Greenway Benefits Report Summary from Pennsylvania Legislative Services

Julie Slavet
Oct 28, 2010

Check out this article regarding PennFuture’s Greenway Benefits Report from Jason Gottesman of Pennsylvania Legislative Services.

PennFuture, Coalition for Philadelphia’s Riverfronts release study showing benefits of public access

By Jason Gottesman

Representatives of PennFuture and the Coalition for Philadelphia’s Riverfronts held a conference call today to discuss the release of a report detailing the economic and health benefits of a continuous waterfront greenway on both of Philadelphia’s rivers.

Rachel Vassar, Philadelphia Outreach Coordinator for PennFuture and Coordinator for Philadelphia’s Riverfronts, noted this is a crucial time for the city’s waterfronts since the city government is active in determining how the riverfronts will be used for years to come. She noted actions being taken in this regard through the Philadelphia zoning code and by entities like the Philadelphia planning commission and their comprehensive plan, the water department’s and parks and recreation’s plan for new green spaces. Vassar said after years of neglect Philadelphia is moving the riverfronts into a bright future by doing the above and using federal funding to fill gaps in the Schuylkill River Trail and the park in the Central Delaware. She noted this report is evidence of economic benefits and positive impact of the riverfront with its future impact. She gave her support to any activities that will bring the idea of a continuous greenway on both rivers into reality.

Lee Huang, Director, Econsult Corporation, said the “task we had was to identify and attempt to quantify potential benefits of a connected waterfront greenway in Philadelphia” including both rivers and the economic, health, and quality of life benefits that can be provided by a greenway. Huang stated the “reasons for this report are to calibrate data and inform advocates” but noted “we are not ourselves playing the role of advocate in this report, but rather erred on the side of conservatism where there was a need or opportunity to make assumptions.” He further explained the “report is useful to ongoing discussions relating to public policy decisions as well as infrastructure and financing decisions.” Huang hoped the report will have key role in weighing costs and benefits of a greenway.

Regarding costs and benefits, Huang pointed out “cost-benefit is difficult to get down to a precise level, and this topic is no exception” due to the number of unknowns. Huang stated this caused the group to make some assumptions because it is difficult to quantify some categories. He said “the general approach we took was to look at six different categories and summarize anticipated or hopeful benefits and what research seems to suggest is the actual benefit that accrues when you build and maintain greenways and to describe the methodology that arrived at preliminary number to get to that benefit in that category and pave way as to how to explore topic further.” Huang noted one caveat being that the “scope is to look at benefits associated with fully connected waterfront greenway on both rivers in Philadelphia compared to having no greenway at all.” He indicated a lot of greenway exists already and the benefits in the report include some of what already exists.

Huang noted the equity of access concept saying this is an “important element for greenway advocates.” He said equity of access is seen in Atlanta and other cities, and he thinks, that building a fully connected greenway in Philadelphia will greatly increase the number of individuals and households that will have access to outdoor amenities. Huang said the equity of access in the report took into account those living near major parks, those living near waterfronts but not major parks, and those living near neither. He said about 98,000 people representing 44,000 households are currently not near an amenity.

Huang then proceeded to go over the six categories described in the report and gave dollar values to each:

  • Pleasure from direct use totaled an estimated value of $28 million from use by Philadelphians alone;
  • Increased commuting options provided and estimate of 1,5000 new bicycle commuters created by the greenway accounting for one million miles not driven per year;
  • Reduced healthcare costs from exercise of direct use with an estimated savings of $20 million per year in healthcare savings;
  • Increased recreational and tourism expenditures in Philadelphia would lead to a one percent increase in tourism activity or $50 million in economic impact and $4 million in tax revenue just in tourism and leisure;
  • Premium people would pay to live near greenway regardless of use would lead to an $800 million in property value increase over 30 years or $20 million per year in property tax revenues;
  • As a provider of ecological services the greenway would show a small dollar amount of costs savings.

Huang concluded by saying he “hopes the report provides its intended purpose to give readers a sense of gains and who are the ones that benefit and to provide a roadmap for anyone interested in further investigation.”

Sarah Clark Stuart, Schuylkill River Park Alliance, stated she is happy to see this report released and the very important results that come out of this. She noted a continuous greenway will give thousands of Philadelphians access to outdoor recreational activity and will be very helpful for recreation and the visual health, as well as giving people a new way to commute and get around the city. Stuart stated the greenway is going to be a good help for the city in the future and helpful to households close to the river, half of which do not own a car. She explained the greenway will increase those residents’ mobility through the city and suburban communities and bring health benefits to city by saving more than $20 million in healthcare costs.

Stuart noted it has been seen along the Schuylkill that Philadelphians respond quickly to trails created close to where they live. She pointed out the number of people actively using existing trails is astounding. Stuart said, with the Delaware being involved, the numbers are going to increase exponentially. She concluded by saying since the city has been given a federal grant to create greenways along the rivers, it makes perfect sense for the “city to capitalize on those investments and do everything they can to finish the job and create a continuous trail system along all city water trails.”

Steve Wexler, Delaware River Advocacy Group, commented Philadelphians have made their desire for this pretty loudly and this can be seen by the use of existing greenways. He detailed how 77 percent of Philadelphians have sought increased public funding to help increased access to waterways. In addition, Wexler noted, the city has made significant investment in waterways and shores, and plans to do more. To make most out of these investments, he said, the public from all parts of the city must be able to experience the river’s edge. Wexler explained the greenways will increase property values over $800 million, will attract businesses, tourism, and related jobs. He stated he hopes the benefits will give city the extra cushion to make the connected riverfront greenway a reality.

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