Editorial: Get With It Already! Bikes Are Good For Everyone; Not Just Cyclists!

bike economic impact

Infographic courtesy of the League of American Bicyclists

You hear a lot about the personal benefits of bikes. What they can do for you; the individual. Live longer! Be fitter! Save money! Shame your friends who drive everywhere! All of this is true, but it isn’t enough of a draw to make cycling mainstream, thus the benefits of bikes are never fully realized. Worse, the majority of people drive exclusively and see bikes (and other modes of transportation) merely as a burden on their tax dollars, and people don’t like paying for things they don’t use.

Cries of bike lanes being expensive, and arguments that we can’t afford this stuff are all too common. Yet, these ideas run counter to the facts, and they are especially frustrating for bicycle advocates when people are suddenly silent when the conversation turns to spending millions on projects for cars. Most people just aren’t aware of the aggregate benefits of bikes and their related infrastructure, and this is a real shame, because spending money on bicycle infrastructure is not just good for cyclists; it’s good for everyone! We here at Bike Cleveland are hardly saying anything new. Those who pay attention to this type of thing already know it, and there are dozens of articles and blog posts that outline why….but until it is widely understood and accepted, we will continue to beat the drum.

When we talk about infrastructure projects, we’re typically talking in the hundreds of thousands to the millions of dollars. The numbers are big and people find them scary. However, the infrastructure to make your area more bike friendly is relatively cheap compared to car infrastructure. Portland, for example, the widely accepted poster child of what a bicycle friendly city looks like, managed to build their entire network of bike infrastructure for the cost of just one mile of urban freeway. That’s well over 300 miles of bike lanes that includes dedicated protected bike lanes. In contrast, here in Cleveland we are building the “opportunity corridor”, ostensibly a 3 mile freeway extension for a cost of $330 million dollars, yet we struggle to build out our Bikeway Master plan, and claim to have no money for painted sharrows on roads that are part of it like North Marginal (by the way, sharrows will be added to North and South Marginal roads when they are repaved thanks to local advocacy efforts).

The problem may be that people don’t value bike infrastructure because they simply don’t understand the positive spillover effects it has on a neighborhood. Consider these examples:

  • According to the NYC DOT in 2012, when a protected bike lane was installed on 9th Avenue in New York City, local businesses located along the corridor saw a 49-percent increase in retail sales, compared to a 3-percent increase for businesses located elsewhere in the borough.
  • Portland, OR continues to enjoy healthy levels of population growth with roughly half of that growth coming from domestic migration from elsewhere in the United States. When surveyed in 2009, 62-percent identified bike friendliness as a factor in their decision to move there.
  • Smart Growth America states, “One North Carolina neighborhood saw property values rise $5,000 due to a nearby bikeway, while research showed that bike paths in Delaware could be expected to add $8,800 to neighboring home values.”

You see, you want cyclists in your community. They’re good for commerce because they stop more frequently than motorists, and ultimately spend more dollars per month. They’re good for housing prices for the same reason neighborhood parks and green spaces are; people on bikes are a sign of a healthy and safe neighborhood. The best way to get people more on bikes is to provide them safe spaces to ride in, as 60-percent of people say they would ride more if they felt safe doing so. Finally, they’re good for population retention (something Cleveland has struggled with for decades) because millennials are demanding transportation choices (biking, walking, and transit), and if Cleveland doesn’t step up to provide them, they will move somewhere else that does, like Portland.

This is what Bike Cleveland is all about. Yes, we want to make Cleveland a better place to ride, but the benefits of doing so reach far beyond improving life for cyclists. We want to transform the urban environment into a great place to live for everyone. You don’t need to be a rider to support our work, or to understand why we do it. Join our movement at bikecleveland.org/member or donate to our work at bikecleveland.org/donate. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit your membership dues and donations are tax deductible, and you can take pride in the fact that you’re helping us create an economically vibrant Greater Cleveland for all of us and for future generations….if you ride a bike or not.

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