The advantages of traveling by bike are obvious: improved health, drastically reduced vehicle operating and maintenance costs, and dramatically increased fun.
The amazing thing about bicycling, however, is its magical capability to improve quality of life for everyone, even folks who don’t ride bicycles. Here are just two recent recognitions of that magic at work:
Researchers Norman Garrick of the University of Connecticut and Wesley Marshall of the University of Colorado–Denver studied crash fatalities and found that bicycle friendly communities are safer for all road users. That includes not just pedestrians but drivers, too.
They categorized 24 medium–sized California cities into four groups, based on the level of bicycle use by citizens. Garrick and Marshall discovered fatality rates for motorists were four times higher in cities with the lowest levels of bicycling, compared to those classified as “high biking cities.”
How does this work? The article’s authors conclude, “While the bicycle infrastructure itself might help in traffic calming, it may be that the actual presence of a large numbers of bicyclists can change the dynamics of the street enough to lower vehicle speeds.”
This research is a good example of why Savannahians should support local initiatives such as the City’s Price Street Bike Lane Project and similar infrastructure in our area. Even if your feet never, ever touch bicycle pedals, you will benefit from transportation improvements that put more bicyclists on the street.
Bicycle friendly streets are better not just for the people who use them; they are better for the people who build them.
Heidi Garrett–Peltier of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute surveyed existing research, including a 2003 report that found bicycle tourism in North Carolina’s Outer Banks produced an estimated $60 million in spending by tourists annually and supported approximately 1,400 jobs.
Others studies have affirmed bicycle infrastructure investment increases economic activity and property values. Interesting new findings in Garrett–Peltier’s research, published in June, focused on employment impacts of a variety of infrastructure projects. It revealed, “the highest level of job creation was for bicycle–only infrastructure such as building or refurbishing bike lanes.”
Yet the economic, employment, public safety and public health benefits of bicycling are sometimes ignored during the push and pull of transportation funding debates. From time to time, politicians may seek to score points by inaccurately portraying bicycle and pedestrian projects as frivolous, wasteful or unnecessary.
We are in one of those times now. Elected officials in Washington are threatening to end dedicated federal funding of bicycle and pedestrian projects. League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke described the anti–bicycle sound bites emanating from Capitol Hill as representative of a mindset “hell–bent on cutting out funding for anything other than cars and trucks, seemingly oblivious to the disastrous impacts of 60 years of sprawl, air pollution, congestion, dependence on foreign oil and millions of needless highway fatalities.”
The importance of adequate funding for bicycle infrastructure improvements is not lost on citizens who electively or necessarily use bicycles for daily transportation. People who ride bicycles for fitness and fun also have a keen understanding of how these projects make recreational cycling safer and more enjoyable. What’s needed is a greater understanding in the general population of how bicycle transportation projects benefit them.
In his book, Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, Eben Weiss writes, “Cycling’s not for everybody, but at the same time there are a lot of people who don’t realize cycling is for them.”
I agree with this statement, but suggest it should go even further. Even if you never intend to ride a bicycle yourself, it’s in your best interest to make sure as many other people as possible do.
John Bennett is vice chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign: bicyclecampaign.org