Battle of the bike lanes continues

By Adam Newman

I don’t think this debate will ever end, but I’m here to bring you the latest arguements on either side.

In a recent New York Times blog post, Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusets Amherst, examined the economic impact of bike commuting:

Cars enjoy huge direct subsidies in the form of road construction and public parking spaces, as well as indirect subsidies to the oil industry that provides their fuel. These subsidies far exceed the tax revenue generated by car use (as this excellent discussion of the technical issues at stake in these calculations makes clear.)

Yet cars impose major social costs: their use contributes to global warming, traffic congestion, accident fatalities and sedentary lifestyles.

Bicycle use is good for both people and the planet. In a country afflicted by obesity and inactivity, people who get moving become healthier. Riding a bike to work or to do errands is far cheaper than joining a gym. Cutting back on gas consumption improves air quality, reduces dependence on imported oil and saves money.

She also points out how several European cities are almost aiming to make vehicle traffic as difficult as possible, something that many New Yorkers are claiming Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing in their city.

The brushback has been well documented in Bicycle Times and elsewhere, so I’ll spare you the details, but it did provide the New Yorker’s John Cassidy with material for a one, two, three-part piece on why the money and effort to construct the lanes in New York has gone too far.

But from an economic perspective I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion. Beyond a certain point, given the limited number of bicyclists in the city, the benefits of extra bike lanes must run into diminishing returns, and the costs to motorists (and pedestrians) of implementing the policies must increase. Have we reached that point? I would say so.

Plenty of outraged readers and commentors prompted posts two and three, but two of the more considered responses come from Felix Salmon of Reuters and on the Economist’s web site.

I’m not going to take sides on an issue like this. You likely know where I stand. But I do want to hear what you think in the comments below.



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