Cycling Up the Economy

Posting by Karina Ricks, Associate Director for DDOT’s Policy, Planning & Sustainability Administration

There was discussion following the election and since that has pitted the building of bike lanes against building jobs or expansion of employment opportunities.  This is absolutely a false dichotomy.  Not only is the cycling industry an employer in and of itself, but cycling facilities fill a critical void in safe, reliable, affordable means to access jobs and commercial destinations.

A month ago we launched Capital Bikeshare (or “CaBi” as it has already affectionately become known).  Some unflattering portraits have painted it as a (white) yuppy plot to infiltrate the city with a bunch of smelly hipster cyclists.  In the mere 30 days of operation this has proven it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  It is being used as designed – as a very meaningful, effective, efficient, and affordable new transit system. 

Transportation is expensive.  The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that car owners in the mid-Atlantic region spend $10,000 a year to own, operate and maintain their vehicle in the form of car payments, gasoline purchases, auto repairs, and parking fees and tickets.  That adds up to about $27 PER DAY!  For many of our District residents, that expense is impossible for them.  So they rely on public transit – buses, metro, and maybe the occasional taxi.  At about $4 round-trip, MetroRail is more affordable than private auto, but directly services only 40 locations in the city.  Moreover it doesn’t run late night or early morning (challenging if you happen to work in the hospitality or housekeeping sectors).  While MetroBus certainly covers more destinations and is slightly more affordable, reliability is widely variable and trips requiring one or more transfers can require a significant investment of time (an unfortunately common situation for workers living in Burrville, Bellevue or Berkley).   The widely varying travel times on bus means a trip may take 30 minutes one day and 50 minutes the next.  For many entry-level workers with families this means they have the Devil’s choice of either leaving the kids alone 20 minutes more or risk being 20 minutes late to work and losing their job.  That handicaps them, and the next generation, in climbing the ladder up to the next economic level.

Bikesharing is not a panacea, but it is a bargain.  At just $80/year for unlimited trips (of 30 minutes duration or less) the value is unmatched and the travel time reliable nearly to the minute.  Commuting roundtrip via bikeshare just once a month already breaks even with a bus commute on the same days making those extra trips – out to meet a friend for lunch, down to the doctor’s appointment, or home from the Metro stop – practically free. 

Whether it is used to make that “last mile” link from MetroRail or to make the whole trip, cycling not only provides a more reliable travel time and dramatically reduced wait periods, but it also provides some accidental exercise which improves overall health and reduces stress.  What’s more, it provides flexibility.  So you biked to work this morning but now it’s raining – no worries, take Metro home.  No need to return the bike to its starting place, just to the closest station.

The bike share program created 25 brand new jobs in the District, all at a living wage and all but one filled by District residents from all across the District.  Though it will be hard to track, the improved reliability and travel options it affords to the transit dependent communities will help residents keep their current jobs and hopefully climb up the employment ladder while at the same time broadening their access to additional employment centers and opportunities.

Bikes and jobs are not mutually exclusive.  One provides more opportunities for the other.  Why entertain such a false choice?

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