Cycling Infrastructure is one of the Smartest Investments a City can make

Cycling infrastructure projects always seem to struggle to secure funding, while road capital projects costing in the millions slip through with minimal resistance. Recent trends have shown major interest in “big ticket” transit projects, with tens of billions of dollars committed to expanding transit in the GHTA. While these are absolutely essential to our region and a major step forward, funding for active transportation projects seems to have taken the backburner. We’ve come to a point where a new $50 million GO station is seen as a godsend for a community, but a $1 million cycling project faces severe resistance.

The reality is cycling infrastructure is one of the smartest investments a city can make. Higher rates of cycling improve public health, reduce emissions, and increase road throughput. A Dutch study in 2012 found that for every additional kilometre travelled by bicycle, there is a net social gain of $0.25 (whereas for every additional kilometre driven, there is a net social loss of $0.23).

Not only does more cycling bring a net benefit to society, cycling infrastructure is very cheap to build. In fact, cycling infrastructure moves more people for less money than highway and transit projects. To illustrate this, I selected a handful of major projects undertaken or planned in the City of Hamilton and researched their capital costs and expected or current ridership. From this, I simply divided capital cost by daily trips to get Capital Expense per Daily Trip – essentially a crude way of assessing a project’s value for money.

Table 1 – Comparison of capital expense per daily trip across major Hamilton projects (see below for assumptions and sources)

Project Capital Cost Daily Trips CapEx per Daily Trip
Cycling Master Plan $51.5 million 21,793 $2,363
Hamilton Bike Share $1.6 million 600 $2,667
Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) $245 million 80,000 $3,063
Cannon Street Cycle Track $867,000 250 $3,468
Hamilton LRT $1 billion 62,400 $16,026
West Harbour GO Station $50 million 450 $111,111

 

This analysis demonstrates many things. First of all, a full build out of Hamilton’s cycling master plan provides the best value for money of all the investments shown. On a per-user basis, the Cycling Master Plan is 30% cheaper than the Red Hill Valley Parkway, over 6x cheaper than the Hamilton LRT, and nearly 50x cheaper than the West Harbour GO Station!

Second, it demonstrates that cycling projects like the Bike Share and Cannon Street Cycle track show a competitive value for money, even though their ridership is many times lower than, say, a highway project. This is because the cost of cycling infrastructure is relatively quite low.

Third, the simplicity of this analysis begs a much deeper one. New transit projects may perform poorly under this analysis, but they also deliver value in other ways, like land value uplift, lower operating costs, and savings from automobile users who switch to transit. On the other hand, a new highway may seem to be good value for money, but remember from above that encouraging more driving actually results in a net loss to society. For the Red Hill Valley Parkway alone, this could be $20 million per year (assuming an average trip length of 3km on the RHVP). An annual loss like that quickly cuts into the value of the project.

My message here is simple: our decision-makers need to value cycling infrastructure for what it is: an incredibly cheap way of moving many people. Cycling infrastructure is cheaper than highways and transit projects, and can be done on much shorter timelines. The most valuable transportation investment we can make as a city is an accelerated build-out of the Cycling Master Plan.

 

Assumptions:

  • If Cycling Master Plan is implemented, daily bicycle mode stare will increase 2.5x in line with the City’s active transportation targets (from 6% to 15% by 2031), and daily total trips in the city will increase 1.27x in line with the forecast population growth for the City (from 500,596 in 2011 to 636,353 in 2031). For 2011 cycle trips of 6,864, projected 2031 trips is 21,793.
  • Hamilton Bike Share recorded roughly 198,000 trips between Jan 16th and Dec 9th, which works out to an average of roughly 600 trips per day. This is a low-end estimate as it includes the “ramp-up” period after the launch in January.
  • City staff reported that bike counts on the Cannon Cycle Track are averaging between 250 and 400 bicycles per day. 250 was chosen as a conservative low-end estimate

Sources:

Hamilton Bike Share ridership report: https://raisethehammer.org/article/2798/hamilton_bike_share_exceeding_membership_ridership_expectations

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