2019/04 – Cost-Benefit Analysis

Remarks to the Port Authority of NY&NJ, 4.25.2019

In 2011, the Port Authority developed its current Cost-Benefit Analysis Framework,1 which appears to have informed its 2013 decision not to widen the George Washington Bridge paths.  

Today I will discuss how the Framework’s methodology failed to capture the benefits to the region–or the Agency.

Cycling as a primary mode of travel

Critically, the Framework does not regard cycling as a primary means of travel.  Rather, as a secondary means to improve road projects and fill in gaps to mass transit.2 3   Consequently, investment in cycling infrastructure is denied the same benefits accorded other modes.

In contrast, USDOT explicitly regards cycling as equal to other modes and calls on providers to upgrade capacity on major projects–even those categorized as “maintenance.”4 5  And there are numerous examples of major cities who’ve invested heavily in cycling infrastructure and sharply reduced car trips into their central business districts.6

profileUtrecht bike garage with capacity for 12,500 bikes.  Image Bike Dutch.

Benefits unique to active transportation

The Framework further fails to recognize benefits specific to cycling.  These include cost-effective reductions in public health spending7 8 and greenhouse emissions.9  As well as the potential to substantially mitigate a widespread transport outage–and the resulting fiscal fallout.10 11

The Frameworks also ignores the GWB’s potential to agglomerate Port District bikeways into a cohesive regional grid.12

Benefits to the Agency

Benefits to the Agency that the Framework fails to capture include:

• Reduced risk associated with transition to low carbon economy.13

• Forestalling obsolescence of Agency assets by reducing demand growth.14

• Participating in cycling’s monetization by bike share providers15 and the legalization of electric bikes.16 17 

• Creating value sufficient to justify external funding.

• And, by realizing the George’s potential as a tourist draw, increasing foot traffic past vendors in the George Washington Bus Terminal.18

Changes to the operating environment

The Framework does not fully anticipate challenges to Agency’s operating environment:

• Indefinite delay in replacing the Hudson rail tunnels.

• The increasing urgency of regional actors to reduce greenhouse emissions.19

• The continued expansion of bike lanes and bike share and the growth of mode share.20

• Onset of congestion pricing that will change behavior and create new revenue streams.


As best I can determine, the Agency never performed a cost-benefit analysis for the GWB paths.21   But even if it had, the exercise would have failed to capture the benefits needed to justify the $90 million cost–due to the Framework’s biased presumptions.

The Framework, however, is due for an update. 

One that takes into account developments of the past decade, regards cycling as equal to other transport modes, and includes it as a necessary component the region’s transport matrix.

Neile Weissman, 2019

Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 8.54.30 AMXiamen’s 4.7 mile aerial bikeway. Image Xinhua News.


1 Port Authority Cost‐Benefit Analysis Framework, PANYNJ Planning and Regional Development Department, January 2011 (via Emerson University), https://tinyurl.com/yxns3ytt. (download also available at Complete George), https://tinyurl.com/y3edump6

2 “Bus transit, carpool, bicycle and pedestrian facilities can improve the safety and reliability of those modes.”, Ibid, p.12

3 “Bicycle and auto park‐and‐ride facilities, bus stations, and protected bus stops can encourage a mode shift, again saving travelers the cost of operating and parking cars and reducing highway congestion.”, Ibid, p.13 

4 Transportation providers should consider cycling equal to other modes and to make substantial upgrades to capacity on new construction and restorations., 2010 Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations, USDOT, http://tinyurl.com/yccn8qmo

5 “Congress clearly intends for bicyclists and pedestrians to have safe, convenient access to the transportation system and sees every transportation improvement as an opportunity to enhance the safety and convenience of the two modes.”, Accommodating Bicycle-Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach, USDOT, http://tinyurl.com/ya8wmpxe

6 “Portland, a city of two million with a 6% bicycle mode share, estimates its bike grid saves it $2.6 billion per year.”, Green Dividend, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y9jnyngs

Tilikum_Crossing_-_bicycles_4 9.42.56 PM.jpgPortland’s Tilikum Crossing opened in 2015 at a cost of $135 million. Image Tedder.

7 “The increase in exercise supported by a expanded cycling across a wider GWB would reduce mortality by 21 lives per year vs. the same population who didn’t cycle. That’s a public health savings of $195 million per year.”, WHO/HEAT, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/z2u4d9r

8 “The reduced morbidity (incidence of disease) comprises an exceptionally low-cost public health intervention at $833 per quality-adjusted life year – that’s 14 times more cost-effective than vaccinating kids against the flu.”, QALY, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/zx4llxn

9 “With the transportation sector overtaking power generation as lead emitter of CO2, the Port Authority must include tenants and customers in its 80% by 2050 pledge greenhouse gas reduction goals.” 80 by 50, Ibid, https://tinyurl.com/yawf962h

10 “With tunnel repairs in the offing, bikes are key to keeping people on the move.”, NJ Spotlight, https://tinyurl.com/ya8ffz3e

11 “A Preventable Crisis: The Economic and Human Costs of a Hudson River Rail Tunnel Shutdown.”, Regional Plan Association, https://tinyurl.com/y3d87rad

12 “Creating an effective network also means improving existing trails and connections. In particular, the connections between the greater region and New York City include major bridge crossings – such as the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges – that are likely to be in high demand by many users”; RPA Proposes Extending and Connecting Region’s Trails to Form a Unified Network, P. 16., Regional Plan Association, http://tinyurl.com/ydba4gk5

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 2.41.38 PM.pngGWB is sole connector for 1650-mile network.  Image Regional Plan Association.

13 Organizations adapting to a “two-degree world” face three channels of risk: physical, liability and transitional.  The Port Authority is starkly vulnerable to all three.”, Two Degree World, Ibid, https://tinyurl.com/y4fevkbz

14 Cycling across the GWB, in combination with a regional bike grid, meets the PA’s criteria for a successful strategy to reduce bus trips into the midtown Bus Terminal; Latent Demand, Ibid, http://tinyurl.com/yb8atw8t

15 Bike share providers operating locally include Motivate/Lyft, P3GM/EYSA, Jump/Uber, Lime, Pace and soon Bird., Mobility as a Service, Ibid, https://tinyurl.com/y787zrtr

16 Cuomo Plan Lets Localities Legalize E-Scooters and E-Bikes, StreetsBlog, https://tinyurl.com/y2pprtzj

17 Low speed electric bikes get go-ahead from NJ Lawmakers, NJ Spotlight, https://tinyurl.com/y3m23kjc

18 “Using Walkway Over the Hudson as a model, a ‘Complete George’ with robust bikeways, discrete paths for pedestrians and runners, and unobstructed views of the NY-NJ skylines and the Palisades would annually draw 290,000 tourists, spending $42 million and sustaining 675 jobs.”, Linear Park, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y8zu5m6q

19 BPU Goes Giddyap as Murphy Wants NJ on Fast Track to Clean Energy, NJSpotlight, https://tinyurl.com/y8uhpdz4

20 Cycling in the City, Cycling Trends in NYC 2018, NYCDOT-NACTO, https://tinyurl.com/hcu5yaz

21 Though the project was small enough to be conducted in-house, categorizing the recabling as “state-of-good-repair” made the exercise optional., CBA Framework, PANYNJ, p.4