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Crisis Leads to Inevitable Answer

America’s current economic crisis has given Congress and the Obama administration an unprecedented opportunity to stimulate and strengthen local communities through investment in a critical, increasingly important form of transportation: bicycles.

People across the country understand that the bicycle is the most energy-efficient form of urban transportation ever designed, allowing people to burn calories instead of fossil fuel. People understand that at a time of growing concern about the health of our children and an obesity epidemic that threatens us all, cycling offers a convenient, effective way to promote health and lose weight. It’s also clear from coast to coast that bicycles take up less space on a roadway, require less room to park and add an important development to urban livability.

What has not been appreciated is the potential economic impact of investments in cycling. Across America, communities are moving ahead with “Safe Routes to School,” promoting walking and biking — ways for our children to walk and bike safely on their daily trip to campuses around the community. These projects are the epitome of “shovel ready.” They are easy to plan, they’re quick to construct, they almost never have environmental or regulatory problems, and increasingly, unlike large infrastructure projects that can inspire community opposition, bike and pedestrian paths are highly sought after as ways to improve property values and the quality of life for individual families.

Bicycling has immediate and direct benefits for communities that invest in bicycle paths, bike lanes, trails and secure bicycle parking. For each $1 million invested in Federal Highway Administration-approved paved bicycle or multiuse trail, initial studies indicate that the local economy gains 65 jobs and $50 million to $100 million in local economic benefits. Because bike and ped projects are smaller in scale, they can be completed — and used — sooner than complex highway projects.

In fact, some communities are already showing the results of these wise investments. After investing less than 1 percent of their total transportation budget in bicycle facilities in the past eight years, bicycle use has increased by 144 percent, spurring the growth of a $90 million bicycle industry that has added nearly 50 new businesses in just the past two years. Americans want real solutions to the economic crisis, not just a Band-Aid fix.

These investments will stimulate our economy now — when it counts — and point our nation toward the economic and environmental recovery it needs. Americans know that bicycle and pedestrian facilities are precisely the kind of infrastructure projects our country needs.

Moreover, if we doubled the current 1 percent of all trips by bike nationally to 2 percent, Americans could save more than 693 million gallons of gasoline — that’s more than $5 billion — each year. And this is certainly possible: Just last year alone, Americans who bicycled reduced America’s overall mileage by 100 million miles.

Today, more than 50 percent of working Americans live less than 5 miles from their jobs, an easy bicycle commute. Already, more than 490,000 Americans bike to work; in my hometown, Portland, 8 percent of downtown workers are bicycle commuters. Individually, they are saving $1,825 in auto-related costs, reducing their carbon emissions by 128 pounds per year, saving 145 gallons of gasoline, avoiding 50 hours of being stuck in traffic, burning 9,000 calories, reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke by 50 percent and enjoying 14 percent fewer claims on their health insurance.

Last year, the bipartisan Bicycle Caucus of 204 Members oversaw some critical milestones for bicycling in the 110th Congress: the national bike bill, which elevated the health, environmental and economic benefits of bicycling and renewed Congress’ interest in establishing national target levels for bike usage, and the Bicycle Commuter Act, which allows employers to provide tax-free benefits for bicycle commuters.

As American communities struggle with shrinking budgets, crumbling infrastructure, increasing demands on our health system and mounting job losses, investments in bicycle infrastructure can provide an immediate boost to local economies, public health, transportation needs and new jobs. If we are to improve the livability of our communities — places where families are safe, healthy and economically secure — there is no better place to start than by investing in transportation infrastructure that supports Americans’ increasing bicycle use.

Recent transportation surveys indicate that 52 percent of Americans want to bike more than they do now but don’t, because of the lack of safe and connected bicycle facilities. Isn’t it time that the federal government caught up with this revolution in transportation?

While the government needs to do more, the good news is that after an unprecedented increase in bike and pedestrian facilities in the last transportation authorization, Congress has just added $875 million to the economic stimulus package now on its way to our communities. Rapid action on those programs, coupled with the reauthorization that is pending in this Congress, gives us an opportunity to capitalize on the promise of the bicycle, to make our communities more livable and our families safer, healthier and more economically secure.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is chairman of the Congressional Bicycle Caucus.

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