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Summary Report on 2016 Alberta Bikes Conference

Submitted by Greg Neiman

The three-day conference held in Canmore last September produced a long list of speakers and presentations. Speakers included two city mayors (Canmore, and Ajax, ON) and several engineers and consultants who have worked and built major bike infrastructure and tourism projects around the world. 


This year's theme centred on the economics and financial returns of building cycling infrastructure, touching on returns to municipalities on spending, business activity, tourism and more.


I attended the conference as a CARTS representative and as a representative for RDABC. CARTS member Jim Woychuk also attended, as did Tatiana Tilley for RDABC. 


In sum, the conference was told that overwhelmingly, investment in civic bike infrastructure and regional trails pays big dividends. In Canmore, their regional trail was voted by taxpayers as the best use of tax dollars for the city for 2015-2016.


Here is a points-form summary of information we learned:


•  For regional trails in Europe, each km of trail generates .16 Euro net income over expenses per year, while road construction produces a net cost of .15 Euro per year. The economic benefit of cycling in Europe is 44E Billion per year, about 434 Euros for every person in Europe.

• Over time, a regional trail system produces about 10 times the cost of construction, due to increases in local business and in tourism.

• Regional trails produce 1.5 times the number of jobs per km during construction.

• In Europe and in Canada, cycle tourists spend about 6% more per day than other tourists. In Quebec, towns along the Route Verte report that cyclists spend $214 a day.

• Cycle tourists are generally richer than other tourists, and they want new experiences. In the US, more than half of cycle tourists earn more than $100,000, about a third spend more than $1,000 while on bike tours.

• Bike tourism is the fastest growing sector for tourist visits to Canada's national parks. Between 2010 and 2016, cycle tourism opportunities became the top reason for people to visit Cypress Hills National Park. The entire National Parks tourism emphasis has switched from enabling back country hiking experiences to cycling, due to the huge demand — a 47% increase in visitors to national parks since 2010.

• Municipally, every 16,000 km of travel per year shifted from cars to active transportation results in a $14,300 net cash benefit to the city in terms of reduced expenses and new business opportunities because cyclists spend more money locally than other commuters. In Red Deer, a daily bike commuter averaging only 10 km for each working day (20 days times 7 months), covers 1,400 km. That means it only takes 11 or 12 daily bike commuters to produce that net benefit to the city each year.

• Adding protected bike lanes to US cities resulted in 49% increase in retail sales, 47% reduction in commercial vacancies, and 71% increase in rents for businesses adjacent to protected bike lanes.

• Local spending per capita in East village NY is $163, versus $158 by walkers, $143 by car and $114 by bus.

• A home's value in the US jumps by 11% for every half mile it is closer to a protected bike trail.

• More than 80% of Americans surveyed in a Princeton University study reported they support increased spending on sidewalks and bikeways.

• In 2009, Ontario tourism industry reported a 25% increase in tourists who arrived at their destination by bike. Bike tourists spend more than other tourists. “They play hard, eat your food and go to bed early.”

• The cumulative benefits of regional trails to tourism in the US represents billions of dollars a year and tens of thousands of new jobs. The State of Iowa alone estimates cycle tourism brings the state about $1 million a day.

• In Germany, 20 years ago, 6% of all trips were by bike. Today, that is more than 20% of all trips, representing a huge savings to municipalities.

• While cycling has exploded in major cities, the number of cycling injuries per 1000 km travelled has dropped, even when cyclist use the streets, and even though most ride without helmets.

• Since Ajax, Ontario began is program of promoting a regional trails system, foreign tourism jumped 15%. There is a huge untapped tourism potential in regional trails.



There were other notes regarding cash savings to taxpayers based on reduced pollution, gains against obesity and savings to health care from investing in active transportation. The association representing American cardiologists produced a report in a medical journal claiming protected bike lanes were the “magic bullet” to reducing national health care costs. Each $100,000 spent on cycling infrastructure results in an increase of just over 4 years of average healthy lifespan for everyone in the entire community. A similar level of spending on dialysis machines as a result of high obesity rates in a population represented a net cost.

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