At the 2011 Minnesota Bicycle Summit, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota staff member Nick Mason cited a study done next door in Wisconsin that suggested that if residents of Madison and Milwaukee replaced just 20% of trips under 2 miles currently taken by car with trips taken by bicycle or foot, the state would save $319 million dollars in health costs (BFW, Adventure Cycling).
This plays into so much: Most Safe Routes to Schools programs focus on the kids who are within a mile of their school, and getting them cycling or walking is considered a way to help deal with the rise in obesity in young populations (17% of children are obese, per the Centers for Disease Control). But I think the thing I love most about this study is how quantifiable and reasonable it is. It looked at two metro areas — so, obviously, if it extended beyond such areas, the savings would be greater. And it only looks at a vehicle trip reduction of 20%! As I’ve stated before, a common red herring about bicycle advocates is that we are anti-car, and in general that’s not true.
I mean, I GET IT. I live less than a mile from a major source of food and home objects, but I recognize that a bicycle just isn’t going to work when I have to take a 13-week old infant and pick up a case of diapers, 2 gallons of milk, toilet paper, and a turkey. I know some people who could make it work, but in a broad sense it’s not a reasonable request. But that’s okay. The measured goal is based on cutting just 20% of trips, so the trip with the baby for milk and diapers can stay safely in the other 80%. Everyone still benefits via traffic calming, reduced CO2 emissions, and reduced congestion.
$300 million dollars buys a lot of engineering, encouragement and education for cycling. It just remains for local, state and federal leaders to try to seize it in a broader sense, rather than via piecemeal programs.