The presentation’s title is a mouthful; John Havenstrite, lead presenter, likes to shorten the title to The ROI of Cool, and we think you’ll agree once you learn more about his project. John’s firm was asked by the Houston Parks Board to define and quantify the benefits associated with constructing a 300 mile trail system throughout the city and county. So his firm built a model to calculate individual and regional benefits by measuring: health care cost savings realized by increasing trail access; congestion relief; stormwater detention; property value; crash reductions; recreational value; mobility cost savings; and more. Not only did the model produce an encouraging result/scenario, but it is flexible enough to work anywhere.

How valid is John’s model? I encourage you to ask him about what assumptions/algorithms underpin it. Much of this you may have seen already; for example, we know that people living near a trail become more physically active, and that the increased physical activity–even if it is nominal–leads to health care savings.

The importance of John’s model is that it can help guide/provide cover to elected officials who want to invest in trails and greenways, but cringe at the prospect of the headline: 
City Council Votes to Build $50M bike path.

Top: a greenway along Minnesota’s Red River. Bottom: a “greenway” in Long Beach. We’re good at calculating the cost of these amenities, but we’re not very good at calculating their benefits.

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