For many Minnesotans cycling is nothing more than a Sunday frolic, but a new report finds that the state’s bike industry produces $780 million in annual economic activity, 5,519 jobs and millions of dollars in health care savings because of reduced obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
And get this: Fully 13.6 percent of Twin Cities residents commute by bike, at least once in a while.
Those are the results of the first major investigation into the health and economic effects of the state’s bicycling industry, commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to help measure the financial return on taxpayers’ investment in biking infrastructure. “This will help us understand how biking contributes to the health and vitality of communities,” said Sara Dunlap, a MnDOT planner.
Despite its cold winters, Minnesota — and the Twin Cities in particular — has long been recognized as one of the country’s biking-est places. Minneapolis leads the nation in the concentration of bike lanes and paths (5.8 per square mile), the number of regular commuters (4 percent, according to the U.S. census), and has the second-lowest biking fatality rate among the top 50 largest cities.
But this is the first time the state has totaled the economic value of biking in terms of industry, tourism, recreation and health. The study was designed to guide state leaders in the always-contentious process of setting budget priorities, even as some legislators are questioning the value of bike lanes. One bill that never made it through a committee hearing would have required bicyclists to obtain permits to ride in bike lanes.
“It will help advocates make the case that investments in bicycling far outweigh the costs,” said Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. And the study didn’t include estimates of how much individuals save in gasoline and car maintenance, or the environmental benefits from lower air pollution, he said.
It was compiled by researchers at the University of Minnesota through surveys of bikers and businesses, crunching public health data and computer modeling.
Much of the economic value came from $616 million generated by manufacturers and wholesalers based in Minnesota, including Quality Bicycle Products and Park Toole — both global bicycle equipment manufacturers and exporters.
But Xinyi Qian, the University of Minnesota Extension Service professor who headed up the economic analysis, said that biking events — organized rides, high school and other races, mountain bike events, and tours — also generated significant amounts of tourism and recreational spending statewide. They produced $14.3 million in economic activity in 2015, and an average of $121 dollars a day spent per participant.
The health savings are considerable as well, said Mark Pereira, professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, who headed up the public health side of the study. That’s partly because bicycling seems to offer some unique health benefits.
“Maybe because it becomes so much more a part of your lifestyle, more so than walking,” he said.
For example, biking to work three times a week was associated with a 32 percent lower likelihood of obesity and 28 percent lower risk of high blood pressure — which produce substantial health savings and result in fewer premature deaths, he said.
The health analysis did not include the risks from bicycle accidents, Dunlap said. But MnDOT is looking into doing that research as well.