such as heart disease and stroke. Introducing a pedestrian and bicycle path has positive air quality impacts, contributing to environmental benefits. A shift from the private car to cycling along the Greenway was estimated to be 55%, which means that of all the trips currently undertaken 55% would have been taken by automotive modes of transports if the bike lane did not exist. Economically, the benefits exceed the costs by 2.38 times. This ratio that becomes more favorable as the White Oak Bayou Greenway attracts more users, because there is a positive correlation between user numbers and benefits.
So, what is next?
The City of Houston in partnership with other agencies such as Houston-Galveston Area Council will continue data collection related to number of users and number of trips. It is recommended to include data related to crime and safety, as that was not included in the report due to the lack of local data or lack of clear trends within the available data.
As it relates to the Houston Bike Plan, it is recommended that similar data collection methods are designed into the biking network. This can be done through sensors placed along the route to provide local-level data, such as number of users, air quality, noise levels, and heat. As the network grows, the data can be continually analyzed and used to inform city departments, decision makers, and the public on the health and other benefits of increased walkability and bikeability. This would begin to fulfill the mission of the Houston Bike Plan to improve safety, increase access, grow ridership, and develop and maintain facilities, and provide benefits to City of Houston residents that would improve their quality of life.
Houston Project Team:
City of Houston Planning and Development Department (Project Manager)
Houston Health Department (Co-project manager)
Houston Public Works (Partner)
Houston Parks and Recreation Department (Partner)
Houston Parks Board (Partner)
Houston-Galveston Area Council (Partner)
Houston METRO (Partner)
C40 Climate Action Group
University of Cambridge
For further information about this study, please contact