Survey Shows Benefits of Bike Lanes

Dr. John Gilderbloom

Professor John Gilderbloom of the University of Louisville’s Urban and Public Affairs department recently completed a paper on the effect of bicycling on urban neighborhoods. He surveyed 2,000 U of L faculty, students and staff.  Here’s a piece he wrote for us about the survey:

Louisville needs to find alternatives to single driver car commuting.  Biking is one of the most viable ways to go.  I argue in this paper that biking means better health, air and water quality, and improved economic development.  While much of the health and environmental aspects have been covered by others, we explore how community development is improved by biking in a survey of 2,000 U of L faculty, students and staff.

Despite a moderate climate comparable to New York or Washington D.C., a low congestion commuting rate, a topography that is mostly flat, we have one of the lowest percentages of bike commuters of any major city and our household income as a city is ranked near the bottom.  Bike accidents resulting in death are front page news and lead the 6 p.m. news — we seem to have a lot of them in a town where anonymous internet posters want bike riders off the streets.

We need to create an infrastructure of bike lanes, repair shops, bike racks and storage areas, and a culture that embraces and teaches bike safety. We found that just putting bike lanes from nearby neighborhoods to U of L would result in a large jump in bike commuting, and would keep the school from paying for items like a six-story garage at a cost of $23,000 a space.  Survey says:  40 percent of us will commute by bike if you give us the bike lanes!

Moreover, as Andres Duany noted in a recent speech in Louisville, the cost of operating a car is about $8,000 to $9,000 a year. Thus we calculate that putting in several bike lanes that connect up from nearby historic neighborhoods would result in $65 million in savings a year for bikers and over a 10-year period a savings of about half a billion dollars.

So we then asked folks, if you saved $8,000 a year what would you do with the money?  Aside from do a medical procedure not covered by insurance, taking a vacation, and paying off credit cards many said they would do the following:

  • 1 in 10 would spend money planting a garden
  • 1 in 6 would buy more music and books
  • 1 in 5 would buy higher-quality clothing
  • 1 in 4 would use the money to fix up their house
  • 1 in 10 said they would eat out more at locally-owned restaurants

John Pucher recently published an article showing that greater bike infrastructure is being placed downtown and in gentrifying neighborhoods.  Cities with the highest housing costs, along with elite universities, are turning to bike infrastructure to reduce the high percentage of household income going into transportation.

That keeps housing prices stable — most of our large city downtowns have not seen housing prices dip.  As gas prices rise, the most competitive cities will be those that are bike-friendly.  One more thought, if you want to see a bike infrastructure that is a model check out the University of California, Santa Barbara plan that connects to the city and nearby Isla Vista.  For nearly 10 years, I was car-free and relied on just walking and biking; now 50 pounds later I am stuck in Louisville, which is not yet a welcoming place for bikes but the demand is their if they would just build it.

One argument that has been used against bike infrastructure development is the cost: city officials constantly tell us that it costs $1 million for every mile of bike lane. Where does this number come from and who wants to start a company with me to build bike lanes? Does anyone have alternative estimates, especially in our downtown where the streets are configured as one-ways with three or four lanes all going one way with parking spots on both sides.

My cynical response is that you could get two graffiti artists on probation to paint the lines at night for a cost of, say, $100? Even the bike lanes in Old Louisville aren’t exactly straight.  Yes, some places are complicated. Why not focus on the unused one-ways as a start, to connect six diverse neighborhoods to the downtown and University.  Isn’t it ironic that Louisville has spent millions refurbishing sidewalks with new and improved curb cuts and filling in cracks, and isn’t it kind of silly given that the curb cuts and cracks already there did not need a redo?  It’s like getting rid of a five-year-old car for a new one — wasteful.  Anyone have any data on the cost of sidewalk repair per mile?

You can check out Gilderbloom’s paper at