This Small Infrastructure Investment Can Increase Bicycle Ridership by 75 Percent in Just One Year

While all eyes are on our national infrastructure funding plan (or lack thereof), something remarkable is happening across the country. Local governments are building innovative transportation systems to respond to 21st century problems. One new trend that stands out is an increase in protected bicycle lanes.

Cities are looking to biking as a way to ease the pressure on commuter traffic and mass transportation systems. And they are seeing other benefits, as well. Bike lanes can increase property values, create better access to Main Street businesses, improve community health, and be built for only a fraction of the cost of new roads and bridges.

Small investments in safer, protected routes for bikers significantly increase ridership.

Protected bike lanes are exclusive lanes for bicyclists that are separated from vehicle traffic, often by curbs or vertical plastic guard poles.  Bikers in a protected lane are 50 percent less likely to be injured than bike-riders on a road without a protected lane. According to the Green Lane Project, protected lanes increase bike traffic by an average of 75 percent the first year the lane is available.

Washington, D.C. is one example of a city where small investments in infrastructure to support bikers have had a positive impact. Commuters to and from Washington face some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, even though the metro area’s mass transit system moves about 1.2 million people every weekday by train and bus. Crowding on trains and buses is expected to increase by 42 percent over the next 25 years, so an investment that keeps people out of cars and off mass transit is very attractive. Washington’s first two protected bike lanes have more than tripled peak-hour bike traffic on those streets over four years, according to the District Department of Transportation. Along Pennsylvania Avenue, peak-hour bike traffic is up from 52 to 174 riders between 6th and 7th Streets. Along the 15th Street corridor, peak-hour bike traffic is up from 32 to 282 riders between T and Swann Streets.

The upward trend in biking provides hope that the pressure on buses, trains, and highways can be stemmed as improvements to roads and mass transit are ongoing.

Minorities are biking much more today than a decade ago.

Although whites still use bikes for commuting at much higher rates than minorities, according to an analysis of Federal Highway Administration data by PeopleforBikes and the Alliance for Biking and Walking, between 2001 and 2009, the share of personal trips made with bikes increased most rapidly for blacks.

New riders disproportionately care about the availability of protected bike lines. Biking deaths have historically been higher among blacks and Hispanics than whites, according to fatal injury reports  from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is possibly because the quality of infrastructure available in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods may provide less protection for riders. 

Where plans to improve biking infrastructure have been proposed, some leaders in minority and low-income communities have expressed concern that safe bike lanes will change the cultural makeup of their communities. For example, in the neighborhoods bordering Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago, church-goers in the historically black area were angry that parking used during church events would be taken away to implement the city’s bike plan. Residents negotiated a compromise with the city to move the neighborhood's protected bike lane one street over.

Community involvement in the planning of bike lanes up front can minimize these concerns and ensure the positive benefits of biking and neighborhood improvements are widely shared.

Such benefits include: increased safety for commuters already biking, savings for families who take advantage of new bikeways, and improved access to jobs by better connecting communities to employment opportunities.

The federal government is also embracing the benefits of protected lanes.

Just last month, the Federal Highway Administration released a guide to constructing protected bike lanes. The report acknowledges, “Separated bike lanes can contribute to increased bicycling volumes … in part by appealing to less confident riders, and this could eventually result in a more diverse ridership across age, gender, and ability.” The guide also emphasizes the importance of community outreach and feedback on design proposals. This guidance could be helpful in getting more protected bike lanes in future infrastructure improvements.

The public’s excitement for even smaller-scale community improvements – like protected bike lanes – shows that Americans are ready to take advantage of new, innovative solutions to improving America’s infrastructure for the 21st century economy.


For Future Reading:

Meet the 25 Hedge Fund Managers Whose $2.2 Billion Tax Break Could Pay for 50,000 Highway Construction JobsThe Fine Print, 5/21/2015

The U.S. Corporate Tax Rate Isn’t a Threat to Business, but Crumbling Infrastructure IsThe Fine Print, 5/18/2015

What Portion of Our Collective Wealth Are We Willing to Invest So People Can Succeed?The Fine Print, 5/18/2015

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