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7 Reasons to Fund Bicycle Infrastructure

bike infrastructure

The Phoenix City Council has tabled approving the Bicycle Master Place until the end of the summer. The Phoenix Bicycle Master Plan is not complete yet, but aims to connect currently disjointed bicycle lanes, shared roads and bicycle boulevards and ultimately earn the Platinum rating for bicycling friendliness awarded by the League of American Bicyclists.

Phoenix is one of the first handful of cities nationwide to get bike share. But experts are scratching their heads at this step toward bicycle friendliness because it's happening in relative isolation. If the city isn't bicycle friendly on the whole, how successful will a bike share program be? "It's only when bicycles are coupled with safe and more ubiquitous biking facilities that bike share is likely to get a large following," warns walkability expert, architect and urban planner Jeff Speck.

Recently, the City Council approved spending $1.5 million towards bicycle projects in this years budget. But this is only a drop in the bucket when you consider that building one mile of a protected bike lane costs approximately half a million dollars. Spending $1.5 million on bicycles compared to The Netherlands $665 million yearly on bicycles shows how insignificant that number really is.

But you have to start somewhere and even including bicycle infrastructure in the budget discussion as a serious line item is a big step in the right direction for Phoenix. But Phoenix leaders need a push from residents to make the leap to pass the Bicycle Master Plan at the end of the summer AND then to take the important step to fund it. The key is to begin to change the car culture in the city, which is starkly reflected in the Department of Transportation and to take steps to promote bicycling on the roads of Phoenix.

Funding bicycle infrastructure makes a lot of business sense for any city in the 21st century. Below are 10 reasons Phoenix should not only pass the Bicycle Master Plan, but actually fund it as well. It will not only help its national reputation, but it will help its own bottom line. Here's why:

1. Bikeways make places more valuable. A 2006 study found that in Minneapolis, median home values rose $510 for every quarter-mile they were located closer to an off-street bikeways. In Washington D.C., 85% of nearby residents say the 15th Street bike lane is a valuable community asset. By mapping real estate transactions, researchers have been able to show that bike facilities can have positive, statistically significant impacts on home values.  A study of home values near the Monon Trail in Indianapolis, Ind. measured the impact of the trail on property values. Given two identical houses, with the same number of square feet, bathrooms, bedrooms, and comparable garages and porches – one within a half mile of the Monon Trail and another further away – the home closer to the Monon Trail would sell for an average of 11 percent more.

2. Bikeways help companies attract talent. Several recent studies have shown that younger people are increasingly disenchanted with driving. The percentage of people age 16 to 24 with driver's license is lower than at any point since 1963. And among people 16 to 34, bike trips have increased 24 percent.

3. Bike commuters are healthier and more productive. According to a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "workplace physical activity programs can reduce short-term sick leave by six to 32 percent, reduce health care costs by 20 to 55 percent, and increase productivity by 2 to 52 percent." While we don't know how much of those effects are due to biking, the benefits of integrating physical activity into daily routines are indisputable. A study of 30,604 people in Copenhagen showed that people who commuted to work by bike had 40 percent lower risk of dying over the course of the study period than those who didn't and bike commuters average a day fewer absences due to illness each year than non-bike commuters.

4. Bike facilities increase retail stores' visibility and sales. There's plenty of evidence that bike infrastructure gives retail businesses a boost. According to a San Francisco State University study, 66 percent of shops on San Francisco's Valencia Street reported business improved after the city reduced the width for cars, and widened sidewalk and added bike infrastructure. A 2008 Australian study showed that per square foot, bike parking produced more than three times the revenue for businesses than car parking in an hour.

5. Bicycling saves a city money. Researcher Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has attempted to quantify the benefits of switching from driving to bicycling. He looked at the benefits of congestion reduction, roadway cost savings, vehicle cost savings, parking cost savings, air pollution reduction, energy conservation, and traffic safety improvements. Litman estimated that replacing a car trip with a bike trip saves individuals and society $2.73 per mile.

6. It reduces congestion and therefore reduces the need for more freeways. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, "Gridlock costs the average peak period traveler almost 40 hours a year in travel delay, and costs the United States more than $78 billion each year…traffic jams are wasting 2.9 billion gallons of gas every year." There is reason to believe, however, based on the recent decline in driving, that a relatively small shift from cars to other modes could have an outsized impact on congestion. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there was a 3 percent drop in traffic on "urban interstates" from 2007 to 2008. This has translated to a nearly 30 percent reduction in peak hour congestion, indicating that "when a road network is at capacity, adding or subtracting even a single vehicle has disproportionate effects for the network. And in urban 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.

7. Bicycling saves in health related costs. There are many different ways to estimate the health cost savings of bicycling. The values vary depending on study design, medical conditions attributed to inactivity, cost data availability, and other variables, but all studies show positive outcomes. The health savings resulting from physical activity, measured in 10 different studies, range up to $1,175 per person, per year. The median annual per capita value of the ten studies was $128.

These reasons alone justify spending on bicycle facilities. A 2009 study in England found that, because of health improvements, congestion reduction, and environmental benefits, a small number of additional regular riders are needed to pay for new cycling infrastructure. For example, the study's Cycling Planning Model suggests that an investment of $16,521 U.S. requires just one additional cyclist riding three times a week over the thirty year life of the project. With the proper investments, it is possible to increase the share of bicycling trips and lead to the economic benefits described above. The results of a study of 33 large U.S. cities, (excluding New York City, which is considered an outlier in much transportation research because of its size and high use of public transportation) showed that each additional mile of bicycle lane is associated with an approximate one-percent increase in the share of bike-to-work trips.

Essentially, bike infrastructure pays for itself and brings cities economic growth. And this is what the Phoenix City Council needs to consider when approving and funding the Bicycle Master Plan.

[Source: Streetsblog and League of American Bicylists]

Photo credit: Photo by Gary Mark Smith [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons