Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Paying for cycle infrastructure

A lot of people are complaining about the cost to build cycle infrastructure. Governments often boast about how much they spend on it. However we do not get that much for our investment. Let's look at it further.

The Dutch spend around 30 euro per person. I don't know how much they used to spend in the peak of cycle path building between the 1980s and early 2000s, but it was much more than we spend now. Even assuming our current exchange rate, which is pretty bad right now compared to the euro (I know that the Netherlands used guilders before the early 2000s), we would be investing around 45 dollars or so per person per year. I don't know how much of this covers maintenance, if any at all, but even if it were assuming all the maintenance costs as well, it still leaves plenty of money to build cycle paths, big bridges, so many that they have to use the same name twice (this is a joke, no literalism), and even now investing in more. And this time it tends to be more expensive than it used to be, because they did most of the cheap and mundane first. Building a hundred racks in a pedestrianized street it like the cost of rice compared to the indoor underground guarded spaces with 10000 spaces. But we still must do the mundane and cheap first, because it is what really drives the cycling.

They also use their money much more efficiently. I found that the resurfacing of the outer lane of 40 Ave costed 900 thousand dollars. The cost to put the bike lanes in was probably around 500 thousand dollars or so. I am guessing around 1.5 million for the whole procedure. This is conjecture note. I don't really have a budget to work with. Let's assume the 2013 exchange rate with the euro, where 1 CAD (Canadian Dollar) bought you 97 cents in Euro. At least that was much better than now, where it's about 66 cents in euro for 1 CAD.

In 2009, even during the Great Recession, the Dutch still managed to invest in cycle infrastructure. In particular, Assen rebuilt the Groningenstraat. 800 metres of fully rebuilt from the sandbed up, utilities included, spent about 800 thousand euro on it, and this included the complete reconstruction of a traffic light controlled intersection, or possibly 2. Edmonton's 40 ave was 4.3 km long. So the math works out to about 1 thousand dollars (currency exchange included per metre of completely rebuilt roadway. So we could have had a completely rebuilt roadway for 4.3 million dollars, and this is including a simultaneous green intersection. It's actually a quite similar roadway profile to 40 ave with bike lanes. Except that the buffer is concrete and the cycle lanes are protected and outside of the car area. The cycle track is wider in Assen, and the sidewalk is wider. Parking was retained in Assen. And this was a good deal for Assen because it got a lot for their money. Utilities included, the sandbed reconstruction, completely new asphalt, sidewalk, everything. Given that Edmonton spent about 1.5 million on 40 Ave for that, it was not a good deal on our end.

This is just one example, I could find loads of examples. But the big kicker is how much we spend overall. We are spending 20 million on active transportation for the period 2015-2018 and this includes cycling, walking, the latter probably much more expensive because it included full sidewalk reconstruction, curb ramps and pedestrian crossing signals, whereas cycling got a few lines of paint, a few signs and markings, and exactly 2 traffic lights shaped like bicycles. Dividing by population, and by the number of years, 4, we spend around 5 dollars and 50 cents per person. A large fries and a large coke at McDonalds for every single person each year. Surely we can part with more than just a minor meal? Assuming we spend something like 50 dollars a head in Edmonton per year on the cycling budget alone, we could very feasibly get the Dutch style infrastructure very quickly. It would be about 2 family meals for a 4-5 person family. Or 2 full tanks of fuel (assuming 50 litre tank) each year. Not that much.

We spend much more on other things. The 41 Ave interchange was 205 million dollars over 2 years, or about 100 million per year, divided by about 950 thousand 105 dollars per person per year to pay for it. I've pretty sure that if we can pay for that, we can pay for cycle infrastructure. In fact, we could have spent 1 41 Ave interchange over this whole capital budget cycle, and gotten Dutch style cycle infrastructure.

And sometimes people (especially your dad) say things like "You gotta spend money to make money". For example getting a loan from a bank for say 100 dollars so that you can afford to buy goods that you will sell at a higher price from a big time supplier and make 200 dollars, enough to pay back the bank with and some profit. The Americans tend to really like capitalism. Why don't they call for spending money in cycle paths all the time so that they can get the economic benefits of people not needing to spend so much on cars, not needing so much fuel, not needing so much money on roads, less money wasted in congestion, and less healthcare spending needed from pollution to sedentary lifestyles being avoided?

We have a lot of money. The Dutch spend their more wisely than we do. How much longer do continue our economic irrationality?

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