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The Economic Potential of Portland’s New Bike Plan

Yesterday on the Streetsblog Network, member blog Portlandize published a great post summarizing the economic benefits of better cycling infrastructure. The piece serves as a response to those who might have their doubts about Portland's ambitious new Bicycle Plan for 2030.

Just passed unanimously by the City Council, the plan will spend $600 million over 20 years to build more than 700 miles of new bikeways, with the goal of increasing the share of bicycling trips to 25 percent of total trips by 2030. Mayor Sam Adams is currently working on a plan to raise $20 million to kick start the initiative.

It's a huge step for a U.S. city. Portlandize's Dave Feucht explains why he thinks it will be money well spent, an investment that will provide a multifaceted and direct economic return to Portland's citizens:

3044823064_2ac85b5761.jpgPortland's new bike plan aims to encourage even more bike traffic in that city. (Photo: Dave Feucht of Portlandize)

What many cities in Europe have found out, is that pedestrians and cyclists are better shoppers than those who arrive in automobiles. They are more able to stop on a whim, browse casually…. Many major shopping districts in European cities are car-free, and they thrive.

Active citizens are healthier citizens, and more productive citizens, and the city, as well as companies, pay money to support health care costs for the citizens of a city. An active lifestyle is one of the best preventative medicines, and countries in Europe have done studies that show the monetary benefits of having their workforce healthy and productive due to being regularly active are massive.

Traffic. We spend hours and hours sitting in our cars, wasting fuel, wasting time, polluting the air. Our streets simply cannot handle the volume of traffic we currently have, and we are expecting growth. Not only can we not afford to tear up our neighborhoods to build bigger roads (from a community point of view), we can much more easily afford to add bicycle infrastructure to our existing roads than build more roads. Portland's entire 300 mile network of bikeways cost about the same as 1 mile of urban freeway. Granted, some of the stuff in the Portland Bicycle Plan is more expensive that what we have done so far, but it is still minuscule compared to the cost of building and maintaining automobile-only roads.

There is no shortage of news and information on this, and I'm sure a Google search will provide many more specifics, studies and discussions on the topic. Here is a study from the European Cycling Federation to start (http://www.ecf.com/3379_1)….

Obviously, people are still going to drive. I'm still going to drive, sometimes. However, currently 80 percent of trips in the U.S. are by single-occupancy automobile, and about 40 percent of all trips are two miles or under. The more people we can encourage to not drive when they don't really need to, the better, in so many ways. Not just better for the "cyclists", but better for the city, better for the citizens, better for the businesses, better for the people who improve their health and save themselves money.

More from around the network: Sprawled Out on how suburbs encourage sloth. The Naked City on the perils of walking in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. And Dallas Transportation asks readers if they detect an "infrastructure crisis" in their lives.