More than pedaling: Cycling hugely benefits Michigan’s economy, study finds

spring time 2

Ryan Barber and Sarah Whitaker soak up the sun as Barber fixes a vintage bike outside his Kazoo Swift store on Forest Street. Residents of Kalamazoo stepped outside as temperatures hit 60 degrees on the last day of March.

(Mark Bugnaski | MLive / Kalamazoo Gazette)

LANSING, MI — Riding a bicycle in Michigan has an estimated economic benefit to the state of $668 million a year, according to a study released Thursday by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The benefit comes from several factors, including sales of bicycles and related equipment, money spent on tourism, and reduced health care costs. The study also found that 39% of Michigan households said they used a bicycle to get around in the past year.

“What we hope this report shows is that there are significant economic benefits to a community, and that cycling as a mode of transportation or recreation has community benefits,” said Josh DeBruyn, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for MDOT.

“It may not be obvious to a lot of people,” DeBruyn added, “but $668 million in various contributions is a very big number.”

The $668 million economic benefit is divided into five categories:

  • Retail household expenditure on bicycles: $175 million
  • Manufacturing: $11 million
  • Avoided health care costs: $256 million
  • Reduced absenteeism: $187 million
  • Event and tourism spending: $38 million

The study, however, does not include out-of-state tourism, which has increased in recent years with the success of the Pure Michigan program. DeByrun said a future study will examine the impact of out-of-state participation in cycling events and cycling-related tourism on the economy.

DeBruyn said MDOT decided to conduct the study because they know anecdotally that bicycles are used more for transportation and commuting, but not for recreation. The infrastructure for cycling has also increased and they have seen more bikes in addition to cars and bike shops opening up.

“We know it’s growing here and we want to see if we can quantify it, put a number on it, so we can continue to support this growing industry.”

This is the first study to examine the economic impact of cycling in Michigan and the first study in nearly 15 years in Michigan, DeBruyn said.

The study also focused on how bicycles are used in five Michigan communities:

  • Traverse City, $5.5 million
  • Holland, $6.4 million
  • Detroit (southwest Detroit and Conner Creek Greenway area), $20.7 million
  • Ann Arbor, $25.4 million
  • Grand Rapids, $39.1 million

DeBruyn said they chose towns with different characteristics.

In Ann Arbor, for example, people were more concerned with travel and transportation, while in Grand Rapids there was interest in expanding the trail system. In Holland, the focus was more on tourism.

The study comes at a time when Michigan has seen an increase in the number of miles of trails and bike lanes, as well as a commitment from lawmakers to expand and connect trails across Michigan.

The study is drawn from multiple data sources, including the U.S. Census American Community Survey and a 2013 MDOT household survey on cycling.

Fritz Klug is a buzz reporter for MLive. Contact him at [email protected] or 269-370-0584. Follow him on TwitterFacebook or Google+.