It is getting close to the start of cycling season. I am eager to get back out on the bike for some longer rides. I rode only occasionally around town during the winter to run errands when the roads were dry. Since that was not enough to satisfy my craving, I also read books about cycling trips and cycling advocacy. I recently finished Bikenomics, by Elly Blue. Ms. Blue takes on a number of myths and common wisdoms that turn out to be untrue.
One of the most common myths she takes on is that car drivers pay for roads while cyclists get a free ride. In fact, the opposite is true. Using U.S. data, she shows that drivers only pay about half the cost of roads. The rest of the cost, of course, comes out of general tax revenue, which means that those that do not drive are subsidizing those who do. Very little transportation spending on infrastructure goes towards improving cycling…certainly less than 1% in Canada and the U.S. Cities like Copenhagen that have re-engineered their streets to accommodate commuting by bicycle are finding that doing so reduces traffic congestion and pays for itself very quickly.
We are fortunate in our town that traffic congestion is not a problem for us. But in larger municipalities that have congestion, the proposed solution is often to build more roads or make the roads wider to handle more traffic. Many of us have observed that this provides only short term relief. The reason, as Ms. Blue points out, is “induced demand.” Because the roads (other than toll roads) are seen to be free, “By building a road and inviting the world to use it freely, we in essence manage the demand for the road in a way that maximizes congestion.” (Italics are mine)
How about parking? That is an issue that seems to arise in Cobourg from time to time, especially in the downtown. Let’s look at it from Ms. Blue’s perspective. “An astonishing amount of space in most urban cores is dedicated to the publicly-subsidized storage of private property”, i.e. private automobiles. Is that really a good use of public space? What if we were to make Cobourg’s downtown more walkable and provide an abundance of bike parking? Studies show that this usually results in higher retail revenues and higher property values.
Okay, I still want you to read the book, so I won’t try and present all of the author’s findings. I do want to close with perhaps the biggest benefit of cycling…improving fitness and health. A large study in Britain recently published in the Lancet showed that people who commute to work by bicycle have a better body mass index and better overall health (particularly lower incidence of diabetes) than people who drive, even when the subject groups were normalized for other variables. People who use public transit get some benefit over those who drive, but not as much as walking or cycling to work. Ms. Blue quotes a study that was done at a large medical school and hospital in Portland where the company decided to pay employees $3 for every day that they rode a bike to work, as well as providing them with other perks to encourage riding. They ended up paying out $45,000 per year to riders, but their health insurance premiums went down by $200,000 per year. Quite a savings!
Okay, okay, enough preaching. Let’s all leave the car in the garage for short trips and get on our bikes as the weather warms. We will be doing both the planet and our bodies a favour.
Hot off the press! Cycle Transitions, the DIY bike shop on D’Arcy Street across from the CCC, will be focusing on Spring Tune-ups during Saturdays in April (9 to noon). Another reason to get that bike out!
Bruce Bellaire has been involved with cycling advocacy in Cobourg since he joined the Bicycle Action Committee in 2011. Bruce is also chair of the town’s Environmental Active Transportation Advisory Committee and is active in the Cobourg Community Garden Group.