Local advocates are hosting an event this week to raise money and awareness about the advantages of having a bikeable, walkable community
“Biking and walking is … a very healthy lifestyle,” Bike WalkChattanooga Vice Chair ChrisCarr said.“There are economic interests around being connected to [places] and slowing down, shopping and spending money when you’re walking and biking.”
The Bike WalkChattanooga event is slated for Feb. 23 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at The Daily Ration, 1220 Dartmouth St.
The organization’s mission is “to enhance the quality, safety and accessibility of the Chattanooga area for walking, biking and transit by promoting community, civic engagement and public policy.”
Funds raised at this week’s event will support the organization’s parent group, Bike Walk Tennessee, and officials also want to spread the word about why they think their mission is important.
Biking, walking and creating a community conducive to those activities mean economic benefits for a city, Carr said.
“There are huge economic benefits for the city that are a little bit harder to quantify for people that are more skeptical,” he said.
But some studies show quantifiable details about the perks.
Biking and walking can also save $5.6 billion in health care costs in the United States, according to the same study.
Cycling contributes about $133 billion annually to the United States economy. It supports jobs, generates tax revenues and benefits businesses, according to an article from a Raleigh, North Carolina, senior transportation planner.
Carr said that Chattanooga has seen some of those benefits. For example, in 2013, Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships brought more than$1 million to Hamilton County.
The five-year contract for Ironman Chattanooga could have a $40 million economic impact on the area.
“We wouldn’t get those [events] if we didn’t have a growing reputation around the country for being a prime outdoor destination,” Carr said.
These issues are not without dispute.
There has been opposition in the past to the creation of bike lanes in Chattanooga, specifically in North Chattanooga. City leaders dropped plans to add bike lanes there after community opposition, including some from business leaders.
Although Carr sees the benefits of devoting funds to and creating infrastructure for cycling and walking, accomplishing that requires lobbying.
The money raised at this week’s event will help those efforts, he said.
Last year,Tennessee legislators introduced a bill that would have restricted the use of gas taxes. It wouldn’t have allowed those funds to be used for bike lanes, greenways or similar infrastructure.
Bike Walk Chattanooga and Bike Walk Tennessee fought against the bill, which eventually died in committee.
“We pulled together a huge action alert and got over 3,000 responses [to a petition] from people across the state,” he said. “People were calling legislators to speak out against this bill.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to push for a gas tax increase, but Carr said it’s unclear if legislators will bring back the bill that limits uses of the tax.
“Chattanooga has benefited greatly from federal and statewide funding for biking and walking,” Carr said.
At the upcoming fundraiser, the organization’s leaders will also be giving people information so they can get more engaged in the political process.
“I do think it’s important, given the political climate for the past year that people are more politically engaged and invest time and resources in things they care about,” he said.
At this beginning of this year, a study from theSocial Work Office of Research & Public Service at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville found that state residents support having greater investments in biking and walking infrastructure.
The study also found support formultimodal transportation-highways, roads, bridges, trails, sidewalks, bike lanes and public transit. Survey respondents also said they think decision-making about transportation spending should happen at a local level.
“This survey shows that Tennesseans want more biking and walking opportunities in their communities,” board of Bike Walk Tennessee Chairman John Paul Shaffer said in a prepared statement. “Voters believe that more sidewalks, separated bike lanes and off-street trails can make a difference in the safety and quality of transportation options for everyone in the state, regardless of whether they live in urban, suburban or rural communities.”
Support for biking and walking infrastructure isn’t limited to urban areas. A majority of respondents in small towns and rural nonfarm areas indicated there were “too few” on-street bike lanes, walking and biking paths, and off-street trails in their communities.
Support for spending any revenue increase on multimodal forms of transportation was highest in small cities (64.1 percent), followed by towns and large cities (58.7 percent each), rural nonfarm areas (53.6 percent) and small towns (50.4 percent), according to the study.
Click here for the study.