Transportation Funding for Bicycling: an Economic No-Brainer?

a cyclist in a bike lane in manhattan
A cyclist in a bike lane in Manhattan

Even the most die-hard supporter of our current personal transportation infrastructure (essentially, roads and bridges designed for cars) will likely admit that bicycling (and walking) has some fundamental benefits: a very low environmental footprint, a lot of saved money for those using bikes for at least some of their transportation (though just how much savings is a matter of some debate), better health for riders, etc.

Ask those same people if they think government, whether at the federal, state, or local level, should pay for infrastructure to make biking safer and more convenient, and you probably won’t see the same level of agreement… they may well concur with some state and federal legislators that such spending is ripe for the chopping block.

But does that make economic sense? Jay Walljasper of People for Bikes had a detailed post today at Alternet spelling out the costs and benefits of investing in bike lanes and trails, and he makes some pretty compelling points for continuing such spending. Among them:

  • Spending for bike infrastructure is cheap: “…the entire price tag for more than 3,000 federally funded bike and pedestrian projects across 50 states last year amounted to less than half the cost of one highly contested highway project in Maryland that opened this spring.”
  • It’s effective: “The number of biking and walking trips made by Americans increased 60 percent during the last decade.”
  • It’s historically been supported by both parties: Funding aimed specifically at bicycling projects first entered the federal budget under President George H.W. Bush, and continued under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

I’d add one more point to Walljasper’s argument: bicycling infrastructure creates jobs… as I noted in a post at SUNfiltered in January, a recent study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst suggested that there’s no comparison between biking infrastructure and road-building in terms of job creation: the bike lanes and trails require more spending on workers vs. materials.

Yeah, I get it: times are tight, and a lot of pet projects have to go. But cost-benefit analysis has to be a part of the budgeting process… and bike funding strikes me as a true no-brainer.

Got further arguments for (or against) this kind of spending… or ideas for making it even more efficient? Fire away…

Image credit: Kristine Paulus at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Stephanie

    So… I should send this article to my congressman? Couldn’t agree more, and I think a 60% increase is amazing.. I like cities full of cyclists. Amsterdam is like that- so many bikes! They have a different pace, it’s quiet and smells fresh.

    1. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

      Sounds like a plan, Stephanie… I think these are really impressive numbers, too. Might want to also send it to your state legislator/senator… cuts being made at that level, too. Thanks so much for chiming in…

  2. adelaidasofia

    This is a great article! I totally agree, biking is so great for everything! My friends and I just bought some cruisers from villycustoms.com and we love riding them around everywhere, I just wish the roads and places would be more bike friendly.

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