Bicycling is more than just a lovely outing on a lovely day. It’s also a boost to the economy and a benefit to public-health quality and costs.
These are the findings of a new, first-of-its-kind study on cycling done on Minnesota with funding from the state’s Department of Transportation. While the research was focused just on the one state and the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area, other national localities would likely bask in similar benefits commensurate to their size and relative bicycling activity, says study coauthor Mark Pereira, PhD, University of Minnesota professor of epidemiology and public health.
Here are our biggest takeaways from the research:
- Enough jobs and income to finance a small country
Overall, the Twin Cities’ bicycling industry — including manufacturing, wholesaling, retail sales, and nonprofit and advocacy groups — produced an estimated $779.9 million of economic activity in 2014. This includes $209 million of annual labor income and 5,519 jobs.
In researching the economic effect of bicycling nationwide, the League of American Bicyclists estimated in a 2009–2012 study that bikes are a $6 billion industry. Plus, the 60 million recreational cyclists in the country contribute $46.9 billion to the economy in meals, transportation, lodging, gifts, and entertainment.
- Health benefits add up
In addition, riding bikes adds up to millions of dollars in healthcare savings thanks to reduced obesity and prevention of common chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“Bicycling is linked to lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature mortality,” says Pereira. “For example, taking three bicycle trips per week of about 20 minutes in length is associated with 46 percent lower odds of metabolic syndrome, 32 percent lower odds of obesity, and 28 percent lower odds of hypertension.”
This all combines to lower healthcare costs, the study notes. The authors estimate that bicycle commuting in the cities prevents 12 to 61 deaths per year, saving $100 million to $500 million annually.
- Investing in bicycling infrastructure pays off
Minneapolis is one of the nation’s leaders in building bicycling infrastructure. As of 2016, Hennepin County has 651 miles of bike paths and lanes, with Minneapolis boasting the highest concentration of dedicated bike routes — 5.8 per square mile.
To compare health-benefit assessments, a 2011 study in Portland, Ore. — also a bicycling mecca — examining the benefits of investing in bike infrastructure found that “by 2040, investments in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in healthcare cost savings of $388 to $594 million and fuel savings of $143 to $218 million.”
- Best of all — Minnesota bicyclists could pedal to Mars and back (twice!)
The study also finds that 13.4 percent of Minneapolis–St. Paul residents of working age commute by bike at least some of the time — this in a city famous for its cold and snowy winters. These riders commute 366 miles annually on average. The U.S. Census Bureau reports Minneapolis has one of the nation’s highest number of regular bicycle commuters — 5 percent as of 2015.
In all, Minnesotans biked an estimated 139 million miles annually, the study found. For comparison, it’s only 33.9 million miles from Minneapolis to Mars.
For more on the economic benefits of bicycling, see “Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy” and “Bicycling Values: The Cost of Car Vs. Bike Commutes.”