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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 6.4.2009

Cyclic  Upturn

Bike boost would give Eugene big economic stimulus 

By Alan Pittman

If Eugene increased biking to just half the rate in Amsterdam, the city would enjoy more than $212 million a year in local economic stimulus, an analysis of traffic cost data shows.

Driving cars in Eugene costs a total of about $1.1 billion a year if all tangible external and internal factors are included, calculations based on transportation research show. By comparison, bikes powered by calories and with a relatively miniscule road impact cost practically nothing.

Using data from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, the Texas Transportation Institute, National Priorities Project, American Automobile Association, U.S. Census, Santa Cruz County, Lane Council of Governments and other federal, state and local transportation official sources, here’s a rundown of the potential local economic bonanza from boosting biking.



Direct costs

In gas consumption, driving costs an average of only about 11 cents per mile. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Add in car depreciation, insurance, registration, taxes, loan interest, maintenance, tires, parking at home, parking at work, car accidents and time driving and you’re at 91 cents a mile. And, oh yeah, numerous studies show that compared to active transportation like biking, driving makes you fat. Add in 10 cents a mile for extra medical bills for the many health effects of obesity and lack of regular exercise, and the total average driving cost estimate is $1.01 per mile.



Indirect costs

Many of the costs of driving aren’t paid by the driver. Roads and parking cost local taxpayers big bucks in land purchases, construction and repair. The Oregon Legislature just passed a billion dollar tax increase for more highways. Roads also add big policing, land use and congestion costs. 

Indirect environmental costs include air, water and noise pollution, waste disposal, resource consumption, impeding walkers and bikers and, of course, global warming. Taxpayers and society also foot the big indirect healthcare bill for car accidents and obesity — about 16 cents a mile. All those wars and weapons for oil add an estimated 10 cents more a mile for a total indirect cost of driving of 69 cents per mile. 



Do the math

Add the direct and indirect costs up and you get an estimated grand total of $1.70 a mile. Multiply that by the estimated 622 million miles Eugene’s 155,000 people drive a year, and you get a $1.1 billion annual local cost of driving. 

By comparison bikes — which weigh about 100 times less than a car, cost 40 times less and burn fat rather than oil — have a net cost of practically nothing, numerous studies show. In Amsterdam, half the people ride bikes. If Eugene could bike at just half that rate, driving would drop about 20 percent here producing the $212 million savings and big payoff in economic stimulus.

This is probably a conservative estimate that leaves out many less quantifiable factors. Since gas and cars aren’t made in Eugene, a big chunk of the money spent on driving leaves the community. In contrast, that money could be spent locally, creating an even bigger economic multiplier effect. 

“It stimulates local businesses rather than rewarding Exxon or Toyota,” economist Joe Cortright wrote in a recent study of “Portland’s Green Dividend” from driving less. Many Portlanders appear to be spending the extra cash on local recreation, more convenient housing and restaurants, the economist wrote.

While fossil fuel-burning cars aren’t made in Eugene, many bikes are. Bike Friday and Burley are among the largest local manufacturers and many other local businesses, such as delivery service Pedalers Express and a multitude of bike shops, spin cycling into jobs. The city of Portland estimated its local bike industry at $63 million a year. 

Another economic bonus is attracting people. Virgin Atlantic Airlines is marketing vacations to the world’s top bike friendly cities, including Portland. More than 6,000 Lane County jobs depend on the tourism industry. 

Portland’s economy boomed in recent years with an influx of young, educated people who moved to the city in large part for its greener, more livable transportation, according to Cortright. This talented, energetic “creative class” is the key to cities’ economic future, according to widely cited economist Richard Florida.

Less traffic snarl can also attract safety conscious families and retirees, and greater livability can boost home values battered by the recent real estate crash.

Cortright cites a recent study indicating that a 23 minute car commute had the same negative effect on happiness as a 19 percent cut in pay. And that may underscore the primary, non-economic stimulus from spending time on a bike — fun.

An online calculator at commutesolutions.org/calc.htm will tell you your annual “true cost of driving.” The calculator includes most of the above direct and indirect costs, but add 37 cents a mile extra to include the cost of wars and obesity. 





Bike  Day  Celebrates the  Joys  of  Cycling

Even if you don’t buy the economic benefits of cycling, you may still want the stimulating fun. 

The Science Factory children’s museum is hosting the fifth annual “Bike Day” to “Celebrate Eugene’s Bikulturalism.” The event near Autzen Stadium and Alton Baker Park is from 10 am to 4 pm, Saturday, June 13, and includes music, food, family friendly events, demonstrations, booths and a beer garden. 

Other attractions include a safety rodeo, helmet decoration, bike safety checks, bike polo, tire changing competition, fashion show, jumping, tricycle races, unicycle demonstration, bike blended smoothies and a performance by the “Bottom Brackettes” bike dance group. 

The local GEARs (Greater Eugene Area Riders) bike group helped organize the event and has posted a full schedule on its www.eugenegears.org/bikeday website.