Bike lanes are often viewed purely from a transportation perspective. It is important to realize the benefits of these facilities go far beyond merely providing citizens with another transportation option. Bike lanes can have a significant impact on preventative health care, affordable transportation, sustainable cities and the security of our nation.
At the core of a sustainable city are healthy people and a sustainable transportation network. Our energy-efficient buildings mean little if everyone drives a personal vehicle to them. A transportation network centered solely on personal vehicles is unsustainable not only from an environmental perspective, but also from a public health, quality of life, financial and land use perspective as well. Indiscriminate paving of parking lots has a tremendous adverse impact on the availability of parks, open space and affordable housing within a city. The solution to our transportation problems are not more cars, more travel lanes or more parking lots. The solution is a multi-modal transportation network that can accommodate the needs of the 21st century.
According to the AAA of Southern California it is estimated that owning and driving a car costs $8,776 per year. This places an enormous burden on everyone but especially people with lower incomes struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. Moreover, it imposes a significant financial burden on state and local governments. A 2009 study by the League of American Bicyclists found that for the cost of repaving three miles of interstate ($75 million), the state of California could have installed 1,250 miles of the state’s most expensive bike lanes. That is the distance from San Diego to Seattle. There is no shortage of funding for these projects, only a shortage of understanding of how funding decisions can be better allocated to provide for multi-modal transportation, sustainable economic development and improved quality of life.
Further, bicycle infrastructure has a much higher return on investment than car-only projects. These return on investments come in the form of a healthier citizenry, cleaner air, safer streets, local economic development and even happier people. According to a 2012 report by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, “Bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects.” Well-designed bicycling infrastructure is the closest thing we have to an air and noise filter over our city.
Bicycle infrastructure addresses not only a transportation problem but also a quality of life issue as well. Although sidewalks, multi-use trails and bike lanes are often close to roads and used for transportation, they are more closely related to parks than they are roads because they provide space for exercise, invite social interaction and connect people to their environment. However, all too often these facilities are designed so that the safety of non-motorized traffic comes at the expense of convenience for motorized traffic. If we are serious about building a transportation network for the 21st century, this must change.