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The Daily Climate

Building Bike Commuters One Bike Lane at a Time

Bicycle commuting can improve health and mitigate climate change. But states are in neutral.

Brian Bienkowski, The Daily Climate

Bike-to-Work Day in Seattle. Washington is spending the most in the nation on projects that incorporate a bike- or pedestrian-friendly element, according to an assessment of state highway spending. Photo by Don Brubeck/flickr.

It's that time of year: Bicyclists young and old are lubing chains and dusting off cheap supermarket bikes, top-of-the line Treks and everything in between.

A bike, of course, offers a way to get exercise, reduce your carbon footprint or just have fun. But biking activity, in large part, is driven by the pedaling opportunities available in your community. And just about no matter where you are in the United States, the opportunities available aren't going to change much in the near future, according to a cycling group's analysis.

"States are not planning to spend all that much on biking and walking over the next four years," said Ken McLeod, a legal specialist for Advocacy Advance, a partnership between the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking & Walking. 

The group assessed transportation spending in all 50 states, looking at projects on the books over the next four years and costing a total of $697 billion in mostly federal money. Bike and pedestrian-only projects slated for the next four years account for $5.5 billion of that total, less than 8 percent.

Something for bikers

The 112-page report, Lifting the Veil on Bicycle and Pedestrian Spending, also cast a wider net, looking at road projects that included a bike or pedestrian element, such as a bike lane.

Washington, Maryland, Alaska, Massachusetts and New Jersey lead the nation in that category. Washington tops the list, with 27.1 percent of all planned project spending offering something for bikers or pedestrians, according to the 112-page analysis by the cyclists' league. 

Five states have earmarked 5 percent or less of their transportation cash for projects with a biking or walking component, with Oklahoma's 1.3 percent at the bottom, the analysis found. 

Biking is not all about sunshine and tight shorts – it's increasingly a serious mode of transportation. The number of bike commuters has increased about 10 percent since 2011 and 60 percent since 2000, the U.S. Census estimates.  

Health impacts

Does it make a difference? For your carbon footprint, yes. Total emissions to make and maintain a bike and fuel its rider is about 25 grams of carbon dioxide per mile, compared to 433 grams per mile to produce, maintain and drive a car, according to a 2011 report by the European Cyclists' Federation.

Healthier communities have more bike lanes and sidewalks. Researchers have found that cities and states with more bikers and walkers had less obesity and lower diabetes rates.

But drivers, at least in the United States, still get the bulk of transportation resources: For every $1 spent on transportation projects by states, about 2 cents goes toward biking and walking projects, according to an analysis by the Alliance for Biking & Walking.  

"We need transportation choices and options in how we get out and about," said Christy Kwan, an outreach coordinator for Advocacy Advance. "It's important for our environment, health and economy."

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