Like with car pool lanes, the rationale for more bicycling infrastructure is that if they are built, more people will use them, and it will save the environment, public health, etc. but like with car pool lanes, the reality turns out to be different. In actual usage 25 percent of highways or more get blocked off for vehicles with multiple occupants while 7 percent of occupants use them, which leads to higher traffic, and the stress and accidents that go with it, and worse emissions due to slower cars.
Cities that have added more bicycle infrastructure are proud of it, and riders love it, but they are almost all people who did it anyway. Compared to the cost in environmental damage and resources, it has been far too expensive.
Yet a new analysis of Copenhagen, a city of cyclists, finds it is a whopping 6X more expensive to drive a car rather than cycling. That's a number so high it smacks of advocacy rather than science. Advocates in the vegetarian community also created a metric where it was worse for the environment to walk to the grocery store than to drive if you eat meat, 'it takes a gallon of gas to create a pound of beef', which despite being incorrect by a factor of 10 is still popular, and water activists have created 'virtual water', which claims it takes 140 liters of water to create a cup of coffee, which was also wildly exaggerated.
Is a bicycling cost-benefit analysis just as bogus? Stefan Gössling from Lund University and Andy S. Choi from the University of Queensland looked at the cost-benefit analysis that the Copenhagen Municipality uses to determine whether new cycling infrastructure should be built. Obviously politicians in Copenhagen are not getting appointed or elected if they don't accept cycling metrics so calibrate your expectations regarding scientization of politics accordingly.
They turn knobs for hard to estimate factors, such as air pollution, climate change, travel route, noise, road wear, health and congestion in Copenhagen.
They say that if these estimated costs to society and the costs to private individuals are added together, the impact of the car is EUR 0.50 per kilometer and the impact of the bicycle is EUR 0.08 per kilometer, and that one kilometre by car costs EUR 0.15, whereas society earns EUR 0.16 on every kilometer cycled in those intangible future benefits
"The cost-benefit analysis in Copenhagen shows that investments in cycling infrastructure and bike-friendly policies are economically sustainable and give high returns," says Stefan Gössling.
Top image by Sascha Vongehr