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Pedal pushers

Local studies find investing in cycling pays off

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You may be providing your own power source when you ride your bike, but the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments claims you are also an economic driver.

The PPACG recently released two reports, "The Economic Impact of Cycling in the Pikes Peak Region," and the draft version of the "Regional Nonmotorized Transportation System Plan." Together, they lay out an argument for greater spending on bike lanes, trails and other infrastructure, and pinpoint most-needed projects.

While the figures in the economic report are based on estimates, the quasi-governmental agency says if the governments in El Paso, Teller and Park counties spent $30 million to $45 million over the next three to five years on such projects, it would boost cycling levels and create an $81 million annual economic benefit. That's because each dollar invested in cycling is thought to yield $1.80 to $2.70 in direct economic impacts. Cyclists spend money on bikes and equipment, but also on dining and hotel stays.

"I think one of the most interesting parts is that it's such a big bang for the buck and it's the best return on investment ratio of our transportation dollars," PPACG spokesperson Rachel Beck says. "Not only is the return on investment really great, but the dollar figures of the projects are pretty small, too."

The Economic Impact report found that in 2010, the region saw $28 million in direct benefit to the economy from bicycling. The region also has 370 bike-related jobs, which contribute $11.5 million in labor income. Still, only 1 percent of trips in the region are made by bike, compared to 7 percent in Fort Collins, 6.1 percent in Minneapolis, and 7.1 percent in Portland. It's thought that missing links in trails and unsafe routes, along with other infrastructure issues, contribute to that low number.

About 40 percent of the trips Americans make are less than two miles, according to a 2009 survey, meaning it would be practical to ride a bike more often should the trails and bike lanes make the trips less intimidating. Such infrastructure can also come in handy for charity and century rides that can attract large numbers of tourists.

"That's key," Beck says, "because the bulk of that $28 million number is from tourists and day visitors."

The Nonmotorized Plan, which included a great deal of public input — one interactive map generated more than 600 comments — looks at what specifically is wrong with the current bike and pedestrian system, what should be done to fix it, and which of those projects is most critical. It lists 68 "improvement corridors" — for instance, stretches with no current bike routes, like Black Forest to the Air Force Academy and the Broadmoor area to Old Colorado City — and lays out what should be done to fix them. Projects are prioritized based on criteria such as the number of accidents nearby, and whether they'd provide a way to get people off a congested road. The plan even identifies possible ways to fund the projects, including grant funding.

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, who has provided input, says she still hopes to see changes that would reduce costs of key projects and add more "innovative" projects like protected bike lanes.

"TOSC has been really hammering that we get a plan that is visionary, as well as something we can defend and go to policymakers and say, 'Let's get it done,'" she says.

Comments are still welcome on the Nonmotorized Plan, which can be viewed at bit.ly/1aKJnSe.

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