Minn. can ride bikes all the way to the bank

Published 9:26 am Friday, November 11, 2011

Column: Dorian Grilley, Guest Column

Minnesotans should thank Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken for voting to preserve funding for biking and walking again this week. In recent weeks they voted against two proposed amendments (neither of which passed) that would have gutted Transportation Enhancements, or TE, the federal fund that is the source for much of our nation’s biking walking infrastructure and safety improvements.

This is important because that funding will be under attack until Congress passes the next six-year bill that sets the policy and funding for our transportation system.

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Our senators know that biking and walking are gaining popularity and it makes sense to keep funds that make them more viable and safer in place. There are several positive side effects to the increase in active transportation, and for Minnesota that means dollar signs.

We need to be sure decision makers keep this in mind as the pressure to cut even sensible programs like this one bears down on them.

The first way is very direct — biking provides several sources of economic stimulus. One is the bikes themselves. Minnesota has a thriving bike industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Twin Cities bicycle retail, wholesale and manufacturing is worth $315 million annually. Both the world’s largest bike parts distributor, Quality Bicycle Products, and the nation’s largest bike tool manufacturer, Park Tool, are located in Minnesota. QBP has grown 247 percent since the year 2000 and now has over 500 employees including over 115 hired in Minnesota over the last two years.

Minnesota is also home to over 160 small business bicycle shops. The Twin Cities’ top-five bicycle businesses alone contribute more than 750 jobs to the metro area. Creating jobs during the recession and boosting small businesses? That’s exactly what our economy needs.

Second, Minnesota’s legendary scenic beauty combined with the trend for active vacations has been a massive boost for Minnesota’s tourism economy. This is especially true for some rural communities on popular trails, such as Lanesboro.

Recent studies by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center looked at road, trail and mountain biking. Their calculation of the total economic impact of road bicycling is $686 million per year and 4,148 jobs while mountain biking brings in $318 million per year with 1,116 jobs.

At more than $1 billion, bicycling among Minnesota’s top outdoor tourism revenue producers. That’s why more than 160 people from around the state attended the 2011 Minnesota Bicycle Tourism Summit in Mankato early this November.

Finally, the indirect benefits, like better health and the elusive “Minnesota quality of life,” may be harder to put into dollars and cents but they are still very significant.

We all know that exercise makes us healthier and reduces stress. Staying healthy is less expensive for our health care system, our employers and our families. A recent study shows that very modest amounts of biking (making half of your short trips by bike for four months during the course of a year) combines benefits of improved air quality and physical fitness that exceed $7 billion per year. With health care costs increasing and families coping with the recession, this is welcome news.

Funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects amounts to just 1.5 percent of total federal transportation outlays. This tiny amount of funding is aimed at infrastructure and safety improvements for the 10 percent of all trips made by bicycling and walking. Over 47,000 pedestrian and bicyclist deaths that have occurred over the last decade — two-thirds of those occurred on federal-aid roadways. This funding helps prevent fatalities and makes people feel safer and more comfortable so they’ll choose to bike or walk more often.

People often talk about achieving solid results for “pennies on the dollar.” Bike/walk funding proves this to be true and has for years.

We need Sens. Klobuchar and Franken to continue their strong leadership on bicycling and walking to ensure Minnesota’s success continues all the way to the bank.


Dorian Grilley is the executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and a coalition member of Transportation for America.