Before freaking out about the next cycling investment, we need to put our our very modest investments in walking and cycling infrastructure into perspective.
By Ryan McGreal
Published April 23, 2014
Yesterday, the City of Hamilton issued a news release capitalizing on the CAA's Worst Roads campaign to note that the City's Public Works Department maintains its own list of municipal infrastructure that is due for reconstruction.
The release includes of a list of priority road work projects and their associated costs. For each project, I've measured the distance and calculated the reconstruction cost per kilometre:
|West 5th||Stone Church||Linc||0.85||$2,900,000||$3,411,765|
|West 5th||Mohawk College (south entrance)||Gateview||0.85||$3,300,000||$3,882,353|
|Burlington St/Industrial Dr||Birch||QEW||5.00||$14,570,000||$2,914,000|
|Garth Street||Stone Church||Rymal||1.00||$4,500,000||$4,500,000|
|Mountain Brow Blvd||Mohawk Rd||Oakcrest Dr||2.20||$4,900,000||$2,227,273|
These nine segments of road reconstruction and water main work span 17.1 kilometres at a total cost of $52.4 million, with an average cost of $3 million per kilometre to complete.
Let us wait for the city's self-appointed fiscal watchdogs to go over these projects with a fine-toothed comb: scrutinizing every dollar, making us-vs-them pronouncements about the locations, agonizing over ongoing maintenance obligations, suggesting ways to save money - like closing lanes during the winter - and so on.
Don't hold your breath, however, because the people who were ¡outraged! over the modest cost of the three-kilometre, two-way Cannon Street cycle track will be curiously blase about the vastly higher costs of maintaining our automobile network.
Road lanes used by automobiles need to be reconstructed every 25 years at a cost of around $750,000 per lane-kilometre. That's $30,000 per lane-kilometre per year over the lifespan of the road, and it's on top of around $6,000 per lane-kilometre per year for regular maintenance and snow clearing.
Using a two-lane street that runs three kilometres as an example, we're looking at $216,000 per year in lifecycle costs, every year for the 25-year life of the street for a grand total of $5.4 million - at the end of which we need to start over again.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting we should stop maintaining our roads. I'm suggesting we need to put our very modest investments in walking and cycling infrastructure into perspective. Over 99% of public spending on roads goes into accommodating automobiles, yet we reserve the lion's share of scrutiny and hyperbole for the leftover slivers of investment in active transportation.
I'm also suggesting that we need to get better at making decisions on how best to design and maintain our roads based on net costs and benefits, rather than just phoning in the status quo.
Wear-and-tear on the road is a function of the number and mass of vehicles running on it, and everything we do to reduce wear-and-tear will extend the life of the street.
It takes around 1,000 bicycles on a lane to produce the same wear-and-tear as one subcompact car and 8,000 bicycles to produce the same wear-and-tear as one SUV. To produce the wear-and-tear of a single transport truck, you would need millions of bicycles.
It's a no-brainer that some of our excess lane capacity should be repurposed to encourage a lot more walking and cycling, especially in the lower city where automobile traffic volumes have been falling. Doing so will actually save the city money in lower lifecycle obligations, not to mention improved public health and increased economic vitality.
Of course, a few diehards will wade in and try to confuse the issue by claiming falsely that car drivers pay for roads or that making it safer and easier to walk and cycle will somehow not encourage more people to walk or cycle. However, the case is already clear for anyone willing to base a decision on the evidence rather than their own untested assumptions.