Things We Build Even Though Use May Be Seasonal

One of the arguments I hear frequently against investment in bicycle facilities is that people don’t bike in the winter (and winter is eight months long). We know that some people certainly ride bicycles all year regardless of weather, and we can probably guess that if we did a better job maintaining our bike infrastructure in the winter people would use it more. And some folks are doing very important business on bikes all year long. But, fair enough, for many people bicycling is a seasonal activity. I’ve seen some data collected locally that suggests bicycle use nose dives in December, and picks back up again in April. Does this mean we shouldn’t build bike infrastructure?

Data Courtesy of Saint Paul Smart Trips.

Data Courtesy of Saint Paul Smart Trips.

I’ve never really understood why this is a compelling reason not to invest in bike facilities. We invest public money in a lot of things that we know may be used seasonally. Such as:

  • swimming pools
  • splash pads
  • picnic shelters
  • pavilions
  • basketball courts
  • tennis courts
  • professional baseball fields
  • golf courses
  • ice skating rinks
  • playgrounds
  • boat docks
  • cross-country ski loops

These are all recreational things, and I’m not trying to cast off bikes as recreational toys. But I’ve never heard someone argue that we shouldn’t build a playground because it wouldn’t get used much in winter. We seem to understand that even if it doesn’t get used in winter, it’s worth the investment for the other three seasons.

The private sector understands this, and routinely invests in seasonal things. Restaurants build outdoor patios or seating areas. Ice cream shops exist in the winter despite what I suspect is pretty slow business. Most houses have garages, though I bet they get used a lot more in the winter than they do in the summer.

Even motorized traffic is subject to seasonal variations.

Monthly ADT on highway 53 near Virginia, MN.

Monthly ADT on highway 53 near Virginia, MN.

A lot of things are seasonal, and it doesn’t make them less worthy of investment. Our objective should still be to promote bicycling as a year-round transportation option, but in the mean time, I don’t think seasonal variation in usage makes bicycle facilities less worthy of investment.

Reuben Collins

About Reuben Collins

Reuben lives in South Minneapolis with his wife and kids. He authors the cycling blog and tweets at @reubencollins. In his spare time, he enjoys renovating his 1939 tudor home and riding bicycles.