What is the fastest-growing means of transportation in the United States? The bicycle, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People bike for many reasons—better health, recreation, transportation, to save money, to run errands. But the biggest reason that bicycling is booming in the United States is the growth in bicycle infrastructure.
In 1992, there were only 50 federally funded bicycle infrastructure projects; last year, there were about 2,500. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says there now are more than 1,900 rails-to-trails projects totaling almost 31,000 miles (50,000 km) of safe, off-road bike trails. Bicycle infrastructure also includes many additional miles of grade-separated bike trails, protected bike lanes, and a growing system of bike boulevards (low-traffic streets optimized for cycling).
Bicycling is part of a larger shift toward “shared-use mobility,” which emphasizes the availability of multiple, shared ways of moving around a city rather than vehicle ownership. Ride sharing, car sharing, bike sharing, Uber, Lyft, and autonomous vehicles are all part of this larger evolution. Today, for example, there are almost 120 urban bike-share systems in the United States and over 750 worldwide.
Just as investments in roads and highways led to automobile-oriented development and public transportation investments led to transit-oriented development, investments in bicycle infrastructure are now leading to trail-oriented development. This trend is likely to grow because bicycle infrastructure is relatively inexpensive and it provides high levels of return on investment. For instance, Portland, Oregon—the U.S. city with the highest percentage of bicycle commuters—has developed a 300-mile (483 km) network of bike trails, lanes, and boulevards for about $60 million—about the same cost as one mile (1.6 km) of urban freeway.
San Francisco reports that one mile of protected bikeway in the heart of the city cost $445,000. This seems expensive until one considers that reconstruction of a one-mile segment of Doyle Drive cost $571 million and a new one-mile refurbishment of the Bay Bridge cost $2.07 billion. Dare County, North Carolina, which includes the Outer Banks, reports that a one-time expenditure of $6.7 million to build a bike trail parallel to the beach resulted in a nine-to-one annual return on investment.
Bicycling is good for health and the environment, but it is very good for business, too. Numerous studies show that bike trails increase the value of nearby properties. A study of Indianapolis’s Cultural Trail, for example, found that property values within one block of the trail rose 148 percent between 2008 and 2014—far more than in the city as a whole. Studies of the Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts and the Katy Trail in Dallas found that homes near the trails sold faster and for more money than homes farther away. In 2002, the National Association of Realtors reported that walking trails and bike paths were the top neighborhood amenity sought by homebuyers.
Bicycling can also have a positive impact on retail sales. The New York City Department of Transportation, for instance, found that installing a mile-long protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan resulted in an estimated 49 percent increase in retail sales for merchants along the route.
Another business advantage is that bicycles take up much less space than cars. Ten to 12 bicycles can be parked in the same space as one car. This is significant when one considers that surface parking spaces cost $3,000 to $4,000 per space; structured parking costs $15,000 to $20,000 per space; and underground parking can cost up to $50,000 per space.
The transportation landscape is changing. Bicycle infrastructure is catalyzing real estate investment, and cities that give commuters more transportation options will be more competitive. What’s not to like?