Bike lanes are often viewed purely from a transportation perspective. It is important to realize the benefits of these facilities go far beyond merely providing citizens with another transportation option. Bike lanes can have a significant impact on preventative health care, affordable transportation, sustainable cities and the security of our nation.

At the core of a sustainable city are healthy people and a sustainable transportation network. Our energy-efficient buildings mean little if everyone drives a personal vehicle to them. A transportation network centered solely on personal vehicles is unsustainable not only from an environmental perspective, but also from a public health, quality of life, financial and land use perspective as well. Indiscriminate paving of parking lots has a tremendous adverse impact on the availability of parks, open space and affordable housing within a city. The solution to our transportation problems are not more cars, more travel lanes or more parking lots. The solution is a multi-modal transportation network that can accommodate the needs of the 21st century.

According to the AAA of Southern California it is estimated that owning and driving a car costs $8,776 per year. This places an enormous burden on everyone but especially people with lower incomes struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. Moreover, it imposes a significant financial burden on state and local governments. A 2009 study by the League of American Bicyclists found that for the cost of repaving three miles of interstate ($75 million), the state of California could have installed 1,250 miles of the state’s most expensive bike lanes. That is the distance from San Diego to Seattle. There is no shortage of funding for these projects, only a shortage of understanding of how funding decisions can be better allocated to provide for multi-modal transportation, sustainable economic development and improved quality of life.

Further, bicycle infrastructure has a much higher return on investment than car-only projects. These return on investments come in the form of a healthier citizenry, cleaner air, safer streets, local economic development and even happier people. According to a 2012 report by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, “Bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects.” Well-designed bicycling infrastructure is the closest thing we have to an air and noise filter over our city.

Bicycle infrastructure addresses not only a transportation problem but also a quality of life issue as well. Although sidewalks, multi-use trails and bike lanes are often close to roads and used for transportation, they are more closely related to parks than they are roads because they provide space for exercise, invite social interaction and connect people to their environment. However, all too often these facilities are designed so that the safety of non-motorized traffic comes at the expense of convenience for motorized traffic. If we are serious about building a transportation network for the 21st century, this must change.

More than any dime of funding, meeting the transportation needs of the 21st century requires a different mindset about how we view transportation. Cities are not the problem, they are the solution; yet too often we fail to capitalize on these solutions. Every dollar we invest in bicycle infrastructure is a dollar we can avoid spending later on rising healthcare costs, traffic congestion, expensive road repavement projects, respiratory diseases related to polluted air and dependence on foreign oil. Bicycling infrastructure mitigates the need to drill for oil in not only unstable dictatorships, but within our own beautiful country as well.

In our global economy businesses can choose to locate anywhere in the world. Quality of life is increasingly becoming a determining factor, if not the most important factor, for both businesses and young people when deciding where to locate. It is no surprise cities that continually rank among the best places to live have made significant investments in bicycle infrastructure. More and more cities are realizing these benefits go far beyond merely providing their citizens with another form of transportation.

Timur Ender is a first year student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a regular bicyclist and an advocate for a healthier urban policy. This commentary was written on behalf of San Diego County Bicycle Coalition and the people who bike in San Diego.

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