Why We Need Bikes

Source: WeHo Bicycle Coalition

Everything you ever wanted to know about why bikes rule, but didn’t even know how to ask!

Want to know how bikes affect your health? We’ve got that. Want to know how bikes relieve congestion? We’ve got that, too. We’ve got info about why bikes are good for business and for neighborhoods, why cars are crazy-expensive compared to bikes, and about the serious safety risks that West Hollywood needs to fix.

We’re posting this research to help folks learn about why bikes benefit everyone, and to help bike advocates make the case for better bike infrastructure. Let us know if you find it useful!

Public Health.

Bicycling has a huge impact on public health. More bike lanes equals reduced health care costs, trips to the doctor, and waistlines.

A single driver generates about 10,000 pounds of greenhouse gases every year. Los Angeles ranks #1 in the nation for daily emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds such as Benzene and 1-3 Butadiene from autos. Cars alone account for more than 625 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the nation’s atmosphere each year.

The cost of events like CicLAvia are more than offset by savings in public health costs. In San Francisco, the Sunday Streets program saves the city $2.32 for every dollar invested. And in Copenhagen, every mile of cycling yields $1.30 in health benefits.

These health benefits aren’t just good for residents — they’re also good for business. Employees who commute to work by bike average fewer absences due to illness. Researchers in the Netherlands estimate that businesses could save $35.5 million simply by encouraging employees to bike to work. If you look at side-by-side maps of obesity and maps of bike commuting, you can’t help but notice a strong correlation. 

Having lots of bikes equals good public health, but having too many cars is linked to premature death. Studies here in Southern California show that children living near freeways develop respiratory diseases that affect them for the rest of their lives. At least 8% of LA’s 300,000 cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to living near a busy street.

Getting more kids on bikes is a matter of life and death. Between 1966 and 2009,the number of children who bicycled or walked to school fell 75%, while the percentage of obese children rose 276%. Just 5% of American kids ride a bike on any given day, but California’s Safe Routes to School programs increased bike-riding to school by 200%.

Reducing Congestion.

Every commuter on a bike equals one less commuter contributing to traffic jams. Better bike infrastructure is good for everyone — even motorists, who will have fewer cars in their way.

Sixteen separate studies show that when traffic is congested, 30% of cars are simply circling the block for parking. In New York, drivers spend 11 minutes on average searching for a space. Imagine if just a small portion of that 30% could just pull up to a bike rack, without contributing to traffic jams!

In LA’s Westwood Village, cars have to circle the block an average of 2.5 times before they find a space. Cumulatively, all those circling cars eat up 47,000 gallons of gas (that’s $188,000 at $4/gallon), and enough milage to go to the moon and back four times.

Sydney’s bike network is estimated to reduce vehicle trips by 4.3 million per year.

And free parking is the worst thing that ever happened to our neighborhoods. Free parking increases driving between 20-40%.

Good for Business.

Bike amenities are highly cost-effective ways for businesses to attract new customers. According to LA businesses, “business booms” during CicLAvia — and even after CicLAvia is over, business increases by as much as 20%. And foot traffic has surged in Long Beach with the creation of a bike friendly business district.

Fort Worth installed 80 new racks at $78 per space and re-striped lanes for bikes, and got a 200% increase in restaurant business. In Melbourne, spaces used by bikes generated 3.6 times more expenditure by customers than spaces used by cars, with the largest benefit seen by clothing and food/drink businesses. And that’s no surprise: only 16% of money spent on cars stays in the local economy.

Bike owners save over $8,000 a year on car costs, so it’s no surprise that a Toronto study confirmed that cyclists spend more money than car-drivers. A study in Portland showed that cyclists spend more money per month at local businesses, and visit more often, than any other mode of transit.

Studies from Los Angeles to Toronto study show that businesses under-estimate how many customers arrive by bike; but once they figure out the true number, merchants clamor for better bike infrastructure to serve their customers. On San Francisco’s Valencia St, two-thirds of merchants say bike lanes had positive impact on business.

Bikes don’t just help employers — they also create jobs for employees. 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. Further research confirms that bike projects create twice as many jobs as car projects. Up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking.

The bike industry contributes $133 billion a year to the U.S. economy, supports 1.1 million jobs, and generates $17.7 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. In England, cycling generates $4.5 billion per year, or $360 per cyclist — not to mention 23,000 jobs.

Bikes generate $1 billion for the Colorado economy, where 20% of tourists would have altered their vacation destination if biking was not an option for them. Bike tourism contributes $1.5 billion and 12,3200 jobs to Wisconsin’s economy, and bike infrastructure is credited with generating $66 million in bike tourism a year for Maine. An Allegheny bike trail generated $12.5 million per year before it was even complete. Bikes contribute $90 million to the local economy in Portland, as well as 850 to 1,150 jobs. North Carolina’s Outer Banks gets $66 million in bike tourism – that’s a 9-to-1 return on investment in bike infrastructure. A bike trail in DC brings in $7 million, a quarter of which comes from visitors. And a Florida town dropped its storefront vacancy rate from 35% to zero after constructing a bike trail.

Bike spending brings $166 million in spending to Quebec, supports 2,800 jobs, and generates $17.2 million in tax revenue for Quebec and $13.6 in federal taxes. Bike tourists there spend $83/day, compared to a national average of $66. The city’s rail network generates $143 million in food, lodging, and transport expenditure every year.

And when San Francisco eliminated parking in Chinatown, businesses thrived.

Innovative employers are increasingly providing employees with incentives to ditch their cars. At Google, employees hold meetings on bikes. Pandora and Foursquare facilitate rides around the workplace and secure bike parking. There’s an in-house bike mechanic at Etsy. 92% of young professionals want to work for eco-friendly employers.

Good for Neighborhoods.

Who wants to live next to a freeway? One new highway in a city reduces population by 18% where it would otherwise have grown by 8%. Downtown LA population has expanded exponentially since 1999, even as the supply of on-site parking dropped by 65%.

Bike facilities cause statistically significant improvements to home values — in one study, homes sold for 11% more when there was bike infrastructure nearby. And bicycle cops have been a huge boon for neighborhoods in San Francisco, since they can engage with people more easily than officers in cars.

In Portland, 33% of transplants said that bike friendliness was a “major factor” in their move, and 78% of tourists was it was a factor in coming to visit.

Six in ten Americans want to live where houses and businesses are within walking distance of each other. And 78% of real estate agents report that their clients are looking for neighborhoods that reduce the amount they have to spend on gas.

When it comes to bike infrastructure, low-income neighborhoods are particularly disenfranchised: pedestrians there are six times more likely to be injured by a carthan people in wealthy neighborhoods. Cyclists’ risk increases 4-fold in low-income areas, due to exposure to traffic.

The Crazy Hidden Price of Cars.

When you look at how much cars costs us every year, it’s clear that dependency on cars is simply unsustainable.

Think you’re paying $4 for gas? Think again. When you factor in the “invisible” health problems caused by cars, the real price of gasoline is about $15 per gallon, which we all wind up paying through methods like taxes and health care premiums. The pollution created just during rush hour creates $31 billion/year in health care costs.

Car crashes exact a heavy toll: about 34,000 lives every year. According to the CDC, cars are the #1 cause of death for 5 to 34 year-olds.

In 2007, Caltrans reported that 501,908 car crashes cost California drivers an estimated $528 million in lost lives, property, and productivity. And drivers aren’t the only ones paying: in San Francisco, medical bills for car crashes involving pedestrians average $76 million every year. The national cost of car crashes is$300 billion per year, including $41 billion in health care costs. In Portland, car crashes cost $958 million per year.

Gridlock costs the US between $78 billion/year and $100 billion/year in lost productivity, and 2.9 billion gallons of gas per year. Gridlock costs the Portland area$844 million per year. The cost to dispose of old cars is $1.2 billion per year.

Highways cost $8 million per mile in Michigan and $1 billion per mile in Boston, but bike lanes are as low as $5,000 or at most $60,000 per mile. California recently spent $75 million to repave three miles of urban interstate, but that money could have paid for 1,250 miles of full-featured bike lanes. Maintaining bridges and highways for cars costs taxpayers $186 billion every year.

States spend just 1.6% of federal transportation money on bikes and pedestrians, but bikes accommodate 7 to 12 times as many people per meter per hour than cars, and cause less wear and tear.

Households with 2 cars and no access to transit spend, on average, $6,251 per year more on transportation than households that use sustainable transportation. When you factor in health, maintenance, parking, and external factors like congestion and pollution, replacing a car trip with a with bike trip saves the commuter and society around $2.55 per mile (in one study) and $2.73 per mile (in another). Since Americans drive 3 trillion miles a year, even a small shift in car trips would yield an astronomical savings. If just 1% of Seattle commuters switched from cars to bikes, it would save $71.9 million.

Washington DC’s bikeshare reduces vehicle trips by 5 million miles per year, andsaves users $891 per year.

A parking rack for a bike can cost $100 to $300; but a parking space for a car averages $15,000. The numbers just don’t add up for car parking: WeHo’s automated City Hall parking garage will cost $2.6 million for 200 spots, or $13,000 per space.

At the University of Utah, cyclists reduced the school’s car parking needs by over 500 spaces, saving them from having to build a $3.5 million garage.

For every dollar spent on bike infrastructure in Portland, $5 is saved in fuel costs, health care, and mortality. And in Sydney, every dollar spent on the bike network is estimated to deliver $3.88 in economic benefits.

And while you’re sitting at your desk at work, think about this: You have to work 2 hours per day to pay for your car, but only 3.5 minutes to pay for a bike. On average, it costs $308/year to own a bike, but $8,220/year to own a car.

How Other Municipalities Add Bike Infrastructure.

Photo: Jonathan Weiss at Streetsblog

A century ago, 20% of trips in LA were by bike. In fact, the Pasadena Freewaystarted life as a bike track. Today, decades after Eisenhower declared that highways have no place in cities, bike infrastructure is expanding all over the country — even in Los Angeles.

The latest bike census shows an increase of 32%. At intersections with bike infrastructure, LA bike ridership saw a 96% increase.

Los Angeles residents have started calling for car-free streets, while the city busies itself with new bike lanesgreen zones, and wayfinding signs. The City of LA has a bike plan calling for 1,680 new miles of bikeways, including an extension of the LA River Bikeway. The city is in the process of expanding bike access to LAX, and plans to install new bicycle-specific road signs.

The bike plan for unincorporated LA County calls for 832 miles of new bikeways – up from 695 in a previous draft of the plan. Those 832 miles will cost $331 million, or $400,000 per mile – for comparison, the 10-mile 405 widening project will cost $1.03 billion, or $103,000,000 per mile.

Santa Monica recently added way finding signs to direct cyclists to the city’s new Bike Center, the city has created a bike training facility, and they can’t add new bike parking spaces fast enough. The city of LA has started installing bike corrals, such as the ones on the new Sunset Triangle.

Porter Ranch is installing buffered bike lanes, and the new Warner Center plan calls for more bike paths, and less vehicular traffic. Canoga Park’s getting new bike racks, and USC is adding new bike lanes. Pomona’s creating a bike plan, Hermosa Beach just approved a new bike lane plan, Venice installed yet more bike lanes, and Glendale is investigating bike lanes of their own. Baldwin Park, Monterey Park, El Monte and South El Monte are all cooperating on a bike planUSC is on track to add new bike lanes, and UCLA has installed bike-repair stations. And Santa Monica’s buses carry reminders that bikes are entitled to the full lane.

Long Beach has implemented huge upgrades: 130 miles of new trails, protected bike lanes, bike boulevards to schools, 1,200 new racks.

Meanwhile, West Hollywood has lots of room to grow to match our regional bike lanes.

Elsewhere in the country, San Diego is busily installing sharrows and bike lanes, with the goal of doubling ridership by 2020. San Diego State is installing new paths, bike boxes, and racks. San Francisco requires safe bike parking for employees. Buffered bike lanes in Philadelphia increased bike traffic by 95% and reduced sidewalk-riding by 75%. Even national parks may be adding bike trailssoon. Fort Worth just got its first green lane and a bike share, and Aspen just completed a bike count with an eye towards bike lanes.

Washington DC gives you up to $12,000 in incentives for living within a bikeable distance of work or transit. Berkeley just implemented a cyclist anti-harassment lawRhode Island plans to install new trails in its 32 cities and towns. Plans are underway to ring Lake Tahoe with bike trails. Minneapolis has installed public bike-repair stations, complete with vending machines for replacement parts. New Orleans is implementing a “complete streets” ordinance that includes many miles of safe bikeways. Pennsylvania drivers are required to slow down and give cyclists 4 feet of space when passing – and in Nebraska, it’s 3 feet. And bike-shares are popping up in AnaheimHouston, San Antonio, Kansas CityMinneapolis,DenverMiami, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, and New York City, among many others.

The Demand is There.

Cycling in the US doubled from 1990 to 2000, and cycling in LA has increased 32% from 2009 to 2011. Another study showed bike trips increasing by 100 million between 2002 and 2008. And 83% of Americans want bike-pedestrian funding to stay the same or increase. Bike lanes are hugely popular — the new lanes in New York, for example, are supported by two thirds of residents.

Research shows that over the last few years, Americans have been driving less and less. We’re ready to start biking today — but we need local governments to make it possible, with better infrastructure. When cities add bike lanes, they get significantly higher rates of bike usage. After just one year of bike network improvements, New York saw a 26% improvement in cycling rates. Biking is the fastest-growing method of commuting to work in Portland. Nationally, biking to work increase 43% from 2001 to 2009.

Immigrants — of which LA has many — are particularly likely to use a bike for transportation. And over the last decade, cycling has increased fastestamong African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans.

Between 60% and 70% of Americans want to ride bikes more than they do today, and only 18% want to solve congestion by building new roads. Since 1990, cycling to work has increased by 62%. Meanwhile, car usage on the UCLA campus is at its lowest point in two decades. Over the last decade the number of miles that young people drive has dropped by 23%, and the number of bike trips has increased by 24%.

It’s easier than you think to switch from car to bike: 62% of trips are under 5 miles40% of trips are less than 2 miles, and more than a quarter of trips are less than a mile. But right now, 75% of trips are done by car.

Creating safe bike infrastructure dramatically increases ridership. The green lane on LA’s Spring Street increased cycling by 52% — and by 250% on weekends.

Installing a bike lane on one block of Fell Street in San Francisco increased bike usage 550% from 2002 to 2011. Cycling in San Francisco is up 71% in the last five years – on Market Street, there was a 115% increase since 2006, with a 43% increase just in the last year. Townsend Street, a bike lane that was striped this year, showed a dramatic increase: 54% since last year. The number of people biking through the bike-friendly Page and Scott intersection increased 53% since 2010, and an incredible 180% since 2006.

In Detroit, biking has increased 258% after years of bike infrastructure improvements. Knoxville increased cycling 125% from 2007 to 2010, in Minneapolis it increased 33%in Boulder 46%, and in Marin it increased by up to 85%. In Redding, cycling increased 80% in one year. A Salt Lake City bikeway helped increase cycling rates by 27%. And in San Jose, cycling increased 200% in just two yearswhen the city opened a bike trail. Half of the cyclists on the trail use it to get to work.

When streets are made accessible to people who walk and ride bikes, pedestrian volume increases 23%, and bike volume increases 30%.

Cyclists are willing to add 20 minutes to a trip if it means taking bike lanes. Each mile of new bike lanes is associated with a 1% increase in share of bike-to-work trips.

Paris bikesharers make 130,000 trips each day, 30% of Germans use bikes for transportation, and in chilly Sweden 49% of all trips are done by walking or bicycling. Compare that to just 1% in America — and even that low number is a 25% increase over the past decade. In Quebec, the number of cyclists has increased by half a million since 2005.

The number of Americans who ride bicycles is greater than all those who ski, golf, and play tennis combined.

Serious Safety Risks.

Cycling may give you a huge health boost — but not if the road’s full of hazards. Cities like West Hollywood have a long way to go before residents can safely get around by bike.

Regulations for riding bikes on the sidewalk vary wildly from one block to the next throughout LA, with little to no signage. As a result, cyclists have to guess — often incorrectly — where the safest place to be is.

In 2010, 51,000 cyclists were injured and 618 were killed in traffic crashes across the country. In fact, 14% of traffic fatalities are cyclists or pedestrians.

Nationally, car crashes cost the country $230 billion in 2000. In 2009, cars caused 34,000 deaths and 2,217,000 injuries. It’s no surprise that a Baltimore study found that one in six car-drivers pass bicycles illegally.

Seventy-two percent of pedestrian deaths in 2008 occurred in urban areas, and 72% of pedestrian deaths in 2008 occurred on major roads like Fountain Ave. Twenty percent of those pedestrian deaths in 2008 occurred in hit-and-run crashes.

Cyclists are particularly vulnerable to death in urban areas like West Hollywood. Many more bicyclists were killed in urban areas than in rural areas in 2009 (69 percent compared with 30 percent). Sixty-four percent of cyclist deaths are at non-intersections, and 58% of bicyclist deaths in 2009 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways. And no wonder: In LA, 42% of the 10,750 miles of pedestrian paths are in disrepair.

Take a look at this map of car crashes near schools in West Hollywood:

Crashes Near School

Cars are particularly dangerous for the elderly: the rates of pedestrian deaths in motor vehicle crashes per 100,000 people are highest for people ages 70 and older. And the rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in 2008 was 61 percent higher for people 70 and older than for those younger than 70. About 15% of senior citizens have stared biking more to save money on gas, but an AARP survey shows that just 40% of respondents felt their neighborhood has enough bike accommodations.

So what do we do about it? Start making our streets safe for bikes and pedestrians. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but when more people walk or bike, fewer people are injured.

Research indicates that reducing vehicle speeds can reduce deaths. After Austin installed sharrows and bike boxes, the percentage of drivers yielding to bikes doubled. Research at Harvard shows that cycle tracks attract 2.5 times as many cyclists and reduce accidents. In Columbus, OH, bike lanes reduced crashes 34%, and 73% of residents said it improved the street. A John Hopkins study shows that bike lanes reduce dangerous, illegal passing by 20%. Buffered bike lanes even reduce cyclists’ risk of respiratory problems. And in Copenhagen, where just 95% of cyclists feel streets are safe, 68% of residents bike at least once a week.

According to the medical journal Injury Prevention, “policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.”

And one of the best ways to make streets safer for cyclists is to get more cyclists on the streets. Research indicates that as bike ridership goes up, crash rates stay flat. A doubling of ridership leads to a 34% reduction of risk per cyclist.

Streets can be made “complete,” meaning accessible to people who drive cars, ride bikes, walk, and take transit. And when that happens, there’s a 34% reduction in crashes and a 68% reduction in injuries.