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How walking could help the province’s economic health

Ever wonder about the economics of pedestrians?

Feb 21, 2014

Photograph Ryan Girard

Studies continue to find that pedestrians, as well as cyclists and people using other forms of non-motorized urban transportation, spend more at street-side retail over time than do their motorized counterparts.

Drivers, on the other hand, spend more than pedestrians at grocery stores – in large part because they have that big trunk which they can fill. But while pedestrians spend less per visit at most establishments, studies show they make more frequent visits (and they don’t beat up costly roads with cars, either). One study in Oregon, for instance, found pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders averaged 13 visits per month versus eight visits for motorists, and that this translates into increased spending over a month. Pedestrians spent more at restaurants, bars and convenience stores (though the study didn’t examine car-focused retail, such as power centres) than did car-drivers.

One barrier for Alberta retailers, however, is the walkability of our cities. With 50.9 points (out of a possible 100), Edmonton ranks only 18th most walkable in Canada on Walk Score’s rankings, while Calgary scores even lower, with 48 points. Another barrier is winter. Still Edmonton’s recently released Winter City strategy notes the potential to alter street life during winter with changes to simple things, like, say, snowplowing priority. Bike lanes and sidewalks in cities in Norway and Denmark, the study notes, are plowed before lanes for motorists. The problem with this sort of pedestrian focus taking hold in Alberta, however, is that we’re still wed to our cars.

The economics of pedestrians


Amount a study from Denmark concluded that each kilometre cycled rather than driven “earns” the country, through increased street-side retail and lower road maintenance costs


Percentage that retail rents can be increased due to increased pedestrian traffic, according to a report from the U.K. called Living Streets


Average amount that pedestrians outspend motorists in London, England, on a monthly basis, according to Transportation for London


Percentage retail sales increased over three years after a pedestrian mall was opened in a section of Brooklyn


Range for return on investment of $1 in improved signage to guide walkers around the city, as estimated in the business case for Toronto 360°, a proposed pedestrian wayfinding signage project in that city


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