In the weeks leading up to the election, my mailbox was clogged with campaign literature from local politicians, most of which went straight into the recycling bin. One small postcard caught my eye, however.
On the back was a handwritten note from a candidate, pledging to “work hard to improve and expand the bike lanes in Savannah.” Was that enough to earn my vote? Sure was.
Admitting this surely casts me as a single–issue voter in the minds of many. Some might even say it’s irresponsible to hinge my political loyalty on a candidate’s stance on bike lanes, when our community must grapple with so many challenges.
But here’s the thing: Encouraging more people to ride bicycles can help to solve most every major problem we face in Savannah. Let’s look at a few.
Poverty. Transportation researcher Todd Litman used U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics data to determine that in households with the lowest 20 percent of incomes, costs associated with car ownership consumed 30 percent of household budgets. By comparison, those in the top 20 percent spent just over 3 percent.
Writing in On Bicycles, edited by Amy Walker, Litman concludes “automobile ownership is a trap” that “can impose significant burdens that prevent people from fulfilling their aspirations” and keep families in poverty.
Forgoing car ownership could put $3,000–$5,000 a year back into the pockets of people who need it the most.
While cars gobble money even when they are not moving, in the form of insurance and other costs, even if low income people kept cars but drove them less, they’d come out in better shape having reduced maintenance and fuel expenses.
Public Health. Research published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives revealed replacing half of all car trips of 2.5 miles or less with bike trips in 11 Midwestern cities could save $3.8 billion a year in reduced healthcare costs and prevented deaths.The healthcare savings come in the form of reduced rates of asthma, strokes and heart attacks. Researchers also estimated that combined with the benefits of improved air quality and increased physical fitness provided by higher rates of bicycling, the savings could exceed $7 billion per year.
Home Values. Last month researchers at the University of Cincinnati presented a study on the relationship between multi–use trails and paths and property values. They found there are “positive spillover effects on property values when these properties are located within reasonable distances” of trails. Research conducted by Rainer vom Hofe, a professor of planning, and Olivier Parent, an economist, revealed “housing prices went up by nine dollars for every foot closer to the trail entrance. The study concluded that for the average home, homeowners were willing to pay a $9,000 premium to be located one thousand feet closer to the trail.”
Jobs. A study by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center calculated that the economic impact of bicycle tourism there at more than $1 billion and 5,000 jobs. And how many months out of the year can you even ride in Minnesota without turning into an ice sculpture? Imagine how much money would flow into Savannah if we became serious about investing in bicycle infrastructure and promoting our city as a world–class, year round bicycling destination?
Call me a single–issue voter, if you will. That’s an identity I’ll gladly claim. After all, a vote for bicycles is a vote for a better Savannah.
John Bennett is vice chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.