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The economic benefits of bicycles

Our 21st century roads are far too expensive. But when we use bicycles for transportation, we save ourselves and our neighbors an enormous amount of money in road maintenance.

Planetizien has a new article that breaks down the math for this: Biking’s Billion-Dollar Value, Right Under Our Wheels by Richard Dion.

Reconstructing existing lanes for a four-lane, five-mile road in a large, urbanized environment (nearly $3 million x 5 miles x 4 lanes) is over $58 million. To resurface those same lanes would cost about $17.9 million. That certainly is not cheap.


Not only are bikes significantly lighter and thus less damaging to roads, they also do not come with the constant drip of fluids from cars in traffic, which breaks up asphalt quicker over the long-term.

These are “invisible” costs. Most people aren’t aware of them, and it would indeed be difficult for us to even accurately guess them. Perhaps this is why transportation spending is largely exempt from mainstream criticism, even when calls to cut government budgets are fashionable.

Yet these invisible dollar amounts are only part of the problem. We can see the other costs as well: more land use, more construction, giant parking lots, personal costs of car upkeep, noise, exhaust, hotter neighborhoods, crashes (not to mention deaths), and so on. Even if we can rationalize justifications for these, no one can deny they’re a problem.

Dion concludes his article by proposing that we should tackle the issue through marketing:

It would bring no greater value to the United States than having a core of America’s best marketers to communicate the billion-dollar advantage of biking.

This may seem like a naïve solution to some people, but I think it’s a great starting point. Marketing alone can’t re-engineer our streets, but it’s a tool to build public trust. When was the last time you saw someone promoting the communal benefits of bicycle transportation on anywhere that wasn’t a blog like this? We are in desperate need a cultural shift.

All of this is part of why I’ve said that we need to regularly show our appreciation to people who bike commute. Whether they realize it or not, they’re doing the rest of us a great favor. Some people will never bike commute (for valid reasons) but we need their support as well. I don’t believe it’s sufficient for only us bike-enthusiasts to cheer each other on. We need non-bike-commuters on our side too, and spreading awareness of these fiscal realities can help us reach that.

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