In a recent story from SavannahNow.com concerning the debate over deepening Savannah’s harbor, some unfortunate and misguided comments were made by Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
Defending the controversial, $550 million project, Foltz says, “This is not infrastructure for a water park or a bicycle path.” He adds, “This is infrastructure that is absolutely necessary for the nation.”
While we sympathize with the issues GPA faces (bicycling facilities are an integral component of the transportation infrastructure yet struggle with persistent public misunderstanding on their perceived value and importance), Foltz’s implication is clear: bicycle facilities are frivolous.
We couldn’t disagree more, and a wide variety of data supports the need for increased investment in bicycling infrastructure, especially in Georgia.
Grouping bicycle facilities with “water parks” is particularly wrong-headed, since water parks serve no transportation function (except perhaps to create summer-time traffic issues at the gate). A network of interconnected paved and un-paved trails, bicycle lanes, and “bicycle paths,” on the other hand, can have a profound impact on two problematic issues in Georgia: the economy and public health.
Economically, investment in bicycle infrastructure is forward-thinking and business savvy. Bicycling facilities are a proven economic development tool. As economic data from Oregon, Colorado, and North Carolina clearly demonstrates, expanded bicycle facilities yield high returns in terms of job creation, tourism, and real estate values. Many businesses want to locate in areas with a high quality of life, and all communities with a consistently high rank in quality of life have extensive bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. Bicycle tourism is also growing, as Roswell, GA, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and other communities across the country are learning. Building “bike paths” builds economic opportunity and long-term prosperity for Georgia.
From a public health perspective, Georgians are in dire need of active transportation options. 27% of Georgians are considered obese. The ultimate cost of obesity and its attendant chronic health problems is borne by Georgia’s taxpayers. Comprehensively planned and implemented bicycling & pedestrian infrastructure improvements cost a fraction of highway (and harbor) projects but result in long-term reductions in health care costs. Trails and greenways also serve as affordable family recreation opportunities, providing access to all ages and skill levels. Active transportation choices lead to healthier individuals and stronger families.
Georgia currently ranks 35th in the nation for its bicycle “friendliness,” according to the League of American Bicyclists. This ranking incorporates infrastructure investment levels, and Georgia has fallen four spots since 2009. Comments like Foltz’s reinforce this sad state of affairs, where our citizens are locked into a single transportation option, deprived of opportunities for physical activity, and often forced to build sprawling communities that lack a sense of community and will continue to lose property value.
We call on Mr. Foltz to clarify his comments and assert the importance and necessity of bicycling infrastructure in a robust, healthy, economically sustainable transportation system.