Bicycling's numerous and varied benefits â€“ economic, social and environmental â€“ have long been recognized, though given short shrift in the way of institutional value or support. That's changing. Public and private sector decision makers in cities and communities across the U.S. and around the world â€“ spurred by persistent advocacy at the grassroots level and biking's near universal popularity â€“ are factoring bicycling into integrated urban, suburban, and even rural transportation, development and sustainability plans.
Here in the U.S., Portland has been factoring bicycling into integrated urban, suburban, and even rural transportation, development and sustainability plans. In 2003, city leaders and transit authorities launched a public campaign to encourage residents to bike, walk and make greater use of public transportation. They also began building out biking infrastructure â€“ dedicated bike paths, lanes, signage, etc. â€“ and began funding public educational initiatives and research studies to better measure and understand bikingâ€™s overall scale, scope, costs and benefits, as well as how it fits into the overall transportation mix.
The results have been so encouraging that Portland's City Council on September 18 voted unanimously in favor of investing $20.7 million in federal funding to make improvements to biking and pedestrian transportation. Longer term, the city's Bicycle Plan for 2030 calls for 25 percent of city travel to be on bicycles by that year. That, it has been calculated, would entail 20 percent of Portlanders riding their bicycles 15 minutes each day.
In order to realize this goal, city leaders have proposed making another $100 million in biking investments through 2030. Considered among all the issues and challenges facing the city, can investing in biking at such scale genuinely be considered good use of scarce capital and other resources? Evidence indicates thatâ€™s very much the case.
Bicycling investments in Portland: The costs and benefits
Studies show that Portland's investments in bicycling have yielded significant returns and benefits. In a 2010 case study entitled, Costs and Benefits of Bicycling Investments in Portland, Oregon, researcher and author Thomas Gotschi calculated that bike ridership in Portland grew five-fold, at a 9.6 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), from 1991 through 2008. Gains of 22 percent and 14 percent were made from 2006-2007 and from 2007-2008, respectively. As of last year, it has been estimated that biking accounted for 7 percent of travel in the city.
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Photo Credit: Natural Vitality Sports.