The economics of walking deserves far more attention

Helping people to walk safely and efficiently around Melbourne’s CBD is vital to a strong economy. Nearly every week we see the costs and benefits of road infrastructure modelled to inform investment decisions but very little is said about the benefits of making it easier and safer for people to get around on foot.

An SGS Economics and Planning study, which formed part of the City of Melbourne’s transport strategy, showed that increasing the level of walking connectivity by just 10 per cent would increase the value of Melbourne’s Hoddle Grid economy by $2.1 billion a year.

It also uncovered that more people cross Melbourne's Collins Street each day than drive over the Westgate Bridge, one of the city's key traffic arteries. However, vehicles often take precedence over pedestrians in Australia’s CBDs even though it's not clear that is the most economically efficient option.

Terry Rawnsely, SGS Economics and Planning Principal and Partner, said the economics of walking deserves far more attention.

“Everyone who arrives in the City of Melbourne by car, tram and train eventually becomes a pedestrian to reach their destination,” he said. “If you improve connectivity for pedestrians the city will become more productive.”

“Melbourne’s streets, laneways and arcades create a dense network of pedestrian access that enables face-to-face connections fundamental to the retail and knowledge economy. In some locations cars create a real barrier to the economy.”

Melbourne’s $95 billion economy relies on pedestrian connectivity. The footpaths, pedestrian crossings and laneways of the city connect us all, which enables the heart of Melbourne to drive the Victorian economy.

The booming knowledge economy makes walking the streets even more important. Knowledge-intensive businesses such as finance, insurance and professional services rely on the ability to share ideas and insights through informal encounters often made at street level.

The SGS Economics and Planning study focuses on the economic contribution of improved productivity, however, other major benefits include improved safety and reduced vehicle emissions. The report identified big variations in the routes available to CBD walkers. Some walkways allowed pedestrians to travel an average speed of four kilometres an hour while others allowed speeds of just one kilometre an hour because of obstacles like unfavourable traffic light phasing.

With the daily population in Melbourne’s city set to increase from 911,000 to 1.4 million by 2036, determining the best way for people to travel around the city is at a serious juncture.

The economics of walking deserves far more attention.