Quantifying the Economic Value of Bicycle Tourism
A recent economic analysis values Wisconsin’s bicycle tourism at contributing $1.5 billion to the state’s economy. The gross state product is about $240 billion (in 2008) and tourism as a whole accounts for about a third of the state’s economy. So it’s not a huge chunk of the economy, but it’s cool that they found a way to quantify it – and that it contributes over a billion dollars. $535 million of which is attributed to out-of-state visitors who probably would’ve spent their money elsewhere.
Granted, the state has put a lot of money into infrastructure lately. “From 1993 to 2008, Wisconsin invested nearly $40 million of state and local funds in bicycle projects, with an additional $156 million contributed by the federal government.” (See the full document) Madison is one of the ten communities that earned a gold‐level bicycle‐friendly rating from the League of American Bicyclists. And at just over a fifth of the size of Texas, it has 80% as many Rail to Trails bike paths. So it’s understandable that it’s an attractive place to visit for cycle touring.
Cycling-related businesses in general contributed $600 million to the state’s economy. Major cycling companies headquartered in Wisconsin include Trek Bicycle Corporation, Saris Cycling Group, Planet Bike, Pacific Cycles, Waterford Precision Cycles, and hundreds of locally-owned bike shops and bicycle-friendly businesses support local economies, totaling about 13,200 bike-related jobs in the state.
Beyond the jobs and the sales, the study goes on to quantify the value of the health care savings and air quality benefits for the Wisconsin economy. It’s a tricky methodology to directly tie cycling to health and environmental benefits, not to mention the ephemeral benefits of being part of a cycle-friendly community.
Cycling clearly creates great economic benefits. I’m on the look out for a more comprehensive study that’s quantifying the value of bike commuters, eyes on the street, easier access to shops and familiarity with local commercial activities, meeting neighbors and building community, and the pure joy of cycling freedom.