The Edmonton Downtown Bike Grid Will Save Us Millions More Than It Costs – In Health Care Costs - Monday May 15, 2017

author’s note: I am grateful to Darren Markland and Isabell Hubert for their help in researching this piece

There has been some discussion (not much really) about the cost of Edmonton’s magnificent new downtown grid of protected bike lanes. So let’s talk about it.

The TL;DR version of this post is that, once the downtown bike network is installed, a group of people will choose to start cycling regularly because they are no longer afraid of riding downtown. Those people will be significantly healthier, getting less sick and saving the health care system $13,360,000 every single year after it is built.

Note: Obviously this is a thought exercise.  I am extrapolating the results of studies and making educated guesses. Nonetheless, I think there is merit in exploring the potential ballpark in health care savings about something that is intuitively obvious: bike lanes = healthier people = health care savings.

Shall we dive in?

The Magic of Induced Demand

When high-quality bike infrastructure is built, it causes people to ride their bikes.

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The thing is, scenes like the above are scary to most people. When you replace them with routes like the picture below, the obvious happens: people get out and ride!

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Calgary’s downtown bike grid “created” 2000 new bike riders in less than a year (source).

However, fewer people work downtown in Edmonton than in Calgary (I’ve heard the numbers 200,000 vs 80,000) so fewer new riders should be created by our bike grid. So let’s say that only 500 people start to ride to work in Edmonton due to the new downtown bike grid.

People Biking = Health Care Savings

What are the health care savings of 500 people suddenly deciding to regularly ride their bikes to work or school?

We all know that our sedentary life styles are causing us massive, expensive problems. Unfortunately, few things have worked so far to get people moving more. We’re about to create 500 new bike riders though right?

Diabetes

According to this study, for every 7 people who start exercising 150 minutes/week, 1 incident of diabetes will be prevented.  Our 500 new bike riders could therefore prevent 71 cases of diabetes). Every case of diabetes in Alberta costs about $5,070/year (from here). So the 71 cases less of diabetes that can theoretically be attributed to the bike grid will save $360,000 per year.

Heart Disease and Cancer

A new study came out recently that examined 250,000+ people in the U.K. The conclusion was that cycling to work/school is associated with 46% less heart disease and 45% less cancer  vs. their sedentary peers.

The reduced cases of cancer of 500 new people riding their bikes daily could save the health care system $12.7 million per year. The reduced cases heart disease could save us another $300,000! (calculations/logic are below)

Conclusion

The downtown grid of protected bike lanes  is going to cost about $7.5 million dollars to build. That’s a lot of money. However, they could save our health care system $13,360,000 each and every year after they are installed, for a payback rate of 178%.

You could argue with my numbers.  In fact, I will. I’ll happily lop 44% off of my estimate. That would leave us with an annual savings of $7.5 million dollars. The bike grid will pay itself back in health care savings every year, in perpetuity.

There are so many reasons why the bike grid will be a wonderful addition to our city. The increased safety, the new choice that it gives people who want to save money getting around, and most of all the sheer fun of it. But we can also feel confident that this is the best financial investment in transportation infrastructure that we could make. In fact, nothing else can touch it.

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Are Car Drivers In Alberta Subsidizing Bike Riders? No. - Sunday May 14, 2017

With the roll out this summer of Edmonton’s dreamy new downtown bike grid, some old chestnuts of the bike lane debate having been appearing. One is the assertion that car and truck drivers are subsidizing bike riders if cities use tax dollars to install dedicated bike infrastructure.

I’ve seen a couple of analyses that emphatically reject the notion (here and here for example), but do they apply to Edmonton, Alberta? Let’s find out. *

*caveat: It would take days to write a scientifically-valid argument either way on this. How our three orders of government collect and spend taxes is very complex, and divided into many documents. I have done an overview, and I have explained my generalizations and rationalizations along the way.

How much money per year is collected in Alberta via fuel and carbon taxes, plus vehicle registration?

Short answer: $3.5 billion. (long answer here)

How much money do our governments spend per year in Alberta on vehicles?

Short answer: $4.2 billion. (long answer here)

Conclusion:

I’m not saying that cars are evil or that we shouldn’t have any or anything like that. However, we need to be honest if a mode of transportation is getting subsidized. Even though the gas tax is substantial, Albertans are heavily subsidizing vehicle driving. Never mind the fact that most of the federal gas tax is whisked away and spent on federal priorities in Ottawa.

Although these calculations are back-of-the-napkin at best, especially the municipal spending side, I wouldn’t doubt if they significantly underestimate how much we subsidize car driving. I left out massive costs, like the societal costs of sedentarism, days of productivity lost from collision injuries, pollution, and significant vehicle-oriented policing costs.

All this to say that, people who ride bikes in Edmonton are not being subsidized by drivers. In fact, the subsidy is going the other way.

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Downtown Bike Grid Coming To Edmonton Summer 2017 - Thursday February 9, 2017

This post is a bit late in coming, but it seems that we didn’t update our website with the news: a grid of protected bike lanes is coming to downtown Edmonton!

Paths for People conceptualized and initiated this project, based on Calgary’s downtown pilot project, during the summer of 2016 (details here), and city council voted to fund and install the bike grid on October 11, 2016! A few thoughts:

We are now working on a campaign to get people riding the grid and engage with affected downtown stakeholders (businesses, etc., who are situated on the grid) to increase acceptance and ridership. We are optimistic that a more vibrant, livable downtown is just around the corner!

Our Campaign Begins – A Bike Grid For Downtown Edmonton - Monday September 26, 2016

The Route – A Message from Paths for People

We have begun our campaign to help convince city council to vote for Stantec’s proposed 7-km bike grid in Edmonton’s downtown core. We unveiled yegbikegrid.ca – the campaign website presents the facts and helps people contact their councillors and released the videos The Magic Trick and The RouteOur social media campaign is going strong too. Write your councillor today!

A Downtown Bike Grid For Edmonton - Thursday July 14, 2016

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Recent History

It’s been a tough year for people who want to ride bikes in Edmonton. First, the City took out bike lanes on 40th and 95th avenues. Those facilities were never good, nor beloved by any stretch of the imagination, but it still stung. Ugh.

Next, the City’s well-intentioned suicide barriers were erected on the High Level Bridge, making one of the very few decent facilities for biking and walking considerably less comfortable and more dangerous. Then, when someone’s frustration finally came to a head and they decided to build a short two-way guerilla cycle track on Saskatchewan Drive to accommodate movements already being made by many cyclists, the City reacted by removing it with a speed that was galling when compared to its sloth-like movements towards bike-friendliness.

Finally, the long-awaited bike routes on 83rd and 102nd Avenues are taking forever to build. They were approved in late 2014, and we found out this year that they won’t be complete until 2018, with the most important stretch of 102nd Avenue possibly another seven years away. Ugh!

Yes it’s been a tough year, but this week a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. Before we talk about it though, we need to briefly discuss Calgary.

Calgary

Have you heard about Calgary’s cycle-track project? Last year they built a four-route grid of protected bike routes in their downtown core. The approach was new in a couple of ways.

First of all, they built the whole grid at once. Rather than build “Cadillac” quality bike routes one at a time over many years, like applying isolated, slow-motion Band-Aids, they put in a connected grid in three weeks. Potential bike riders are therefore more likely to choose to ride because most or all of their route is on an excellent facility.

Secondly, they used low-cost materials like bollards and temporary curbs to construct the lanes. This allowed for rapid deployment and flexibility (the 5.5 kilometres of routes were built in three weeks, as opposed to the three years that it’s taking to build the 16-blocks of the 83 Avenue route here). In conjunction with careful, data-heavy measurements before and after the routes were put in, the flexibility of the materials has enabled the routes to be like a real-time public engagement project. Rather than having 18-24 months of talking to people about a proposed route (like what they’ve done on 83 and 102 Avenues), they did a few months of public engagement, installed the routes, and then responded in real time to concerns.

So how’s it working out in Calgary? Ridership has exploded. They are routinely measuring 10,000 – 15,000 trips per day on the grid, at a time when vacancy in downtown Calgary is at record highs (keep in mind that some bikes are double-counted if they take more than one leg of the grid on a given trip).

Calgary is a winter city. Calgary is even an Albertan city. In fact, there is no city in the world that is more similar to Edmonton than Calgary. If Calgary can do it, we can do it. And with your help, we will.

Edmonton – A Downtown Bike Grid

Gil Penalosa inspired us at our City for Life event in April. What particularly stuck was this advice: “Do something. Now.” So we asked ourselves, “What is Edmonton’s most urgent, fixable bike problem?” The answer: downtown.

The downtown core is a hostile place for bikes. About 19 people on bikes get hit every year within a 5-block radius in the core, and virtually all of the streets look and feel like this:

Downtown Edmonton Street

Welcome to bike hell. Wide wide lanes and nowhere to hide.

However, within these bike-unfriendly streets lies opportunity: they are overbuilt. Many streets in downtown Edmonton have travel lanes that are way wider than required, and many of those are underutilized.

With low-hanging fruit (politically-speaking) laying around and sense of urgency, Paths for People started to shop the idea of getting a report written on how Edmonton could emulate Calgary’s success. We didn’t have to look for long because Stantec Vice President Keith Shillington  quickly stepped up to the plate. Keith offered to subsidize half of the cost of writing the report (it was Stantec  that designed the Calgary project), taking a strong leadership position on creating a better Edmonton.

We then pitched the idea to Councillors Mckeen, Knack, Oshry, Walters and Henderson, and we found more leadership at the highest level of the City.

On Tuesday July 12, Councillor Scott McKeen moved that the City take Stantec up on their offer. Stantec’s paper will strategically choose routes, estimate the cost of building them, and suggest ways to keep them clear in winter. Plus they will complete the paper in only a few weeks!

The news about the “study” broke yesterday, and some people’s initial reaction on Twitter was “we don’t need another study!” I’d like to suggest that this study is different. It will be done quickly, and it is being written to be acted upon.

Action

In September, the report will go back to council. At that time, Councillor Knack has told us that he will move that the grid be built. He is even talking about having a leg or two of it built this Fall! This is Edmonton’s chance, this is OUR chance.

Paths for People is running a campaign to get the grid of downtown bike routes built. We will be asking our members to take action closer to September once the report has been completed.

In the meantime, please become a member of Paths for People if you aren’t already (and/or follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook). We’ll keep you up to date and let you know how to help build a healthier, more livable Edmonton!

– Conrad

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