Are Bike Networks Good for Local Economies?

22 Nov

One of our favorite things to talk about is how biking (or walking) is good for your pocketbook as well as your health and safety. But there’s a growing body of evidence that has found that investment in bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly networks and infrastructure is also good for your local economy.

With all that cash you’re saving by not driving a car, you’ll end up spending at least part of that savings in your community; you can pump quite a bit of cash into your local economy when you’re not pumping it into your gas tank, or to your car insurance company, or to the DMV, or to the car dealer. A 2008 study in Portland showed bicycle-related industries alone contributed $90 million to the local economy every year — nearly 60 percent of which came from retail, rental, and repair, with manufacturing and distribution, bicycle events, and professional services, such as bike messengers and coaching and legal expertise, also contributing.

Additionally, according to the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), in denser areas, where cars and bicyclists travel at similar speeds, bike lanes can accommodate 7 to 12 times as many people per meter of lane per hour than car lanes and bicycles cause less wear on the pavement — meaning less money needs to be spent on road maintenance while more people can use the roads. The LAB also points to research that has shown that bike facilities can have positive, statistically significant impacts on home values.

Earl Blumenauer, famously known to be most bike-friendly member of Congress, points to a number of statistics showing how good biking is for the economy, including:

  • The average operating cost of a bicycle is just 2.5% of that of a car.
  • In Maine, bicycle tourism contributed $66.8 million to that state’s economy; in Colorado, that figure is $193 million. Wisconsin attributes $278 million of its economy to bicycle tourism.
  • A 2006 study revealed that the 125 bicycle-related businesses in Portland, OR contributed $63 million and 800 – 1000 jobs to the local economy. Two years later, there were an additional 50 bike-related businesses, raising the total economic impact to $90 million.
  • Bicycling is a $5.8 billion industry, employing close to 100,000 people in research and development, manufacturing, distribution, retail sales, service, and tourism.
  • In 2005, Americans bought 19.8 million bicycles – surpassing the total number of cars and trucks sold nationwide by 4.4 million.
  • Building a single mile of urban, four-lane highway is between $20 million and $80 million; in areas where traffic congestion is the worst, that figure can be as high as $290 million a mile. But the cost of building a mile of bicycle or pedestrian facilities is only in the range of a few thousand dollars up to $1 million.

Communities throughout the country are showing that relatively modest investments in paths, expanded shoulders, and trails can provide big gains for local economies by attracting visitors, residents, and businesses. Biking and walking isn’t just about being a do-gooder for the planet, or getting some exercise. It’s about saving money for both you and your community. In these tough economic times, that’s something that ought to get the attention of everyone.

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