Economics of Cycling Infrastructure

One of the most often repeated and dumbest complaints about cycling infrastructure is that “it’s a waste of money” and “we can’t afford it.”

Hearing these poor people complaining, you’d think that they were personally asked to shell out for shiny new footrests and armrests for cyclists, who take up all but one tiny lane, where the sad SUV and truck owners struggle to pass through a single lane which is half in the gutter.

The truth is that not only are we totally rich when it comes to cycling money, it’s more expensive to NOT build infrastructure.

Not only that, despite one’s complaints, exanding the cyclists “right to the roads” by building more dedicated cycling infrastructure happens to be the law of the land.

For a list of some of the things that Caltrans is doing in order to better accomodate cyclists, we can look at this document.

Some of my favorite quotes are “New bikeways removing travel barriers to potential bicycle commuters.”

Ah, yes, Caltrans, you brute acknowledge the obvious, that one of the biggest barriers to commuting is room on the road to actually commute on.

You may have noticed that in that lovely document, there was a mention of traffic calming. Why would we want to do that?

Because it prevents traffic accidents which are expensive.

Each of us has a cost of $1000 per year as estimated by AAA, for traffic accidents, if we equally had to pay for accidents, which we do not. In reality, it’s the victims of traffic accidents who have to pay the lion’s share of the cost in terms of hospitalization, disability, and so on.

Thus the point of traffic calming isn’t so much as to help cyclists, but it’s to make the entire neighborhood safer. This happens to reduce accidents and save lots of money.

Also, there’s the whole notion of oil dependence that our last president spoke about. How much is it really, though?

Only about a billion bucks a day. šŸ™‚

Imagine if we had a fraction of this money and spent it on cycling? Once the oil is burned, you have to buy it all over again, but cycling infrastructure can last years if it’s well made, and you don’t drive heavy vehicles on it as we are wont to do.

There’s much more, but I’m a busy guy, so let’s talk health care costs which are skyrocketing. Why so high?

Mainly because people are getting older in a system that can artificially keep them alive, but people aren’t doing their part and taking care of themselves.

Not only that, but in our desperate desire to have perfect safety, we are literally giving our children obesity and diabetes. This problem is one thing that programs like Safe Routes to School seeks to address.

Right now one out of five children are obese. One out of three are either obese or merely fat.

In 2000,
the total cost of obesity for children and adults in the United States was estimated to be $117 billion ($61 billion in direct medical costs).

So there you have it. A hundred billion here, and a hundred billion there, and soon you are talking about making every city as bikable as Copenhagen.

So the next time that someone says that we can’t possibly afford that fancy pants, elitist cycle tracks ask them how well they are doing with those billions of bucks that they are pouring down the drain, enervating the US economically, health-wise, and militarily, and generally making the world a less pleasant place to live in.

After all, it’s kind of sad that I even have to make an economic argument as I believe that it’s more important to make things better first.

That is, to spend a little more money and have healthier and happier people.

It just happens to work out the opposite way. You spend a bit more now, have healthier and happier people AND pocket a shit ton of hard cold cash.

Here’s one more place I want my cake and eat it too!

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