(Photo: Getty Images)December 04, 2014 By Taylor Hill
Want to lower greenhouse gas emissions, get fit, and create new jobs? Ride a bike.
That’s the finding of the first comprehensive study on Europe’s cycling industry, which details a cycling economy that employs more than 655,000 people in industries such as retail, manufacturing, infrastructure investment, and tourism.
On just two wheels, the industry is creating more jobs than Europe’s high-fashion footwear industry (388,000 jobs), its well-established steel sector (410,000), and the United States’ Big Three automobile companies (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) combined (510,000).
Holger Haubold, fiscal and economic policy officer at the European Cyclists’ Federation, which commissioned the study, said that cycling allows cities and countries to cut carbon emissions without hindering economic growth.
“The study shows that cities and communities should take into account the numerous benefits of cycling when making investment decisions in the field of mobility,” Haubold said. “It proves that these benefits do not only consist of reduced congestion, reduced CO2 emissions, improved air quality, or improvements in public health, but also of a boost in economic growth and the creation of jobs.”
Right now, 3 percent of trips taken by EU citizens are by bicycle, and if that number were to double, Haubold says there could be more than a million cycling-related jobs by 2020.
U.S. citizens, by comparison, aren’t as bike-centric. In 2009, a National Household Travel Survey found that 1 percent of trips taken nationwide were by bicycle. Still, that’s a 25 percent increase in the amount of trips since 2001.
Why is the U.S. lagging?
One big issue is people’s beliefs about the safety of bicycles for commuting.
“Although cycling is safe as a mode of transport, the perception of personal safety might be different for an individual,” Haubold said. One of the main ways to make people feel safer on a bike? Get them off roadways where they’re sharing space with vehicles.
According to a 2012 national poll, 83 percent of Americans support bicycle infrastructure projects such as bike paths and bike lanes. But less than 2 percent of federal transportation funds are spent on walking and bicycle-related infrastructure.
The European Cyclists’ Federation argues that 10 percent of transportation budgets should be dedicated to biking-related infrastructure.
That would result in $205 billion in economic benefits for Europe through savings in health and fuel costs, reduced carbon emissions, and jobs created by tourism and bicycle sales.
“Besides quantifying the job creation effect of the cycling economy, the study also shows that cycling jobs are more geographically stable than other sectors,” Haubold said. “They benefit local economies, and they offer access to the labor market to workers who lack higher qualifications.”