How to create jobs: bike lanes

By Felix Salmon
June 22, 2011

We know that infrastructure spending is a good way of creating jobs. But what kind of infrastructure spending? Heidi Gerrett-Peltier looked at pedestrian, bicycle, and road projects in Anchorage, Austin, Baltimore, Bloomington, Concord, Eugene, Houston, Lexington, Madison, Santa Cruz, and Seattle — and came to a pretty clear conclusion:

Bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending: For each $1 million, the cycling projects in this study create a total of 11.4 jobs within the state where the project is located. Pedestrian-only projects create an average of about 10 jobs per $1 million and multi-use trails create nearly as many, at 9.6 jobs per $1 million. Infrastructure that combines road construction with pedestrian and bicycle facilities creates slightly fewer jobs for the same amount of spending, and road-only projects create the least, with a total of 7.8 jobs per $1 million.

This finding isn’t new, but it’s worth remembering as signs of detente start to appear in the war on bikes. It’s hot out there, people: no one wants or needs to ride fast. You get to a red light, stop at it. Take the opportunity to catch your breath and minimize your sweatiness upon arrival. And while you’re waiting, you can ponder the idea that every bike lane represents badly needed jobs in a recovery which is going much less well than expected.


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Aren’t those jobs just for the construction of the bike lanes? And how long would they last? Bike lanes don’t take very long to construct.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

My question, too. How long do the jobs last? My skimming of the paper didn’t answer the question.

If we say 1 year, then $1 million/$50,000 directly mailed to recipients = 20 students for a year at an expensive 4-year private college or university; 40 in-state students at an expensive state university. (Give or take a few bureaucrats to dole it out, and screw in the light bulbs.)

Posted by jbernar | Report as abusive

As a daily bike-lane user, I’m all for more bike-friendly infrastructure, but this was a lot of work to get to the more or less obvious:

“Thus in the projects we studied, the infra- structure with higher labor intensity of production will create more jobs for a given level of spending. ”

The simplest bike lane–a painted lane in the street–is basically all labor, little material cost. More complex projects require more material and equipment. So of course road construction gets less labor per dollar spent. Now, I suppose it is useful from a planning perspective to have it quantified, but it’s hardly a surprise.

Posted by Moopheus | Report as abusive

Around here, painting bike lane stripes is an on-going job. So many motorists drive in the bike lane or on top of the bike lane stripe that even the thermoplastic lines get worn down to invisible within two years. So they put in bike lanes one year, put them in another place the next, come back the third year to re-do the first ones, come back the fourth year to re-do the second ones, ad infinitum.

It would probably make more sense to enforce the existing law, which makes it a misdemeanor to drive in a bike lane (up to a year in jail!), but the police have never been willing to do something that might *help* bicyclists, and besides, they’re facing substantial layoffs.

Hey! Maybe we could hire the laid-off police to paint bike lanes. Then they’d get buzzed so often that they’d realize it’s a problem, and when they get their police jobs back, maybe they’d be more willing to enforce the law.

Posted by KJMClark | Report as abusive

Bike lanes also have multiplier effects which makes investment in them pay off even after the construction job ends. More bike lanes -> more bike riders -> more money spent locally on labor intensive products rather than imported capital intensive ones like oil -> lower pollution -> lower wear and tear on roads -> etc -> etc.

Posted by MaxUtil | Report as abusive

Cool metaphor, it makes sense.

Posted by M.Kingsley | Report as abusive

The study this article is referring to is a very convoluted creation of misinformation. The author handpicked projects, with no knowledge of transportation infrastructure construction, and used them to create the end to her means. In this case the mean was to show transportation funds spent on cycling created more jobs than funds spent on projects without special cycling facilities. Even someone with no experience with transportation infrastructure should have considered the difference between infrastructure and facilities. That also applies to confusing job creation with man-hours per job. That is just the tip of the obvious indicators that should lead readers to consider how much of this political economics study is manipulated to politically represent the results that the organization funding it desired, regardless of fact. This seems to be a recent trend in cycling advocacy that will end up doing more harm than good. The people in government, who ultimately make the decisions, may not approve of an attempt at being played for complete idiots. The media seems to enjoy passing information like this along without any research as to validity, and that makes it worthwhile for the creators to continue – that and the profit they gain from it.

Posted by DaveHolland | Report as abusive

Yes, bike lanes are a great way to waste money. They endanger cyclists because they’re almost always poorly implemented. But hey, I guess they do create jobs. Striping roads is not exactly a well-paid job, but a job is a job. The real job creation is in the after-effects – dead and injured cyclists (caused by the added conflicts at intersections) generate lots of high-paid labor in hospitals and morgues.

I’m just not sure I’m happy about that sort of job creation.

And personally, I’m offended at the automatic assumption that cyclists don’t stop at red lights. I know some do, but not all of us. I’ve never knowingly run a red light in my life, and I’ve been cycling on the road for 40 years, using my bicycle as my sole method of personal transportation.

I stop at red lights whether it’s hot, cold, raining or snowing, night or day.

Posted by Beery | Report as abusive

The entire premise of your article is flawed, no economist seriously believes in Keynesian economics anymore, which is when the government spends money to “create” jobs.

“We know that infrastructure spending is a good way of creating jobs.”  /2010/01/why-government-spending-does-n ot-stimulate-economic-growth-answering-t he-critics

Posted by 2Legit2Quit | Report as abusive

nice post friend

Cycle saddle

Posted by maddy58 | Report as abusive