Seven Ways Automobility Undermines a City’s Bottom Line, from Least to Most Direct


Minneapolis Budget for 2016

Earlier this month, both Minneapolis and Saint Paul released their property tax levy numbers, and for both cash-strapped core cities, they went up quite a bit. Despite the recent development booms in both downtowns, the fiscal facts on the ground remain stubborn. Saint Paul and Minneapolis have a lot of needs, and funding them is a real challenge involving trade-offs. Public safety comes at the expense of road maintenance. Libraries are pitted against rec centers. Given that older cities do a lion’s share of work providing housing and services for our state’s poorest people, it’s crucial that they remain economically stable. But for many years, critical state funding for core cities (called local government aid) has been shrinking, and local property taxes have been going up as a result.

That’s why it bothers me so much to see auto-oriented street designs in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, that undermine the fiscal stability of these governments. To my mind, transportation decisions play a huge, often misunderstood, role in determining the fiscal solvency of our older cities. Here are a few ways that works, ranked in order of least direct to most direct.

List of Ways Automobility Costs Cities Money

(Note: I’m probably missing some of these. Feel free to add omissions in the comments!)

#7. Decreasing Competitiveness versus the Suburbs


Cedar Avenue where it turns into a freeway at Minneapolis’ Southern border.

Occasional writer Mike Sonn, loosed a nice line last year during a public hearing in front of the City Council, describing the relationship between bicycling and local businesses. “In 15 minutes in my car, I can be at the Rosedale Mall,” he said. “But 15 minutes on my bike, takes me to the Half-Time Rec,” a local bar where a bike lane was proposed.

Core cities like Saint Paul and Minneapolis, originally designed around walking and transit, have a fundamental relationship with the overall speed of travel in the city. The more that our freeway and road system makes it quick and easy to get in and out of cities, the more that people will spend money, buy homes, and live in the suburbs while using the city as a base for services (sports events, theater, restaurants, certain offices, etc.). Conversely, the slower the speeds of traffic overall, the more that the homes, neighborhoods, and proximate businesses in the city become inter-linked and interdependent. It’s a geographic trade-off.


“Olson Memorial Highway” in Near North Minneapolis.

When a high-speed road runs though a city and offers easy access between the city and the suburbs — think of Olson Memorial Highway, South Minneapolis’ one-ways, the 90s-era I-394, or the semi-connected Ayd Mill Road “freeway” in Saint Paul — sure there are some location benefits that accrue to the core, maybe around a particular downtown skyscraper, a regional shopping center (Trader Joe’s), or marginal benefits for people who reverse commute. But in general, high speed roads sever the economics of agglomeration. As urban auto-oriented transportation policy make outer suburbs more competitive, they reduce the relative competitiveness of urban neighborhoods.  

This is admittedly vague, and the exact numbers would be impossible to figure, but with each new high-speed street or urban freeway, in general, peripheral cities go up in value and core cities go down. With transit and sidewalks, the opposite is true.

#6. Public Health Costs


Cars choking up Washington and Cedar, West Bank Minneapolis.

Unhealthy populations are clearly an expense from a policy perspective, but remain difficult to quantify. “Cars are the new tobacco,” in the sense that inactivity is a big driver for health problems. By building streets where walking is dangerous but driving is relatively easy, cities send signals to their residents about priorities. These decisions come with a local price tag, as chronic illness associated with lack of physical activity get treated, especially by County governments. To the extent that we design cities designed for active living, cities and counties can reduce health care costs over the long term. For example, a recent study about bike lanes connected these dots, showing that money spent on bike lanes resulted in savings that ranged from 6X to 20X for local health outcomes. 

Another direct public health impact is particulate pollution from proximity to freeways. (Even more direct would be actual cars hitting actual people.) In core cities, thousands of people live very close to high densities of idling cars. Often, because of the effects that freeways have on housing values (see below), these are some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. There is a direct relationship between driving cars in cites and younger people getting asthma or other chronic health problems.

What’s the price tag on these health impacts? Well, Hennepin County spends half a billion dollars each year on human services. The 2011 research study linked above states that each additional kilometer waked per day reduces the likelihood of obesity by 5%. Someone could do some rough math.

#5. Road Impacts on Property Values


A soundwall in the Southern suburbs Richfield.

High-speed auto-oriented streets drive down the values of neighboring properties for lots of obvious reasons. These streets create noise and odors, and more importantly, they make the yards and sidewalks unsafe. If you live on a street with cars speeding by at 40 miles per hour, you’re not going to use your front yard. You’re barely going to be able to walk across the street half the day. You’re not going to know your neighbors, and (I’d love a realtor to help me with this) every property on one of these streets is going to go down in value. Nobody wants to live in a house on Snelling Avenue if they can avoid it.


A chart from Alex’s post.

The same goes double for freeways. Soundwalls and nicer pedestrian bridges help a bit, but in general being within a block or two of a freeway devalues entire neighborhoods. Think about the entire I-94 stretch through Saint Paul, or the 35W adjacent neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

A while back Alec Cecchini penned a rough analysis of how much money in local property tax value those roads “cost” the Minneapolis budget. He came up with something like $25 million dollars per year for the city of Minneapolis. He admitted it was a lowball number, but that’s the general scope of what we’re talking about. 



#4. Parking Lots Erase the Tax Base


A building was torn down for a parking lot for the Pizza Luce on Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.

From a strict assessment perspective, there’s nothing less valuable than a surface parking lot. (OK a nuclear waste dump would be worse…) But designing streets to privilege cars means you’ll almost always be building lots of surface parking, scattered in between older or newer core city buildings, around strip malls or industrial parks. Often this involves bulldozing old buildings where half the density has been replaced by parking. The “floor-area ratio” offers a good shorthand measure for how this works, the ratio of useable space-to-parking lot or green space.

One of my favorite local FAR examples  is on Rice Street in Saint Paul, the former Capitol Bank (now a credit union) where one small one-story bank branch and its separate 4-lane drive thru take up almost two full blocks along a former streetcar street. The bank complex has an overall FAR of something like .20, but given that the building and drive thru could easily be combined, it seems like that number should be halved.


A sprawling local bank on Rice Street, Saint Paul; FAR diagrammed at right.

The point is this: every time we pave over the old urban fabric to use it for car storage, we reduce the bottom-line for the city. Imagine what the tax rolls would look like if half or two-thirds of our urban parking lots were valuable buildings instead.

#3. Traffic Safety Enforcement and Crashes

Image MARLIN LEVISON / Star Tribune

Fatal crash on Grand Avenue. Image MARLIN LEVISON / Star Tribune

Actual cops on the city dime spend a significant percentage of their time enforcing traffic violations and cleaning up after crashes. (I’m sure they don’t enjoy it.) In street design, there’s often a tradeoff between design / engineering approaches to safety and education / enforcement approaches to safety. To the extent that we can start using design to create safe streets, cities can use their police time and energy to solve non-crash-related public safety issues instead.

This is a big deal, as local police budgets are a major chunk of the overall expenditure, somewhere around 10-15%. In Minneapolis and Saint Paul, those numbers are $140 million and $90 million each year, respectively. What percentage of those dollars go to traffic safety issues that could be solved through design? How much does each crash cost the city?


White Bear Avenue on Saint Paul’s East Side.

#2. Direct Road Construction and Maintenance costs

In many cases, high-speed auto oriented roads are paid for at extra-municipal levels of government. All freeways (except for “Ayd Mill Road”, a real Saint Paul bottom-line boondoggle) are owned and financed by the Federal or state governments through Mn-DOT, and most arterials are funded through the Counties. (See for example pretty much all of the “four-lane death roads“, like White Bear Avenue pictured above.)


A Victoria Street pothole in Saint Paul.

But all the rest of the streets are city obligations, and the more that people drive, the faster they wear out. To the extent that cities like Saint Paul and Minneapolis can reduce vehicle travel in general, they save money on road maintenance.

One thought experiment: it’s possible to imagine a world where proposals like the North Minneapolis Greenway were more popular, and spread through the city. Good idea or not, if they could reduce overall VMT by replacing car trips with non-motorized options, they’d end up saving a lot of money over the years on road construction and maintenance costs. What’s more, if entire streets were taken off the municipal maintenance rolls, that would be a big cost savings for city Public Works budgets.

A street in North Minneapolis closed off to traffic. In theory, it could be "un-paved."

A street in North Minneapolis closed off to traffic. In theory, it could be “un-paved.”

#1. Actual Land Taken for Roads


Planning 35W. Image from the Star Tribune archives.

Finally, and most directly, there’s literal city land that’s been “taken” for freeway and roadway construction. This happens at large and small scales, each of which displaces residents or businesses, decreases urban density, and removes property from the tax rolls. At the large end of the spectrum, the I-94 corridor through the Rondo neighborhood involved the demolition of thousands of homes and businesses. Same for Highway 55 through Near North Minneapolis, I-35W through South, or really any of the freeways.

(Another thought experiment: how much money in direct property taxes did Minneapolis “save” over the years by stopping the I-335 freeway expansion? Over 40 years, the answer would be in the billions of dollars. And that’s conservative, as it’s doubtful that many of the North Loop properties would have been built.)


Payne and Maryland on Saint Paul's East Side. The arrow marks where a building used to be, torn down two years ago for a turn lane.

Payne and Maryland on Saint Paul’s East Side. The arrow marks where a building used to be, torn down two years ago for a turn lane.

On a smaller scale, expanding arterial roads also removes property from the tax base. At a certain point, Dale Street North of University Avenue was doubled in width, demolishing all the buildings on the East side of the street. Similarly, over half of the “Seven Corners” area of Saint Paul has been demolished for wider roads.

That was years ago, but even today, Ramsey County has slowly been demolishing properties at arterial corners in order to add turn lanes (e.g. Maryland Avenue at Payne and Rice Streets, or this rejected proposal from last year to demolish a two-story building on the corner of Lexington and Randolph). Each time this happens, the tax base of the city is decreased as land is literally transformed from urban habitat into asphalt.

Conclusion: Cities Have a Lot to Gain from Walkability


A walkable commercial node on 38th Street in South Minneapolis

The point of this rough accounting is to get a sense of the tradeoffs for cities as they make decisions about street design. Having an auto-oriented city, where it’s easy for drivers to speed quickly through a city, comes at a cost. Many of these costs are indirect and difficult to quantify. For example, creating unwalkable or dangerous streets has many diffuse effects. But many of these costs are also pretty straightforward, coming at the expense of the bottom line for older cities like Minneapolis and Saint Paul. When combined, they leave core cities in precarious financial positions, with lots of commitments but with a reduced and devalued tax base.

At the same time, there’s a lot of potential for older, potentially-walkable cities to reverse the trend. When it comes to the fiscal stability for older cities, I think about what I call the “virtuous cycle of walkability.” It goes like this: the more that we build walkable streets and prioritize transit, the more we can increase building car-lite or car-free density. And the more we increase walkable density, the more we can prioritize safe streets and transit.

In other words, sustainable land use and transportation feed off each other. When cities begin entering into this walkablity feedback loop, and getting out of the self-destructive cycle of automobility, they become physically and fiscally healthy.

27 thoughts on “Seven Ways Automobility Undermines a City’s Bottom Line, from Least to Most Direct

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    This is a great article, Bill! (Notwithstanding my resentment at a picture from Richfield being labeled as the amorphous “Southern Suburbs”)

    #7 really intrigues me, in part because I just had a guest speaker in one of my classes, an economic development person who was talking about the importance of infrastructure. She said, pretty much, “the more roads you have the better!” (Most of her experience was with greater MN, where that is probably true — especially if you’re not the one who has to pay for them.)

    But what was really interesting was her assertion that having urban freeways improves the competitiveness of the central cities, because it allows large-scale activities that would not be attractive if not for relatively easy automobility in and out of the core. From her point-of-view, large-scale uses in and near downtown would not be feasible without auto infrastructure to support it — because it would make the suburbs more competitive. I have no data to indicate this, but it does seem conceivable that very large employers might be more drawn to the 494/100 beltline area than downtown if we had radical reductions in auto capacity. I think this is particularly true for uses that are central but out of the range of the downtown transit concentration — like Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and the Abbott/Midtown Medical Campus.

    So: on the one hand I hear your argument that we’re incentivizing Mpls and St. Paul residents to drive to Rosedale or 494 or whatever rather than go to their neighborhood store. But there has to also be a competitive cost to seriously shunning the automobile when the suburbs are not following the same approach.

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

      “But there has to also be a competitive cost to seriously shunning the automobile when the suburbs are not following the same approach.”

      This seems like the tail wagging the dog though. People will find a way to get to the points of interest (they make it to the Vikings games, State Fair, Wild games, etc) – if the cities gut themselves for suburban cars, then they’ll drive; but if cities build for walking/biking/transit, those suburbanites will use those modes. Most people, while very opposed to change, are very adaptable.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Well I think my fear is that many of the destinations wouldn’t exist if not for the auto-friendliness of the area. The Vikings Stadium is actually a really good example — the Vikings original plan was, what, Blaine? Then Arden Hills. Only after extended negotiation (and a lot of public support for infrastructure and parking ramps) did it get settled on the downtown site.

        I agree that people would find ways to get to places they want to get to, but for the businesses, etc, they may choose the site that is most compatible with the way most of the residents of the region get around. For better or for worse, that is by car.

        In general my opinion is that we should manage automobility in a way that doesn’t encourage more driving — rather than adding lanes, expand tolled lanes; rather than adding parking, encourage shared and priced parking, etc. But ideally this stuff happens on a regional level so one city doesn’t suffer from being leaps and bounds ahead of the pack.

        1. SuperQ

          They can exist if the transit is strong. Here’s an example of a 17,000 seat stadium in Berlin. There is only a single arterial size road feeding the parking lots. When events happen, streams of people walk from the nearby train stations. If you combine the rail capacity of the 2 local transit stations you would get the equivalent of a 6-car light rail train every 2min. Add to that the regional train station about a half mile from there, I’m guessing you could deliver the stadium contents worth of people in less than 30min.

          However, they recently demolished the eastern side parking lot, I believe it will be replaced with a shopping center.


        2. Mike SonnMike Sonn

          “But ideally this stuff happens on a regional level so one city doesn’t suffer from being leaps and bounds ahead of the pack.”

          Exactly and that’s kinda the point of this post. The core cities sacrifice for the suburbanites regularly – losing tax base to road widening, paying to maintain roads used by those outside the city, losing more tax base to provide parking, the higher cost of public safety due to traffic enforcement/crashes/etc, lower life expectancy, and so much more.

          Here is an article about how 1/2 of the injuries treated at SF General are from traffic crashes.

          1. Hope Albanese

            I really enjoy your arguments here in the comments. Thank you. So much of our lives is unconscious habit, or unthinking. We do not think about what the effect of such decisions has on our well being, personally or as a community and so often choose convenience over what is right. We don’t think about buying locally anymore, we don’t care that taxes are used for public goods, we don’t care about what influence cars have on our feeling of community, we don’t even care that our money system is essentially designed to bankrupt. So much of our major population are not educated or empowered to make conscious decisions. We need to change this so that issues like transportation design, taxes, etc. become people oriented and service humans as they are designed to do, rather than abstract concepts, huge corporations, or inanimate objects that we idolize like, say, parking lots.

        3. Julia

          I think the Vikings Stadium is a really good example of something that needs both transit and to not be in the city core. Most of the time, it’s an empty and dead space, devoid of life and certainly out of character with a city core. It’s designed as if it’s in the middle of nowhere and functions as such, making that part of downtown stand in contrast to vibrant areas elsewhere.

          I do think that good stadium design is possible (not easy), but it’s not what we ended up with. We have a mega-block, low-use building that goes against just about every basic principle of walkability.

          The only benefit of that building is that civic leaders are, by and large, more willing to take on billion dollar stadium boondoggles than to address the less sexy system problems (i.e. highways devaluing property). Every stadium promises (sans data) to “revitalize” an underdeveloped part of the city. Where are those parcels? Adjacent to highways, in the dead spaces no one wants to be near because they’re unpleasant and polluted and noisy. And we’re back to the huge costs of slicing up connectivity and complex networks. Compared to total inaction and refusal to address the root causes of the artificially devalued land they promise to help, I guess they’re okay? Maybe?

        4. Rosa

          but driving to the stadium is still a lot more expensive than it would have been in Blaine, and a pretty miserable experience overall. Competing on easy car access is never going to be a win for the central city. It’s the train, bus, and sidewalks from wherever you manage to park if you drive, that make it alluring.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Taking the bigger view, I’m not sure the scale and price of automobility used in Minneapolis or St Paul (or any similarly-sized midwestern core city) helped them more than hurt them. There was that study that said one highway passing through a major city in America resulted in (average) an 18% population decline. Among other statistics:

      Holding everything else in this region constant (all other federally-funded roads, their locations, zoning, etc), sure I agree the 494 strip in Bloomington would have been a good bit more attractive relative to downtown for post-WWII office jobs. Minneapolis may still have lost population (and therefore local commercial property tax capacity as well).

      But our *general* automobility in this region was a confluence of all those decisions and funding streams. Zoning for spaced-out land uses, requiring parking, not pricing freeways, not building any grade-separated transit (or, often running any respectable transit at all in many places). I’ll admit that M/SP seem to have been generally lucky to have skipped the stage of massively widening urban arterials like many other cities did (before building freeways and never really going back to calm/fix the overly-wide at-grade streets).

      One could imagine an alternate universe where we built slimmer freeways with 1/2 to 2/3 the capacity they were actually built with, forced ourselves to include land acquisition/demo costs in those project budgets, tolled them, and didn’t route them (specifically the big urban interchanges) right through minority communities. And that we complemented those with rapid transit to burgeoning suburbs and quality bike infrastructure. Our downtowns could have sustained as much as (or even been more competitive) office development with half the surface parking craters thanks to a more balanced mode share from both within the city as well as nearby suburbs. And we could have had more of the central-but-not-downtown job centers sprout up along those rapid transit lines within the city. Just my take.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        But our *general* automobility in this region was a confluence of all those decisions and funding streams

        Definitely — agree with this 100%. There are a lot of ways this could have all gone down differently, especially with more region-wide consensus on land use and managing growth.

  2. Mike SonnMike Sonn

    Bill, as always, amazing work.

    #3, not a monetary cost but a social one, heavy dependence on enforcement carries a heavy racial bias. I think calls for more enforcement as an answer to unsafe driving conditions needs to be tempered against the very real fact that police interactions, mostly via traffic stops, have immediate racial implications.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Nothing enforces like cement and steel. No amount of cops on the street will keep people from driving over fading bits of white paint.

      Cement is quite equitable. It doesn’t know what politics, race, religion, or anatomy is driving — it threatens equal damage to everyone who disobeys.

  3. Janne

    “Earlier this month, both Minneapolis and Saint Paul released their property tax levy numbers.”

    Bill, I have to call you on your lede reinforcing confusion between property tax levies and property taxes.

    From the way you’ve written this, it’s clear that you understand that the more properties that have value, the more we spread out the burden of the levy.

    While the levy (or total number of dollars taken in by the city) went up a lot in each city, the taxes paid by each taxpayer went up a lower percentage. (Note: that’s in aggregate, does not apply to each property). That difference is a direct result of the development increasing values in the core cities the last year.

      1. Peter Bajurny

        We should chat! I still need to write part 3, and knowing what’s still confusing to someone would be really helpful in trying to frame it in a different more helpful way.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell


          What is the difference in a half block dedicated to: 1) a parking lot providing free parking to Target customers, 2) a private for-profit parking lot that charges $5/hr, 3) a city owned parking lot (free vs pay), a single-story building or strip-mall, a multi-story building. Are there other uses that would be valuable to know like parking ramp? Empty Macy’s?

          Then, how do the taxes paid align with services used or damage caused? Does Target pay almost nothing for their huge parking lot that likely generates a ton (well a few million tons per day) of damage to surrounding roads?

  4. A White Bear

    “Nobody wants to live in a house on Snelling Avenue if they can avoid it.”

    I bought a home on White Bear Ave, and much of what you write rings true. That said, I do know my neighbor and I patronize the businesses across the street from me. And while I don’t use my front yard, the oversized backyard with mature trees more than makes up for having a busy road in the front.

    My property value does take a bit of a hit, but it did get me into a freshly renovated home at a nice discount than if I was one block over. I do wish there was a sidewalk on my side of the street. It’s an interesting spot to be, as I am on the very edge of the city and suburbs. If I go one direction into St. Paul, I can walk and bike to most stuff nearby. But being on a car sewer, if I go north into Maplewood, it immediately becomes auto-centric with big box stores, the mall, etc.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Sure people buy houses on these kinds of streets because they’re cheaper, so that’s good in a way. But that’s kind of my point. Anyway, doesn’t it drive you crazy? Being on George Street, which has half the traffic that you have, is irritating for me. I can’t imagine having White Bear out my doorway… Would you prefer the street to be calmer / slower?

      1. A White Bear

        It doesn’t drive me as crazy as much as I thought it might. The home is actually nicely set back from the street, and the entire property is very “deep”. The home’s insulation and windows are all new, so I can’t really hear the traffic noise. I do wish people would drive slower, but I attribute that more to the highway-like design of the street than I do people not following the 35 MPH limit on my stretch.

        It’s definitely a stark contrast to the very quiet street I grew up on. But it’s also incredibly convenient for me.

        1. Julia

          I’m on a major 4-lane city street in Minneapolis proper. Great insulation in an older building (never hear adjacent neighbors), but my windows have been cracked since March and wide-open from May to early October so it doesn’t really help against street noise.

          I choose to live here because it’s a commercial corridor, with a few 24 hour amenities (makes me feel safe with eyes on the street), restaurants/bars/cafes, retail, cultural and religious institutions, etc. I love being on multiple transit lines & within easy walking distance of many great parks. I love the convenience, the walkability, the transit access, the community, the way I run into people as we walk and bike and shop and dine.

          Notice that nothing in my list of reasons I like my location is car-oriented or car-dependent. Commercial urban corridors thrive because people are there, going into and out of the spaces on each side and crossing between, engaged in the basic transactions of daily life, both financial and social, building community fluidly and organically. Public transit augments this; there’s a reason Minneapolis’ commercial geography reflects our streetcar lines. Our conversations with neighbors happen on and off the bus. But our community gathering spaces are harmed (as Bill points out) when they’re gutted by designing the public right-of-way to be quasi-highways maximizing rush hour flow of single occupancy vehicles commuting back out to the far reaches of the city.

          I love being on this major street. But that it’s a major arterial is an incredibly stupid choice our city keeps making. We take a street with tons of foot traffic and great transit and chance encounters and street life and conversation and then we use all the design and legal tools we have to keep every single vehicle concentrated on this street rather than diffusing them across ten adjacent lower-use and sparsely-populated streets.

          I hate that this major community corridor thrives in spite of the choices our city makes, rather than because of them. I hate that I’m woken up a few times a week by drag-racing at 3AM. I hate the noise and dust (both serious pollution with health consequences) of rush hour when my windows are open 50% of the year, that the sounds of children playing are hard to hear over car engines. I hate that high-speed car crashes are frequent on my street destroying buildings, trees, and sign/lampposts. I hate that my bus jammed with 50 people has to wait in the same traffic as SOVs. I hate that I have to press a beg button to cross a street busy with people walking. I hate that the light adjacent to a school has cycles of 90 seconds in one direction. I hate that our boulevards are narrow and our trees short-lived because we’ve ceded so much space to cars and car storage. I hate having to stop conversation when cars roar by when on a patio with friends. I hate when drivers block the sidewalks and crosswalks. I hate when I’ve been hit by drivers and when drivers have hit my friends. I hate when angry drivers roll down their windows or get out of their cars to shout expletives at me or honk at my elderly neighbors as they hobble or roll their wheelchair across the street as fast as they can.

          I hate that we design for single occupancy vehicles AT THE EXPENSE OF, every other mode, every single person outside a car. I hate that we do this the MOST on our densely-populated, heavily used community corridors, where everyone wants to walk and talk to neighbors and dip into and out of stores and schools and homes.

  5. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Very good to look at these issues, but basically the situation with people’s love of cars is what it is, and as Mike Sonn comments above, we need regional solutions involving transit as well as roadway changes of one kind or another. The suburbs aren’t going away, nor are the cities, and they are interdependent economically.

  6. Barb Chamberlain

    Additional costs:

    – Collisions: Direct costs of responding, direct and indirect costs of medical expenses, lost productivity, insurance rate increases.

    – Educational costs: A large study (Danish, surprise surprise) found that children who walk or bike to school arrive much more able to concentrate for longer periods of time and a Spanish study found improvement on tests. I don’t want to start a fight around the value of standardized testing, just to note that one measure we are required to care about for funding would be beneficially affected if we had SafeRoutesNow school connections everywhere and encouraged active transportation. More: and

    -Tourism spending. Show me ONE destination marketing organization for a town or region that uses a picture of a traffic jam to illustrate what an attractive place it is to visit. Bike travel/tourism is booming. In a study in Washington state, spending on bike travel came in at $3B (yes, a B) direct expenditures per year, in a study that shows numbers very close to those in a national study by the Outdoor Industry Association looking at the outdoor recreation economy state-by-state. A couple of studies have shown that bike travelers spend more per day on average than other kinds of travelers. And when you are fueled by calories you’re spending a lot in locally owned establishments.

    As bike advocates we’re meeting with legislative and local success in talking up the power of bike friendliness as an essential piece in a local economic development portfolio.

    – Tradeoffs in overall household income and subsequent direct and indirect costs if you’re essentially forced by the local transportation system to use a car to get around. If you can use a combination of walking, biking and transit to get to and from work, school, medical care, grocery stores and other essential services and truly forgo car ownership you just gave yourself a raise of somewhere between $9,000-$10,000 a year, based on figures from AAA. Money spent on goods and services (with some caveats) stays and circulates in the local economy more than money put into a gas tank or spent on car insurance, most of which is exported to other places and overseas.

    (And as a bike rider forced to drive for a while due to an injury, I’m pretty confident automobility doesn’t add to our Gross National Happiness

    Barb Chamberlain
    Chief Strategic Officer
    Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes

Comments are closed.