As we reach the halfway point of the 2015 spring season, several things have transpired. First, American Pharaoh has a chance to become the next Triple Crown winner, the Orioles can still win the World series, Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn have separated (who did not see that coming), and bicyclists in Lycra shorts and brightly colored jerseys have been racing down the roads of Maryland with their two-wheeled machines. Many cyclists navigated the roads of Maryland the Friday before Preakness Saturday as part of National Bike to Work Day. Numerous jurisdictions and associations sponsored events to encourage and rally those individuals who rode their bikes to work that day. Now I could wax nostalgically about my days of biking in California and the extensive bike path systems that were prevalent in most California cities, but the purpose of this blog is to discuss the benefits and the economic impacts of bicycling, not to reminisce about my past.
There are numerous health benefits of biking, such as reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases; reduced health care costs; and improved quality of life. Biking benefits the environment as well—using a bike for trips under three miles has the biggest environmental impact, as these trips in car are the least fuel efficient and produce high levels of emissions. Further, in congested areas, going by bike may be quicker. One need only see the bike messengers whizzing about the city streets to understand that concept.
According to a University of Wisconsin study, 48 percent of adults engage in some sort of bicycling activity. If we look at bike commuting by state, only 0.20 percent of Maryland commuters bike to work (41st in the nation), versus 3.1 percent in Washington, DC (first in the nation). I suspect that much of the riding in Maryland is recreational rather than to commute to work. Moreover, biking vacations are third to camping and hiking activities in the US and I imagine that holds true for Maryland as well. For Marylanders, there are plenty of places to enjoy biking, including the C&O Canal, the NCR Trail, and the Great Allegany Passage, to name a few. Interestingly, several breweries have set up near riding areas, so that cyclists can enjoy a cold one after a ride without having to go far from the trail. Numerous jurisdictions have been much more deliberate about implementing long range biking transportation plans by developing dedicated lanes or widening shoulders.
So what are the economic impacts of biking in Maryland? Based upon data from Wisconsin and focusing on the retail establishments, the economic impact of bicycling in Maryland is probably around $70 million per year and supports 1,200 jobs. This does not include any employment or output generated as a result of bike tourism or related activities, which in many estimations could triple the above data in terms of impact. So today when you are driving home and you see a bicyclist, please give him/her at least three feet (as it may be me), and know that their riding helps our economic growth.