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Bikeshare Systems Contribute to Transportation Infrastructure Strategy

April 26, 2011

Bikeshare systems are sprouting across the U.S. at a heartening pace.  Motivated by a combination of factors – including rising oil prices that discourage automobile use, public health concerns and a desire to increase physical activity, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and the need to more efficiently use urban space – cities and towns are recognizing bicycling as a viable mode of transportation.  The sustainability program at the National League of Cities recently released a municipal action guide, Integrating Bike Share Programs into a Sustainable Transportation System highlighting the benefits of such programs within a larger strategy that includes bike lanes, bike parking and other infrastructure to convince users of the safety, convenience and flexibility of bicycling.

City officials are finding that building bicycling infrastructure is a much greater bang for the municipal buck than car infrastructure: for example, the national average cost to construct an above-ground car parking structure is $16,000 per space, while on-street bicycling parking runs closer to $150 per bike and is more space-efficient, as 10-12 bikes can fit in one car space.  Adding bike lanes to an existing road can cost between $5,000 and $60,000 per mile, including engineering, design, paint and signage.  In comparison, road maintenance alone costs $15,000 per mile per year in the Sacramento region.  Constructing a new two-lane undivided urban road costs $4-5 million per mile, an urban freeway in Michigan costs $39 million per mile, and the I-710 freeway tunnel in Los Angeles cost a staggering $290 million per mile.   Bike lanes are even more cost-effective than at first glance, since they can accommodate 7 to 12 times more people per hour than car lanes, reducing congestion while inflicting significantly less wear and tear on the roads.

Bicycling also saves individuals money on car-related expenses such as the initial vehicle purchase, maintenance, insurance, gasoline and parking.  The American Automobile Association estimates the annual cost of operating a mid-size sedan to be $9,159 and an SUV to be $12,410.  (Note: these figures are calculated using the now-bargain gas prices of $2.603/gallon from late-2009.  Today’s national average is $3.869/gallon).  Individuals choosing to forgo car ownership by relying on bus, bike and rail networks have more disposable income and can choose other ways to spend their money in the community.

Furthermore, these figures don’t reflect the indirect economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure in cities, such as higher properties values (an increase of $8,800 in Delaware) that contribute more in tax revenue; increased consumer spending at local businesses (as customers are more likely to make impulse purchases when not speeding by storefronts in an automobile); lower health care costs due to increased physical activity and cleaner air; and increased bicycle tourism, which has an estimated value of $924 million in Wisconsin alone.  Local officials are recognizing the potential dividends – financial, social and environmental – from investments in bicycle infrastructure, and are acting accordingly in cities across the U.S.

Bikeshare systems are a natural extension of the shift in mentality that prioritizes the efficient movement of people rather than vehicles.  These automated, public bicycle rental programs are considered a form of public transit, complementing bus routes and subway lines and giving commuters a flexible travel mode.  NLC’s municipal action guide, Integrating Bike Share Programs into a Sustainable Transportation System, highlights systems in Denver, Minneapolis, Washington DC/Arlington, VA and Buffalo, NY.  These cities have even expanded their bikeshare systems and other cities have launched programs or created plans for the coming year. Stay tuned for recent updates in the quickly growing world of bikeshare systems.

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