An interesting study was just released in Wisconsin that estimates the value, in dollars, of bicycling in the state. Skimming it brought to mind Living Labs Global’s own study, Connected Cities, which quantifies the opportunity, in euros, created by mobile technologies and the need for innovation in city services. In both cases, a strong set of localized or specific base data are synthesized and estimates are extrapolated from there. In the case of the Wisconsin study, authors from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies focus on recreational, long distance, and predominantly non-resident cycling as the driver of economic activity from bicycling; in contrast, they focus on shorter-distance trips made by residents (like commuting to work) to quantify the health benefits from cycling.
They find nearly $1 billion economic benefit from recreational cycling in Wisconsin (drawing on expenditures on things like food and beverage, entertainment, lodging, and non-bicycle transportation). Additionally, they find a nearly $0.5 billion health benefit due to cycling (drawing on improvements in air quality, personal fitness, and greenhouse gas emissions). Combined, the study suggests the state of Wisconsin alone is experiencing close to a billion and a half dollar benefit from cycling.
While the authors explicitly acknowledge the study’s shortcomings and potential inaccuracies (reliance on older data or data from other geographies), whether the number is $1.5 billion or $700 million doesn’t matter; the point is that there is a huge opportunity for benefits in economic activity and health from cycling. Enticing or inviting people to change their habits, especially to achieve the health benefits as reported in this study, is one of the biggest challenges for the coming year and decade. However, local policy changes do stand to make a big difference in the amount of bicycle tourism sought in a particular state – producing an influx of cash from another economy – in addition to benefits to residents’ as more bicycle-friendly policies increase their safety and security.
Studies such as these are interesting and useful to policymakers; I expect to see more like it this year and in the near future. For more on what to expect from bicycling in 2011, see this nice summary piece from Grist.