Bikes bringing more value than timber

As they say, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The economic value of mountainbiking in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest has been estimated at five times its annual timber revenue and looks set to increase as promotions raise awareness of what is on offer.

A study by Crown Research Institute Scion shows the median annual recreational value of mountainbikers using the forest is $10.2 million – well above the $4.6 million earned through export revenues.

It’s the economy… stupid?

The more I look at bike-related stuff, the more I come to understand that riding bikes is about economics – and not just in terms of Nga Haerenga-type cycle tourism or saving yourself a few bucks on petrol.

Like so much of the burgeoning bike-promotion information, this infographic is American-centric. It has plenty of application here though. While we’re not in quite the same depth of trouble economically, we’ve got plenty of economic challenges of our own. One of those is the health dollar.

With 63% of us reported to be overweight and obese, our health spend is not going to get smaller. In fact it’s going to go through the roof. Those are your tax dollars, folks – and it’s your quality of life.

Now, everyone knows that moving more makes your life better. Less heart disease, less diabetes  and my goodness if those don’t happen to be two of the top expenditures in our health system.

So how about directing some more of our tax and rates dollars towards making it the easiest thing in the world to ‘take a seat’. I want bikes to be the most obvious option for nipping down to the dairy, going to work, or taking the kids to school.

What I don’t want is to be spending my tax dollars on amubulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff rubbish. That’s economically stupid.

Biking And Health
Created by: Healthcare Management Degree

Streets paved with gold? Nah, just cycle lanes

A recent study (Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study Of Employment Impacts) by The University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute tells us that bicycle infrastructure creates jobs. Of course just about any infrastructure or public works project will create some jobs, even if we hire people to dig holes and hire other people to fill those holes: There are better ways to get job growth from infrastructure projects.

Cycle Lanes = Jobs
Cycle Lanes = Jobs

What this study looks at is the jobs that are created by various modes of transport infrastructure. From the report’s executive summary:

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.

That’s over 46% more job creation per dollar of bicycle infrastructure than road-only projects. Certainly that return on investment (ROI) demands better than 0.7% of the transport budget for the next 10 years allocated to walking and cycling.

This information should hopefully help local planners here in Wellington get more funding for bicycle projects (hint: first we have to ask). This should also work for other cities, and I’m especially hopeful that Christchurch will be able to put this to good use as they rebuild. If anyone reading this has connections to those decision makers, feel free to pass along the info.

Of course this report is based on several US states, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the numbers would translate reasonably well into other countries with similar car-centric transportation systems, such as New Zealand. If anything, I would think that the benefits of cycle lanes, compared to motor-vehicle capacity, would be greater in a country that imports essentially 100% of its motor vehicles, parts and fuel: According to a report by TRAFINZ, “[New Zealand’s] three highest categories of import by dollar value are new vehicles, used vehicles and the fuel to power them.In other words, when we increase motor-vehicle capacity: The more we spend, the more we spend. When we increase cycle (and walking & public transport) infrastructure: The we spend, the more we earn.

Even if we ignore environmental sustainability, health benefits, and all of the other warm and fuzzy reasons why we like to see more cycle lanes, cycle lanes create jobs! And provide a much better return on investment than roads built for cars.

Are the Basin Reserve roading proposals really worthwhile?

Hiya!  Who wants to talk about the Basin Reserve flyover and money?  Tough.  We’re talking.

Let's see... money divided by big road projects equals...?

With apologies to all you admirable Ms. and Mr. Wizards out there, wearing your number caps and quadratic formula capes, I must declare: Math sucks.  Whether you make it a plural or not.  But it’s also darn helpful.  Sometimes, amidst all the jibber jabber debate surrounding infrastructure change, it’s roundly overlooked.  So, kudos to the new community group calling itself Community and Sustainable Transport (CAST) which has formed itself to respond to NZTA’s roading proposals for Wellington.

CAST is using math– goodness love them– to remind us all that cost and promised convenience are not the only things to consider in the initial planning stages of a giant land-, home-, and school-claiming project.  There’s also the value of the benefit.  It makes a ratio.  A cost-benefit ratio, even.

According to CAST, the $500 million project, as proposed, will require over 30 years to deliver $200 million in economic benefits.  This has David Laing, the group’s convener, asking why the government “is borrowing $500 million for such a poor return.”  He suggests that a bank deposit might yield a better return on the investment.  Wow.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have $500 million in your bank account?

CAST is cooking up some pretty tasty food for thought as we all mull over our submissions to the NZTA’s proposals (due on 26th August). First, vehicle kilometers travelled are static and falling.  As oil prices continue to rise, alternatives to fuel-consumption will likely be sought out by consumers.  That’s the demand part of innovation.  Unfortunately, the proposals respond to the reasonable demands of a fading era.

Second, CAST reminds us to take a look at the quality of life of Eastern suburb dwellers.  If Ruahine Road is widened, we don’t just lose a piece of the Town Belt, we  also expose those living within 200 meters of the road, as well as the students of Kilbirnie School and its adjacent Playcentre, to higher levels of pollution.

CAST is seeking better alternatives to the fairly limited options presented in NZTA’s proposals.  Instead of weighing the benefits of two different flyovers, a new tunnel and wider roads, it would prefer to see alternatives that include public transport, demand management, and cycling and walking components.  Not surprisingly, CAST is also seeking an alternative that delivers a more reasonable cost-benefit ratio.  Wise folks.

Those interested in learning more about CAST should make contact by writing to David dot Laing @ gmail dot com.   And everyone should take a moment to familiarize themselves with the NZTA proposals so they can chime in with their thoughts before the submission period ends in late August.

How to get more budget for cycling from the government… because 0.7% ain’t enough

Over at Cycling in Auckland, Lucy JH has posted on the underwhelming 0.7% of the transport budget for the next 10 years allocated to walking and cycling.

She asks for people’s suggestions on the best way to influence government in the area of transport policy. I’m cross-posting my response here.

I think the best way to get through to the government is to influence where you have influence. That’s not necessarily a direct route, but it works.

If you’re a parent, talk to other parents and the school about the Safe Routes to Schools thing, and look at setting up a cycling bus.

If you’re a business owner, talk to your Council, let them know you want your staff and customers to be able to bike to your business. Reward your staff and customers for doing just that. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Get your business voice heard.

If you know influential people, whether business, government or community types, talk to them about it.

If you’re a grandparent, do what you can to make sure your grandchildren have bikes and chances to ride them.

Whatever your sphere of influence, use it. Get the numbers up, that’s what the government listens to. Be the person who supports others – even if it’s just your kids. We all have the chance to set the direction of our country.

Image by Mikael Colville-Andersen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How do you spell Bikerakk?

Have you seen these bicycle racks around town?

Did you know they are made right here in Wellington? Recently I had a chance to talk to Duncan Forbes, one of the two guys behind the newly formed Bikerakk company.

Atom: How did you get started making Bikerakks?

Duncan: My co-founder Matt is a keen mountain biker. He had just purchased a brand new mountain bike and locked it up to a steel Sheffield stand outside Deluxe Cafe in Wellington after riding around Mt Victoria with his mountain biking mates. When he left Deluxe and went to get his bike it had fallen down on the Sheffield stand and the steel stand had chipped the new bike’s paint. We all know what it’s like when you damage new stuff – very annoying.

We noticed we could never find cycle stands where we wanted them and the design was not effective to lock a bike to plus the steel surface chipped the bike’s paint. We decided we could design and produce an effective cycle stand with lots of lockable loops in the right locations, the right height and length to lean a bike to lock it and be coated in a robust yet soft material to protect a bike’s paint. We also wanted to deliver a design that enhanced the look of public spaces (Matt is an architect) and wasn’t just a bent piece of steel in the corner. Bikerakk is the shape of a bike as that’s the perfect design to lock bike wheels and frame to plus the cycle shape celebrates cycling.

Atom: Does form follow function? Or does function follow form?

Duncan: Bikerakks’ first priority is to be an effective cycle stand. The perfect shape to lock a cycle to is a cycle design as the lockable loops are in the perfect position to lock wheels and frames. It needs a soft yet robust coat and waste car tyres on the way to landfills are the perfect coat.

Atom: You use recycled materials to make the Bikerakks?

Duncan: We use waste recycled car tyres and are working on a new cycle stand coated in waste plastic from the likes of waste fish crates and fruit bins.

Atom: All of the Bikerakks I’ve seen are black. Are they available in different colors?

Duncan: Yes, any color you’d like.

Atom: Can you do custom manufacturing for even more artsy installations? How about boring “A”, “U” and other utilitarian looking styles, but with recycled bike-friendly coatings?

Duncan: Yes,  we can work with customers who want custom designs, or more utilitarian looking designs.

Atom: Aside from the aesthetics and coating, what else makes Bikerakks different than other bicycle racks?

Duncan: Our latest Bikerakk can be a standalone bicycle stand or have a new disc we have developed clip in and out of the back wheel which can be used for company signage, community notices, cycling maps, branding, etc.

Atom: Over what period of time can the cost of a new Bikerakk be amortized by advertising revenue?

Duncan: If someone wants to sell advertising in their Bikerakks the return would depend on their location and the eyeballs that see their Bikerakk. One example of a Bikerakk installed in New Zealand paid for itself in just under 2 months through ad revenue.

Atom: Wow! Having grown up just outside of NYC, I’d have to think that some markets could have these Bikerakks paid for and generating profit with a few hours of ad revenue! Facility managers and bean-counters no longer have an excuse of looking at bicycle parking as an “expense” anymore when it could be a direct source of revenue!

Atom: How many Bikerakks are currently installed in NZ? In and around Wellington?

Duncan: We are now in eight cities and towns in New Zealand and Wellington has seven Bikerakks installed.

Atom: What city or facility has the most Bikerakks installed?

Duncan: Hastings has 55 Bikerakks through out the town and around Havelock North – Check it out:

Atom: What kind of feedback have you been getting about the Bikerakks?

Duncan: Cyclists absolutely love them and Councils are also getting amazing feedback from the public who also love them as a piece of sculpture that improves public spaces and promotes cycling.

Atom: Many cities, universities and facilities now have formal design and installation requirements for bicycle racks. Do the Bikerakks tend to be acceptable under these newer requirements?

Duncan: Bikerakks do meet these requirements. What we’re also finding is that Bikerakks are delivering more than being just a cycle stand – through it’s design it helps promote cycling in a city and the sculptural design is also appealing.

Atom: Where do you see the company in five years? Ten years?

Duncan: Our ambition is to be a massively successful export company known worldwide for our iconic and effective cycle stands based in Wellington and employing lots of Wellington people.

Atom: What kind of cycling do you do? What kinds of bikes do you ride?

Duncan: Matt is a mad keen mountain biker and rides an Avanti. I’m a cruiser and ride a Scott Speedster. I biked from Wellington over to Martinborough recently. I won’t be getting a Tour de France call up but I love it.

Atom: There are plenty of things that cities can do to promote cycling; what are your top-five wish-list items?

1. Dedicated cycling lanes.

2. Make dedicated cycle lanes lead into the centre of the city and locations where people want to go so that cycling would be the most convenient transport method to get there then you will get more people cycling which improves peoples’ health and reduces traffic congestion and pollution.

3. Lots of effective cycle stands with a coating that won’t chip bike frame paint in locations where cyclist want to use them. They need to be within 20-50 meters from cycle stop destinations.

4. Cycle racks on buses and trains so that you can use public transport integrated with cycling to move around the city and region.

5. An appropriate level of local government and central government funding to deliver my above four points. Cycling has so many benefits for society in terms health, recreation, family fun, commuting and the reduction of pollution and congestion through less  motor vehicles – it‘s a no-brainer as a positive contribution to society and should receive more funding.

6.  To achieve these objectives a city needs passionate cyclists, effective in local politics working in council responsible for cycling. We have seen at a number of councils people responsible for cycling who don’t cycle; they just aren’t effective at improving cycling in a city as they don’t really really care about improving cycling.

7. We must encourage our young to get into cycling at school. Schools should have bikes for those that can’t afford them and children should bring bikes along to school if they are able to and participate in fun cycling activities organized by the schools to get them enthusiastic about cycling.

Atom: That’s one of the longest top-five lists I’ve ever seen, but I’m glad you gave a little extra because #6 hits the nail on the head with the word “passionate”. That’s exactly what it takes to not just get things done and put a tick-mark in a box, but get them done right. Great ideas! I look forward to your campaign for local office!

Thanks, Duncan, for taking the time to talk! Best of luck with the new company!

The economics of cycling: Calculator tool

Recently I came across this calculator which focuses on the comparative economics of driving and riding. It’s an easy enough tool to build, I suppose, but I’m very pleased that someone has done it and put it out there. Quantifying the dollar values was really interesting. I was quite surprised at the sheer enormousness of the year-on-year savings.

The default values given are American-based so you’ll need to adjust for your own, NZ-based spend (and interest rates), but even if you have no idea what it costs to run a car just leave the default values in. It’s an exercise worth doing.