[This post first appeared on the Saint Paul Smart-Trips blog.]
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett
Over the last several years, the city of Saint Paul has made great strides to improve the bicycle infrastructure within our city. One of the most exciting things I have anticipated recently is City Council voting to create a protected cycle path in downtown Saint Paul. As a homeowner, cyclist and business owner, I applaud this use of my property tax in order to invest in the city I call home.
Recently, some people in the downtown community have been making the case that this investment does not make economic sense because of the automotive parking spots it will take from downtown.
Although I respect their desire to improve Saint Paul, I feel many studies prove this idea to be misguided. Bicycle Infrastructure has been shown to be a boon to local economies, as bicyclists spend money at local businesses at a much higher rate than motorists, especially in downtown areas. I personally shop 3-5 times weekly in downtown Saint Paul at locations where there is easy bike parking such as Lunds, The Amsterdam or Eclipse Records.
Some residents worry that putting in a protected bike lane, like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, will reduce parking revenue. They neglect to note that currently Indianapolis shows both increases in cyclists and record meter revenue. Indianapolis is seeing an increase in revenue across the board because they chose to invest in their city, modernizing both their meter system and their pedestrian infrastructure.
Although there has been noted resistance from older residents, the city of Indianapolis has been widely praised for entering into a parking system that increases revenue from existing meters using revenue sharing privatization while freeing money to allow cities to do what they do best: build and maintain public infrastructure such as bike lanes.
I believe making a good economy and a diverse civic portfolio requires spending money, albeit wisely. But I know, based on the evidence that I have read repeatedly: bicycle infrastructure is a good investment for Saint Paul. But don’t just read my opinions, read the research yourself.
Read studies based in similarly cold climates such as Toronto that show bicycle infrastructure shows significantly better return on investment than on-street parking. Read how cutting back on subsidizing car usage downtown can show tremendous economic benefit to cities. Look at Portland where residents have invested $800 million into their local economy by not driving.
You can’t grow a tree without planting a seed. And likewise, you can’t build a city without investing in it. Trust the research and invest. You won’t regret it when years from now your investments grow into a prosperous local economy that you call home.
I applaud the mayor for his vision and look forward to when the wise actions of investing in pedestrian infrastructure reap a healthy civic reward.