A study recently published by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst asserts that building bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, and pedestrian access create more job per million dollars spent than road repairs and road resurfacing. The probable reason for this differential is the specialized skills and labor intensity of related tasks within these projects versus those in a typical road resurface job.
Bicycle advocacy organizations, as you may imagine, are going agog over this study. In my opinion, the level of excitement is out of proportion to the study.
- The study published is a case study of a single city – Baltimore. While single-city studies are good pilots and provide good data, they are not always universally extensible. Specific projects may vary in cost regionally, as may labor costs and skill availability, for instance.
- Such statistics remain arguments for discretionary projects. Let’s face it: If your bridge is borked or your roadway is a complete mess, you’re going to invest in resurfacing or road/bridge repair, regardless of this kind of statistic. Explicit need is going to trump improvement projects in almost all planning situations.
Many road construction projects benefit cyclists as well, which also needs to be considered. Specific striping, lanes, or other markings are not always required to improve conditions for cyclists. Sometimes, simple road widening projects, pothole repair, and shoulder paving – all of which would fall into the ‘traditional’ road project category – can be really sweet for cyslists as well as for motorists.
I fully expect to see this study abused and selectively quoted by people both for and against investment in cycling infrastructure.