There have been many estimates made of the economic impact of cycling. Many have complained that too much tax money has been spent on widened highways and bike trails. Politicians have diverted funds from cycling projects to highways.
Now comes a study from Wisconsin which seeks to put a number on the total economic impact that cycling provides to the state of Wisconsin. The number is quite impressive.
Recreational cycling generates $1.5 billion in economic activity a year in Wisconsin, according to a first-of-its-kind study.
The figures, which include dollars produced by the state's bicycle manufacturing, sales and services industry, suggest cycling has as much impact on the state's economy as deer hunting.
"I don't think folks in Wisconsin appreciate just how important (biking) is in the state's economy," said state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, who commissioned the study. "We make a lot more bikes here than we do cars."
Graduate students in UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies conducted the review.
Until now, the state did not have a definitive study on the impact of cycling, Black said. "Biking is right up there with other activities like fishing, snowmobiling and hunting."
The most recent study of the economic impact of deer hunting, in 2006, totaled $1.4 billion, according a report for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
And a 2001 report by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism estimated snowmobilers spent about $250 million during the 2000-01 season.
The report on cycling found:
• 49 percent of Wisconsin residents enjoy bicycling for recreation, making it among the most popular outdoor activities in the state, according a 2006 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources study.
• Bicycle recreation currently supports more than $924 million in tourism and resident spending each year, of which nearly $533 million is direct impact occurring annually, such as travel, equipment sales and restaurant expenditures.
• Bicyclists from other states spend more than $535 million a year.
• Increasing nonresident bicycling by 20 percent has the potential to increase economic activity by more than $107 million dollars and create 1,528 full-time-equivalent jobs, mostly in retail, lodging and food service.
"When we started out this study, we didn't have any idea what the total economic impacts would be," said Melissa Whited, one of the UW graduate students who worked on the report.
"I think without a study like this it's difficult to really understand what it could do for a community," she said.
A 2006 study by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin estimated the economic impact of bicycle manufacturing, sales and services in the state at $556 million.
The study is more comprehensive in that it also considers the recreational and health impact biking can have in the state, said Amanda White, director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin's Madison office.
If residents of Milwaukee and Madison replaced even 20 percent of their short car trips with bicycle rides, the result would be a "substantial reduction" in health problems and the corresponding costs.
"It's really impressive to see the overarching impact that bicycling has when you combine health, industry and tourism," White said.
Kevin Hardman, the bike federation's executive director, said he will advocate through the governor's Bicycle Coordinating Council to update this report yearly.
Lisa Marshall, spokeswoman for the state Department of Tourism, said the department doesn't regularly study the economic impact of single sports, however tourism officials are anxious to study the cycling report.
"Bicycling is an important part of the state's $13 billion tourism industry and drives the economy in many communities that cater to bicyclists," Tourism Secretary Kelli Trumble said in a statement. "We look forward to the opportunity to review the wealth of information this report provides."