KPBS’s article Are Cycle Tracks a Better Way to Bike? published today weighs in on alternatives to bike lanes such as cycle tracks and in doing so presumes that the bike modal share in U.S. cities must be significant enough to warrant this discussion and that the public coffers must be full of discretionary funds for such investments.

Though most people are not adverse to bike lanes and making San Diego a more bike friendly city, there is a concern about the larger trends of committing and spending funds (that we don’t have) for alternative modes of transportation in lieu of committing and spending funds to repair the road and freeway infrastructure that already exists.

Bike lanes, walkable communities and mass transit are new trends in the sustainable development agenda that are being lauded by planning departments and elected officials as solutions for reducing our vehicle miles traveled in order to lower GHG emissions.

Non-profit bike coalitions like Bike San Diego are taking advantage of these new trends toward multi-modal transportation and are doing a good job of getting their voices heard despite the fact that they represent a minority. “Slate magazine wonders why “cities like Los Angeles or San Diego, with their minimal precipitation and moderate temperatures, can barely manage to break a 2 percent bicycle mode share.”” [Source]

Building bike lanes, walkable communities and light rail are an essential part of what advocates of sustainable development would consider a successful smart growth plan. In 2006, The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy evaluated the effectiveness of smart growth policies in four states that had well established smart growth programs and in four that offered a range of other land management approaches. When evaluating bike commute usage they found that “while the bike/walk share was generally higher in the smart growth states, its share declined over time…” [Source]

In 2007, at the Trails and Greenways Conference, they found that “overall biking/walking made share [was] in decline, with 600 of the 692 jurisdictions experiencing percentage decreases in this mode of travel between 1990 and 2000…” [Source]

“Biking and walking paths/trails (though desired amenities) are being proposed at a construction cost of around $26,000/mile plus $1600/year for maintenance. Meanwhile, roads used for shipping of goods and getting people to work need repairs averaging “$78.9 Billion over the next 10 years.”” [Source]

Smart growth experts make claims about the anticipated benefits and outcomes their strategies (such as bike lanes for commuting) would have upon sustainable growth management and how they would affect housing affordability, transportation, and GHG emissions. Unfortunately the data they use to support their claims are often skewed, outdated and contradictory.

Spending billions of tax payer dollars on bike lanes or removing car lanes for the purposes of street equity (cars, public transportation, pedestrians and bikes sharing equally) is not financially sustainable. For an economy to thrive, commuters need well-maintained roads, commuter lanes, van pools, and easy access to these roads so that they can get to work quickly, efficiently, and safely.

Cities/town should budget for the creation of bike lanes without sacrificing maintenance of existing road infrastructure. If they cannot do this, then bike infrastructure expenses should be placed on the list of items “to do” when the budget is able to afford them. Like most places in life and business, a ‘Return on Investment’ (ROI) should be a strong component of any investment decision. The data results do not support the benefits of bike lane infrastructure at the expense of traditional means of transportation.