How Can Cities Rapidly Expand Access to Cycling Infrastructure? - Urban Institute

The transportation sector is the largest single generator of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. One big reason: Americans drive a lot, rarely use other forms of transportation, and emit a lot of carbon dioxide in the process. Only 1 percent of all trips Americans take, even those over short distances, are by bicycle.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. In the Netherlands, 27 percent of workers commute by bike thanks to accessible, safe, and clean cycling networks.


To see whether US cities can get more people onto bikes, we examined a recent philanthropically funded program designed to jump-start municipal bike infrastructure improvements. Initiated in 2018, the Final Mile program supported a combination of advocacy, communications, and engineering support in Austin, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Providence. The program did not directly fund infrastructure, which was largely constructed using local capital funds.


Our analysis shows the Final Mile approach successfully encouraged a rapid expansion of local cycling networks. This expansion was enabled through a combination of locally set, ambitious goals for infrastructure expansion; continuous pressure on political officials to achieve those goals; and external funding for communications and engineering support.


Program cities successfully expanded municipal cycling networks quickly


By the end of 2021, all Final Mile cities except New Orleans reached the ambitious cycling infrastructure mileage goals set by local officials: Austin and Denver completed at least 100 miles of improved bikeways during the program, significant expansions in investment compared with previous years.


To assess how common the experience of the Final Mile cities was, we collected data on the number of miles of secure cycling infrastructure completed annually between 2016 and 2021 in the five program cities and nine similar comparison cities. We also divided each city’s investment by its population to ensure fair comparisons between different-sized municipalities.


The results are striking: before the Final Mile launched, program cities were building similar levels of cycling infrastructure as comparison cities elsewhere in the country. But by 2020, each of the five funded cities were building at least 60 percent more high-quality cycling infrastructure per capita than the median comparison city. And by 2021, this difference grew.


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