Last week, the Central Valley Business Journal wrote about the state of cycling in the region. The article noted that despite the valley’s favorable terrain and Mediterranean climate, less than one percent of commuting trips are made via bicycle. This is not surprising, as Central Valley cities have been planned around the car with little regard for walking or biking. In other cities, biking has become immensely popular, not just as a commuting choice, but as a better way to enjoy everyday activities. Sadly, Stockton continues to be dominated by the car. Most people who ride bikes in Stockton are those who do not have access to an automobile. This has to change, and not because it’s good for the environment (though it is), or because there are too many cars (also true), but because there are legitimate economic reasons for Stockton to embrace biking.
Building a cycling infrastructure to encourage more bike rides has real, tangible economic benefits for cities. However, while cycling has become an increasingly popular transportation choice in most American cities, it’s actually becoming less popular in Stockton. In 2011, .37% of commuters rode a bike to work, a decrease from 2006 when .60% commuted by bike (though the margin of error may be skewing the results a bit). However, as Stockton’s population is set to take off over the next 30 years, cycling needs to become a more integral part of the city’s transportation network. More people means more traffic and congestion. But by providing infrastructure for biking, Stockton can accommodate the increasing demand on roads. Here are the reasons why Stockton needs to embrace cycling both to accommodate growth and capitalize on its economic benefits.
Bicycle infrastructure is cheaper and more efficient
Installing bike lanes is a bargain when compared to the costs of widening or even maintaining an existing road. One mile of bike lane can cost around $60,000 in California. Not cheap, but consider that it’s costing $262 million to repave and widen Interstate 5 in Stockton. A tiny fraction of this amount could be used instead to build an impressive biking infrastructure. With just one eighth of the total it is costing to revamp I-5, Stockton could install nearly 55 miles of bike lanes (see my earlier story on why widening I5 is a waste of money).
In terms of capacity, bike lanes are also very efficient. A typical bike lane carries seven to 12 times more people per meter than a car lane. As for parking, a single parking spot can hold up to ten bikes.
Bikes bring economic development
Installing bike lanes also has a positive impact on local economies, much more than roads. In Baltimore, a study of expenditures showed that while each million spent on roads creates nearly seven jobs, the same amount spent on bike lanes generates 14 jobs.
Several studies also show that proximity to bike lanes or trails correlates with higher home values and increased quality of life. For example, one study in Indianapolis found that homes near a popular biking trail sold for 11 percent more than the same home not near a trail (the same is also true for homes in more walkable areas).
Moreover, bikers tend to spend more when they go shopping. In Toronto, a 2009 study found that patrons arriving by bike spent more money than their car-driving counterparts. Merchants polled also supported more biking infrastructure, saying the presence of bikes would boost their sales activity. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, maybe bikers have more disposable income since they don’t have to spend as much money on gas?
Biking makes people healthier
Stockton is not the healthiest city. In fact, Stockton was once named America’s most obese. This unfortunate truth is largely a consequence of our city’s auto-centric design. Having to drive everywhere means we are exercising less, contributing to high obesity rates. One way to address this and other health issues is to provide Stocktonians with more opportunities to bike.
In Copenhagen, researchers found that bike commuters had a 40% lower chance of dying than their peers. This is not surprising, as bike commuters enjoy twice the daily physical activity of drivers. Biking to work is essentially the equivalent of a gym membership, except you get your workout while getting to and from work. The added health benefits of biking to work has an economic impact as well, as bike commuters also miss fewer days of work due to illness.
Bike use among Millennials and young professionals is rising
If you read my April column in the Central Valley Business Journal (and you should. It’s awesome), you know that young professionals have become one of the key drivers of the housing market nationwide. As these younger generations flock to more walkable communities, they are also embracing the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transportation. In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds took 24 percent more bike trips than in 2001. Moreover, young American’s overwhelmingly support sustained or increased federal spending on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. If Stockton wants to take advantage of its proximity to the Bay Area to attract young professionals (and we should), we will need to get wise to the growing popularity of biking amongst this demographic.
The City of Stockton does have a bicycle master plan dating back to 2007 which sought to increase the number of bike lanes, reduce bike-vs-vehicle collisions and ensure that each public K-12 institution developed a Safe Route to School program to encourage more bike usage. All of these are good goals, but unfortunately, budgetary restraints have kept the master plan largely unimplemented. In the near future, making any progress on bike-related initiatives will be difficult. However, one could argue that since biking is a form of transportation, that the responsibility of improving bike infrastructure should be shared with regional agencies such as SJCOG and SJRTD. Both agencies deal with regional transportation, why not kick in some money for bike projects? (Or maybe they already do, someone please correct me if I am mistaken)
While investing in bike infrastructure pays big dividends for cities, new lanes and trails won’t help if no one uses them. How can a city like Stockton—which is entirely reliant on the automobile— encourage more people to willingly use a bike? Part of the answer lies in creating communities where biking makes sense; where jobs, shops, and entertainment are not so spread apart that biking just is not an option. Also, accessibility to bikes is another issue. While any city can lay down some stripes on a road for a bike lane, it takes a comprehensive strategy to foster a shift in transportation culture. How can Stockton accomplish this? The subject of my next post will be on what other cities are doing to both encourage more cycling and accommodate rising demand for bike infrastructure.