What would it cost to retrofit the entire United States to be reasonably bikeable?
It all began with this idle question on Twitter. Bike advocates in the U.S. love to talk about incremental changes, small victories, baby steps. But, I wondered, what if we went further? What if we just went ahead and retrofitted the entire country to accommodate and even encourage bicycling? All at once, one big investment, a one-time federal spending appropriation?
I pose a lot of idle questions like this one; this time someone responded with an exact number:
— Todd Litman (@LitmanVTPI) April 25, 2014
Todd Litman’s answer was surprisingly simple: $100 per person. That’s what was spent, he pointed out, in four communities that were part of a major pilot project in active transportation funding a few years back [PDF].
I’m not talking Amsterdam-level bike-friendliness here — even in my wildest thought experiments I know better than to imagine that could or should be created overnight.
I’m talking more like Minneapolis – one of those four pilot cities, ranked as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. It’s not perfect — but it’s a much, much better place to bike than most U.S. cities, even in its iciest winters.
Could the whole country get Minneapolized for just $100 a head? Would that be enough to set the trend in motion to create real, lasting, long term change? Even the Netherlands had to start somewhere.
The U.S. population currently clocks in at 313.9 million people. So by this measure, the cost of a pretty darn good bike retrofit would cost $31.4 billion. Let’s round it up to $32 billion.
It’s a big number, even in the general scope of federal transportation spending. But it’s hardly out of reach.