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The Fiscally conservative argument for bicycle infrastructure - Part One

Cycling infrastructure is a smart investment, not a mere luxury. We have reviewed a number of cost-benefit studies and in a three-parts report we will provide an overview of these, with references.

Below in Part One we cover studies of the return on investment in cycling infrastructure. In Part Two we will review the economic benefits of increased cycling for tourism, commerce, social services and all residents. Finally in Part Three we will show how achieving the cycling dividend is relatively inexpensive and attainable.

Part One: Return on Investment - Making Economic Dollars and Sense

“The evidence demonstrates that investments in bicycle infrastructure make good economic sense [2].” So concludes a major review of a large number of publications looking at the economic benefits of cycling investments. The 2009 report shows that improving cycling infrastructure is indeed cost effective, is a good investment and within easy reach.

In 2004, the Transport Policy Institute of Victoria, BC, published several papers quantifying the costs and benefits of non-motorized transportation modes [3, 4]. Researcher Todd Litman concluded that shifting travel from the automobile to non-motorized modes can help achieve a variety of transportation planning objectives.

Litman monetized the savings for congestion, air and noise pollution, energy conservation, traffic safety and roadway costs at 2001 rates, arriving at about 48 cents saved for each mile of shifting to non-motorized transport during urban peak hours [3, page 19]. He notes that this is in addition to the return from economic development, lower vehicle maintenance, increased health and fitness, and other quality of life factors not monetized.

A 2009 British study found that just a small number of additional regular riders is needed to repay the cost of new cycling infrastructure [5]. The research in that case determined that an infrastructure investment equivalent to $17,500 Canadian dollars (10,000 British pounds) would be recouped over the life of the facility by enticing just one additional cyclist to ride 3 times a week [2].

At that rate the Ottawa Cycling Plan, calling for $26 million over 5 years, would entirely pay for itself with about 2,200 new regular cyclists if we counted on just two thirds of the U.K.’s cycling months.

A 2006 analysis by Sustrans, a major non-profit organization working for sustainable transportation in partnership with the U.K. government, demonstrated that the benefit-cost ratio of cycling infrastructure averaged 20 to 1 including estimated health savings [6].

Allowing for lower cycling levels in Ottawa’s winters, we might still conservatively expect a 12 to 1 return here. Very few public investments can deliver this kind of return.

A study done in the Netherlands by Interface for Cycling Expertise (I-ce) [7, 8] showed similar positive economics for cycling infrastructure. The benefits of building bicycle lanes in that case were shown to be over 7 times higher than costs. After reviewing this study, transportation policy analyst Nancy Smith Lea concludes that not only is it much cheaper to build bicycle infrastructure than car or public transit infrastructure, but increased cycling results in reduced congestion and pollution [9]. More will be said on reducing congestion in Part Three.

The Bottom Line

Funding cycling infrastructure is fiscally sound. We hope in this first part to have made the point that in the mid to long run, the return on investment in cycling can be expected to repay many times the original cost of the cycling facilities.

In Part Two we will outline the studies of benefits to tourism, commerce, social services and to all residents.


Note: To facilitate later review of this information we include here the complete list of references for all three parts of our report, even though not all are mentioned in Part One above.

[1] “New Strategic Directions - Toronto Bike Plan,” General Manager, Transportation Services, City of Toronto, May 25, 2009, Reference Number: P:2009\ClusterB\tra\tim\pw09011tim. Available from the city of Toronto website at:

[2] “The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure Investments,” report by Darren Flusche, Policy Analyst, League of American Bicyclists and Alliance for Biking and Walking, June 2009. Available at:

[3] “Quantifying the Benefits of Nonmotorized Transportation for Achieving Mobility Management Objectives,” by Todd Litman, November 2004, Transport Policy Institute, Victoria, BC.

[4] “Whose Roads? Defining Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use the Public Roadways,” by Todd Litman, November 2004, Transport Policy Institute, Victoria, BC.

[5] “It pays to invest in bikes, Cycling England tells councils,” March 20, 2009, Bike for All.

[6] “The National Cycle Network Route, User Monitoring Report 2006,” Sustrans, available at

[7] “The Economic Significance of Cycling,” VNG/I-ce, 2000, The Hague/Utrecht.

[8] “Non-motorised Transport: Training Course,” by W. Hook, August 2005, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH.

[9] “Bike Lanes. Good for us, our city and the bottom line,” by Nancy Smith Lea, in Harvey Kalles Collections Magazine, Vol. 5, Number 3, Summer 2009. Available at

[10] “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: A study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighborhood,” Clean Air Partnership report, February 2009. Available at:

[11] “Portland’s Green Dividend,” by Joe Cortright, July 2007, CEO’s for Cities.

[12] “Pathways to Prosperity: the economic impact of investments in bicycling facilities,” Lawrie et al, Department of Transportation, Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation, North Carolina, Technical Report, July 2004. Available at:

[13] “Economic spinoffs of the Route Verte,” at:

[14] “Bicycling in Quebec in 2005,” report by Velo Quebec, at:

[15] “The Business Case for Active Transportation: The Economic Benefits of Walking and Cycling,” by Campbell, R., Wittgens, M., Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, March 2004, Go for Green.

[16] Data from CalTrans available at:

[17] INRIX National Traffic Scorecard:

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