High-quality cycling infrastructure saves money

High-quality cycling infrastructure saves money

The focus on public investment in a three-kilometre protected bike lane would never apply to the far greater costs the city regularly incurs for automobile infrastructure.

By Ryan McGreal
Posted on March 20, 2014

Yesterday, the General Issues Committee unanimously approved the project to put in place a two-way protected bicycle path on Cannon Street. Today talk radio host Scott Thompson posted the following question on Twitter:

Do #cyclists have to pay to use dedicated #bike lanes? #HamOnt #itsonlyfair

Alright, let’s take it one step at a time. First of all, we must repeat that drivers don’t pay for roads. City streets are funded by municipal property tax, while provincial highways are funded by general revenue (i.e. provincial income tax, corporation tax, etc.). ).

It is true that drivers specifically pay several taxes and fees including vehicle tax, gas tax, driver’s license fee, license plate sticker, etc. But even if we include all sources of revenue, like speeding tickets, etc., the total amount that drivers pay specifically is less than the total cost of roads by billions of dollars a year.

(A Conference Board study released last year found that Ontario drivers contribute about $7.7 billion in revenue, but the province and municipalities spend between $10 billion and $13 billion on roads.)

And that’s assuming that none of those funds go to other costs. However, it costs money to maintain the system of driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations, which is in addition to the cost of roads.

It costs money to maintain police departments that enforce traffic laws and municipal driving laws — far more money than the state collects in traffic tickets, despite motorists complaining about speed cameras .

It costs money to provide medical care to people injured and killed in collisions – about 530 deaths and 65,000 injuries a year in Ontario. Locally, this translates to approximately 20 fatalities and 2,250 injuries per year in Hamilton.

It costs money to provide medical care to sick people because of air pollution from automobiles. In Hamilton, air pollution is responsible for approximately 700 hospital visits and 100 premature deaths each year, and half of our air pollution comes from automobile exhaust.

So let’s put the weary duck to bed that “it’s only fair” to start charging cyclists to use the road.

Infrastructure costs

Now let’s take the analysis further and look at things from the infrastructure cost side.

Road maintenance costs about $2,300 per lane kilometer, plus about $3,800 in winter maintenance, for a total of $6,100 per lane kilometer.

In addition, roads must be rebuilt on average once every 25 years at a cost of $750,000 per lane-kilometre.

Divide that cost by the 25-year life of a road and you get a life-cycle replacement cost of $30,000 per lane kilometer per year, or five times the total annual maintenance cost.

How potholes form: Heavy vehicles compact the bed. The water seeps in, then freezes and expands, causing the subgrade to erode and the asphalt to crack. Then the asphalt crumbles into the hollow, leaving a pothole.

But the wear and tear of a road is bound exponentially to the weight of vehicles on the road. A subcompact car is about ten times heavier than a bicycle but causes about 1000 times so much damage to the pavement. An SUV produced 8,000 times as much damage as a bicycle, and a transport truck produces millions of times as much damage as a bicycle.

By extending the life of a pavement, protected bike lanes save the municipality money on life cycle costs.

Economic and health benefits

At the same time, protected bike lanes have been proven to boost local retail and increase nearby property values, which in turn helps increase municipal property tax revenue.

Additionally, by replacing some automobile trips with bicycle trips, protected bike lanes reduce air pollution, which in turn reduces the number of hospital visits and premature deaths. Cycling also improves public health by getting more people to exercise.

And above this, transforming a fast four-lane arterial into a full street makes it significantly safer for all road users, including drivers. This means fewer and less serious collisions, with its own proportional reduction in injuries, hospitalizations and fatalities.

Dual standard

Of course, the focus on public investment in a three-kilometre protected bike lane would never apply to the far greater costs the city routinely incurs for automobile infrastructure.

For example, there was no outcry from financially conscious councilors or populist commentators when the City decided, without any meaningful debate or public engagement, to spend $2.3 million to replace a single intersection: the drop-off interchange of King Street and Kenilworth Avenue.

No one gasped at the lost potential of over $200,000 in annual property tax revenue from the huge land area needed to make room for all the on and off ramps that this highway-style interchange requires. .

Land requirements for King/Kenilworth vs. Main/Kenilworth (Image credit: Sean Burak)
Land requirements for King/Kenilworth vs. Main/Kenilworth (Image credit: Sean Burak)

No one ranted that we committed future ratepayers to cover the relatively huge life-cycle costs of an overpass/underground interchange system where an intersection would do.

If we applied a consistent cost/benefit analysis to car, cycle and pedestrian infrastructure, the shape of our public realm would look very different.

Ryan McGreal, editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizens’ group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a column on town affairs in Hamilton magazineand several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in Morse, HuffPost and behind the numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and occasionally posts a cat photo on Instagram.


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