Just outside of campus, construction for the Route 434 Greenway Project is underway — a 2.5-mile pedestrian and bike path connecting the town of Vestal to Downtown Binghamton. Generally, while walking through U.S. cities, it is easy to realize that the city design differs from those in other cities such as London or Hong Kong. The primary reason behind the lack of pedestrian-friendly paths in so many cities in the United States is the country’s prioritization of vehicles. Since the late 1920s, cities in the United States have prioritized room for cars and buses rather than pedestrians and cyclists. While investing in new roads and highways is a reflection of increased car ownership and commuting, priority should be given to investing in increased walkability in cities. The Route 434 Greenway Project is just one example of how New York State sees potential in such investments, so it is worthwhile to understand the positive effects of these projects on individual health, economic growth and the environment.
One benefit of investing in paths for pedestrians and cyclists is that it would increase physical activity. Providing the option to walk to a destination instead of driving gives more people different opportunities to incorporate walking into their routines while simultaneously taking advantage of the outdoors. Studies have shown that there are lower rates of obesity and diabetes among those living in walkable areas. According to the Center for American Progress, avoiding “heavy traffic and long commutes” can also cut down on stress, which is shown to contribute to a number of cardiovascular diseases. For Binghamton University students living off campus, having the option to walk on a safe, designated path to campus from nearby apartments like U Club Binghamton would mitigate traffic, traffic-related stress and the trouble of finding a parking spot while promoting being on time to class. Along with improving physical health, walkability also affects mental health. Walking connects people to their community, which can lead to an increase in civic engagement and interactions with neighbors. Having a positive relationship with the community has a multitude of effects itself, from creating new social connections to increasing overall individual happiness.
Related to individual health, another concern that is imperative to consider when evaluating investments in walkability is the environment. Environmentally, the large-scale shift away from vehicles has the potential to dramatically affect the ongoing climate change crisis by decreasing the number of fossil fuels burned and greenhouse gases released. From carbon dioxide to methane and nitrous oxide, these gases not only adversely affect the environment but also human physiological health when inhaled. According to The Climate Reality Project, “The transportation sector is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases.” Having bikeable and walkable paths would limit traffic congestion and thus decrease the levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In larger metropolitan areas especially, this increase in air quality and decrease in noise pollution would increase the overall well-being of residents.
Opponents of increasing the walkability of cities may not be convinced of these benefits unless there is substantial economic support, which, luckily, there is. According to Vox, one study showed that “each additional walk score point [results] in home values increasing between $500 and $3,000.” Additionally, opponents might think the money spent on public transport would be lost if people decided to walk instead. Yet a 2008 study on downtown San Francisco showed that despite spending less on transportation, walkers actually visited downtown areas more frequently and spent more money. Increased foot traffic can also help support more shops and businesses in the area, providing further economic gains for local economies. So even at an economic level, making cities more friendly to pedestrians opens up new avenues of growth for businesses and economies.
While making cities more walkable is not a new idea, it is an important investment to make now more than ever. Considering health, climate and economic factors, implementing more ways for pedestrians to get around town safely has a multitude of benefits. Projects like these are valuable investments to make, and the Route 434 Greenway Project is just one local example of what could be implemented in many other towns and cities — not just for college students, but for residents of all communities.
Sana Malik is a senior double-majoring in biology and philosophy, politics and law.