A Brief Cost and Benefit Analysis of Cycling

BIKE photoIf you had a chance to catch yesterday’s post, you probably inferred that not many commuters bicycle to work in the Lehigh Valley. Because most suburban streets are designed to accommodate vehicles, the pedestrian and cyclist is usually not a top planning priority. Some might argue that planning for auto-traffic is most fair, since much of the road funding comes from gas tax paid by motorists – but this line of argument is short-sighted, as it fails to account for the benefits that a community reaps from a cycling population.

On Portlandize (a Portland-based cycling blog), the author briefly addresses the sometimes-raised criticism that bicyclists do not chip enough into road maintenance, and, thus, should somehow contribute more resources if they would like to see road-sharing infrastructure.  In response to this, the entry author rightfully states, “Infrastructure to support cycling is not only much more economical in a direct sense, but improves the health of a city, improves the air quality, reduces noise, reduces traffic congestion, and helps soften the modern world we live in by putting people out in public instead of giant steel boxes.” The fact remains that the costs of road maintenance from bicycle traffic are minuscule (as compared to vehicle traffic) and the benefits (economic, social, and environmental) are plentiful.

Despite these benefits, it is uncertain whether suburban road planning will begin to accomodate more cyclists. What sort of incentives could be provided to municipalities in order to encourage more complete street design? Post your thoughts on this below.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on October 7, 2009, in Municipal Government, Public Infrastructure, Regions, Transportation, Urbanism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think that cyclists should have to pay for their share of road maintenance. This might look like a yearly, prepaid license to use bike lanes or something like that. I know that I would be willing to pay $50 to $100 per year to fund a bike lane for my use. I would save many times that not driving. As you said, it is miniscule, and it would take that argument away from motorists that believe they don’t belong on the road.

    As far as incentives for complete streets, I’m not sure there are very many carrots you can use in suburban areas. The fact is, if someone moves there, they most likely have no problem with being car-dependent. Suburban municipalities know who their audience is, so they are not likely to be enticed into changing the focus of their street design. I think that maybe the only incentives that could work would be sticks, or disincentives. “Do this, or else face a penalty.” Sticks are more politically difficult, but I also think they are often more effective when it comes to big changes, such as suburban street design.

  2. Thanks for putting this in front of folks. I commute 2-4 days/week on bicycle, 18 miles each way. It’s a great workout, keeps me healthy and more connected to the folks i meet along the way and to the community i work in. Unfortunately, it’s also dangerous and by far, the number one reason for this is: CARS/TRUCKS.

    We didn’t need expensive roads and traffic studies, etc. until we had cars. If we can get more people to bike-commute, we won’t need to expand them and pay more for them either. We should be doing all we can (including pay small amounts for bike improvements) to get more people on bikes so that we don’t have to pay much larger amounts to continually add lanes, buyout curbside properties.

    Besides efficient traffic flow, the major reason to invest in bicycle improvements is to protect cyclists from the deadly metal boxes we call automobiles — and their distracted drivers. It’s drivers who’ve demanded we pave (and pay) over this green earth so they can go faster (which adds to their danger). By adding protective measures for friendlier transport methods, we more effectively promote them and lessen the burden and costs for all.

  3. Municipalities have the power right now under the Pa. Municipalities Planning Code to require cycling infrastructure and amenities in the context of new development design. It would be useful to see an economic analysis which monetizes the benefits and cost-savings from cycling and which could be an educational tool for municipal decisionmakers. Facts can be powerful incentives. 🙂

  4. Chris has a good point that a very effective way to get municipalities to plan for cycling is to get more people cycling. I saw Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC DOT commissioner a few weeks ago give a presentation where she showed that once the number of cyclists reaches a (heh) critical mass, the number of accidents drops dramatically as drivers become more watchful. On the activism side, it would be great if this group Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (http://www.car-free.org/bike/mech.html) could be persuaded to give free bicycle maintenance classes and try to get more Lehigh students riding bikes on South side Bethlehem. Time’s Up, a bike advocacy organization in NYC, holds free women’s bike maintenance classes a few times a week that are very popular. This is important because of another report that recently came out showing that the best way to determine a city’s bikeability is by the proportion of female cyclists on the roads. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-more-bicyclists-on-the-road.) Currently CAT’s classes are like $200. They might be more effective if they tried to reach out to the community by organizing rides and maybe trying to get some local bike mechanics to volunteer to give free basic maintenance lessons. Making people feel confident and safe riding will go a long way. What are the policy tools available to municipalities to encourage more cycling?

    Also, I don’t know how regular roads are paid for, but Ryan Avent wrote an interesting essay a few weeks ago where he determined that highway users most certainly do not pay for the highway system: http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/09/17/do-highway-users-pay-for-the-highway-system-not-even-close/

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