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May Is National Bike Month: City Spends $8M and Increases Number of Bike Commuters by 50 Cyclists. Total.

In 2000, there were 8 miles of bike lanes in Ann Arbor. Today, there are 37 miles of in-road lanes. John Hieftje’s administration has added just a little over 3 miles of lanes per year, on average, over the almost 12 years he has been in office.

Hieftje frequently crows that Ann Arbor now has 600 percent more bike lanes than when he took office. Don’t break out the fireworks just yet. The Mayor of Los Angeles recently announced his city would be adding 40 miles of bikes lanes per year. Don’t tell Hieftje or the local enviro-bots who support his anemic “achievements” as award-worthy “green” innovation, but Fort Wayne, Indiana has more miles of in-road bike lanes than does Ann Arbor.

In the February 2012 issue of Smart Planet, writer Jason Dearen asks the heretical question: “Are Bike Lanes Really Green?” Dearen writes, “The little science that has been done on this topic points to what most people have figured out from common sense: that increasing bicycle infrastructure in cities can reduce traffic and bolster public health….” He then goes on to present the other side of the street, as it were. “But, Susan Handy, who teaches environmental policy and planning in the University of California, Davis’ Transportation Technology and Policy Program, said bike lanes could potentially cause more air pollution if they resulted in stop-and-go traffic. Handy added, ‘I do not know of a general study that tests this possibility, but many cities have modeled the effect of bicycle lanes before installing them and found little effect on traffic.’”

Here in Ann Arbor, it’s likely the oft-touted increase in miles of in-road bike lanes has had little overall impact on either public health or traffic. Why?

What Hieftje, whom the Ann Arbor News once editorialized always “sprints to accept praise,” doesn’t like to mention is the fact that the number of people using Ann Arbor’s expensive bike lanes has increased only .3 percent since 2000. Yes. That’s one-third of one percent over the course of Hieftje’s tenure. Today, some 1,570 Ann Arbor residents commute to work by bike, according to census data gathered by the National Bike League. In 2000 when Hieftje took office, 1,520 people commuted to work by bike. After having spent over $5 million dollars on alternative transportation since 2003, in addition to the approximately $1.5-$2 million dollars spent on planning and installing the bike lanes while resurfacing streets, only about 50 more people commute by bike in Ann Arbor. Throw in the tax dollars gifted to the getDowntown program by the Ann Arbor DDA, and the the tab rises by another $1.3 million dollars. The getDowntown program works to encourage the use of alternative transportation and has had success increasing bus ridership. With bike commuting? Not so much.

In similarly-sized Boulder, Colorado 6,570 people commute to work on bike. Boulder sits atop the Top Ten list of cities in the U.S. in which residents bike to work. In Fort Collins, Colorado, which is slightly larger than Ann Arbor, there are 7,776 bike commuters, and triple the percentage of residents who commute by bike than in our city. Like Boulder, Fort Collins has over 300 miles of bike lanes.

The facts are clear. Biking to work is good for you, good for the economy and good for the environment. Cities that invest in biking infrastructure benefit big time. According to a March 2011 piece in Smart Planet:

Portland has spent an estimated $57 million on its biking infrastructure so far, and the city has one of the country’s highest biking rates  (a little more than 6 percent of the city’s residents commute by bike).

The study published last week in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health has found that during the next 30 years, Portland’s residents could save as much as $594 million in health care costs because of an investment into biking culture. Essentially, the money that is spent on biking infrastructure, is money that is eventually saved on health care costs, the study says.

In the local Boulder, Colorado newspaper, a January 2012 piece outlined the impact that city’s investment in its biking infrastructure has had on the local economy in that city of 90,000:

The businesses help support an industry that a new survey says accounts for an estimated $52 million in sales and 330 full-time jobs in Boulder.

“Cycling is a core of the city,” Smith said. “It’s pretty incredible how people not only have bicycles in town, but they have multiple bicycles.”

The economic impact survey was released Wednesday by Community Cycles, a local nonprofit that educates and advocates for the safe use of bicycles. The organization based its findings on surveys sent to 41 businesses in 2011.

Community Cycles found that bike-related retail, rental and repair shops supported 214 jobs and generated more than $24.4 million in revenue in 2010, while manufacturing supported 13 jobs and generated $10.4 million in sales. Education and advocacy organizations supported 48 jobs and generated $7.9 million in revenue, and miscellaneous groups supported 55 jobs and generated more than $9.5 million in revenue.

So why aren’t more people biking in Ann Arbor? Could it be a lack of a real political commitment to alternative transportation coupled with the current City Council’s addiction to parking revenues to balance the budget blown out by unfunded pension obligations and capital construction debt obligations that have tripled?

According to the web site of the National Bike League, a non-partisan advocacy group, “National Bike Month (May) is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride. Whether you bike to work or school; to save money or time; to preserve your health or the environment; to explore your community or get to your destination, get involved in Bike Month in your city or state — and help get more people in your community out riding too!”

The group collects bike commuter data on 277 of the largest cities in the U.S. Ann Arbor ranks near the bottom of the list at number 187 in terms of miles of bike lanes, and the percentage of residents who use them. That hasn’t stopped Ann Arbor politicos and the DDA from frittering away tax dollars on bike hoop “art” and other “improvements” that are not enticing more residents to commute regularly by bike.

In 2012, the city of Ann Arbor budgeted $181,000 for alternative transportation, including the installation of “sharrows.” A November 2011 piece in Grist describes sharrows thusly:

A “sharrow” — the word is an amalgamation of “arrow” and “share the road” — is a larger-than-life thermoplastic symbol of a bicycle topped by two chevrons pointing the way forward. More technically known as “shared lane markings,” they’re intended to remind two-wheeled and four-wheeled road users alike to share with each other, and also to encourage people on bikes to take the lane when it’s too narrow to ride side-by-side with car traffic.

Sharrows are “politically easy,” according to the piece is Grist, and the author also points out facts that reveal many of Ann Arbor’s are incorrectly installed: “Federal regs now say that sharrows must be at least four feet from the curb if there’s no parking, 11 feet from the curb if there is.” Sharrows on downtowns Ann Arbor streets frequently put bikers right next to parked cars.

In the 2013 budget, the amount for alternative transportation was tripled to $448,265. So what are Ann Arbor taxpayers getting for their Act 51 alternative transportation money? More sharrows?

To begin, a portion of the money set aside for the purpose of “maintaining and extending non-motorized pathways,” according to the 2013 draft budget, has in part gone to pay the six-figure salary of the city’s Transportation Program Manager, Eli Cooper. In Fiscal Year 2011 60 percent of Eli Cooper’s time was charged to the alternative transportation fund. In 2009, the city dropped $885,957 on alternative transportation and in 2006 spent $723,844. In 2009, a large chunk of the money was given over to a study for the Fuller Road Station fantasy. Between 2000 and 2013 Ann Arbor has spent over $8 million dollars on alternative transportation projects, bike lanes, administration and staff. The table below shows how much has been budgeted and spent just since 2009:

Fiscal Year Amount budgeted for alternative transportation
2013 $448,265
2012 $181,000
2011 $616,173
2010 $796,766
2009 $885,957

In 2012, Boulder budgeted $528,264 on improving/extending bike paths in that city. Between 2005-2011, Boulder budgeted, on average, about one-half to-thirds of what Ann Arbor did for bike path maintenance. However, Boulder has over 300 miles of in-road bike lanes versus the 37 miles in Ann Arbor. Boulder also has quadruple the percentage of residents who commute to work by bike (12.3 percent).

Ann Arbor’s Transportation Department web site includes this obvious fact, “Auto travel within the City of Ann Arbor has been on the rise.  According to the WATS travel demand model, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for the City of Ann Arbor increased by 9.8% from 2000 to 2010, from an estimated 481,607,203 miles to 529,238,685.”

After over a decade of fauxgressive greenwash served up by Hieftje, local enviros and Michigan enviro groups that endorse and reward under-achieving, Arbor’s biking infrastructure, as well as the total number of residents who use it have increased at a pace that is well below national levels, according to an article about the proliferation of bicycle commuting in The Atlantic. Between 2000 and 2009, Anchorage, Alaska, Buffalo, New York, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and even Detroit saw triple, quadruple even quintuple the overall gains in the percentages of residents who commute by bike than did Ann Arbor.

So how can Ann Arbor increase not only the miles of in-road bike lanes, but more importantly the number of residents using those bike lanes to levels that justify the expenditure of taxpayer money and use of staff time?

1.  Get with the research

A recent study of Seattle residents found that those living near bike paths had an increased likelihood of riding, but saw no effect for bike lanes. According to a recent study: “In sum, traffic-free paths connecting suburbs and cities ‘would appear to be insufficient in encouraging a shift from car travel to cycling for everyday practical journeys.’ The important lesson for policy makers is that bike paths and bike lanes may both increase ridership, but in different ways. While the former may encourage recreational riding, that doesn’t necessarily translate into everyday cycling.”

2.  Get serious about supporting alternative transportation versus parking (and parking revenues)

Tim Jones of Oxford Brookes University conducted a study that concludes: ”More specifically, provision of good quality separate cycling facilities alongside heavily travelled roads and linking to everyday facilities that people need to use, self-enforcing speed restrictions using traffic calming and more intelligent design across residential neighbourhoods, coupled with making driving expensive and inconvenient in central urban areas through various restrictions on car use and car parking. Encouraging the public on to the ‘nursery slopes’ of Sustrans style traffic-free paths in order to acquire the skills for cycling on the road network for everyday purposes seems unlikely to create a mass modal shift away from journeys by car.”

3.  Get serious about setting aggressive goals and measuring results

In cities such as Seattle and Portland, city officials conduct bike commute counts. San Francisco, for example, has set a goal that 20 percent of the commute trips in that city be on bike by 2020.

4.  Get with the program

In cities such as Berkeley, Boulder, Seattle, San Francisco and New York, officials have, yes, programs to promote year-round bicycle commuting. Ann Arbor officials, instead, offer residents excuses as to why bike lanes are not maintained. Interestingly, in the city’s 2009 application for recognition by the League of American Bicyclists for recognition as a “Bicycle Friendly” community, Eli Cooper claims that the Field Services Department’s maintenance practices ensure that snow removal is performed full road width (including bike lanes) until the snow banks begin to encroach on the road width, and then it is pushed back further when time and conditions permit.”

5.  Get real about maintaining current bike paths

With faded lines, potholes, debris, and use by homeowners for recycling and garbage containers on collection days, bike paths in Ann Arbor are improperly policed and need much better care.

6.  Get real about education

In the city’s 2009 application for recognition by the League of American Bicyclists for recognition as a “Bicycle Friendly” community, Eli Cooper describes the extent of the city’s bicyclist education program as a “brochure” available at City Hall and online. 

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1 Comment for “May Is National Bike Month: City Spends $8M and Increases Number of Bike Commuters by 50 Cyclists. Total.”

  1. Great article, thanks. Amazing that the “liberal” (?) “englightened” (?) town of Arbor would have such a piss-poor record on this. Seems that we have other priorities — such as countless millions spent on parking structures.

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