Bicycling. It’s neat, right? Those who do it like it.
But how do you convince those who aren’t doing it to do it more? That’s the key demand generation problem facing cycling right now. And it’s a filthy thing, but you need to have facility demand to get funding for facilities, but to get more people cycling, you need facilities.
People wave around the data, like how Minneapolis’ bicycle use went up rapidly when they got $25 million to spend on infrastructure, and other articles citing various cities. In 1993, Minneapolis estimated 3,000 bike commuters; in 2010, they estimated 7,000, per the Minneapolis Bike Account.
There’s one problem, from the perspective of economics: Is the increase in riders really infrastructure encouraging demand, or infrastructure meeting latent demand? There’s a big difference between the two. If programs are merely addressing unmet demand in the market, there is a natural barrier to growth and acceptance in place once that pent-up demand has been met.
Even with amazing data sets, it’s hard to determine if increases in bicycle use are a result of demand being let free, or demand being created. The data isn’t amazing, however. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with meeting unmet market demand, with $25 million to promote it, someone could probably create massive increase in the number of people wearing live puppies as hats. Without broad support, you can’t keep spending money. The total number of cyclists and supporters in Minneapolis remains a minority, as they do on the state and federal level when it comes to funding.
So how does one drive interest and demand? Is it in fact continued infrastructure spending, or are there other approaches? What are they?
Are they cheaper, and thus more sustainable in the near-term, as funding becomes an issue in the current economic climate?