If you like to travel by bicycle but dislike having to deal with motor vehicles, you've probably ridden, or at least heard of the Great Allegheny Passage (from Cumberland, MD, to McKeesport, PA) and the C&O Canal Tow Path (from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland) which, when combined, create a 318-mile-long continuous trail between two busy urban areas.
Thousands of people use the Great Allegheny Passage for travel and recreation. Trail user demographics and the economic impact on local businesses were documented over the last few years and were released in August 2009 in a report entitled, "Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Study".
This detailed economic analysis consists of three phases: 2006/2007 sales revenue (Phase I), user demographics, habits, unmet needs, and spending (Phase II), and 2008 sales revenue (Phase III). Here's a summary of some of the key points:
Business owners indicated a quarter of their gross income was attributed to trail users and two-thirds saw an increase in their revenue due to being along the trail.
Despite the economic downturn in 2008, businesses saw an increase in gross revenue attributable to the trail (from $32.6 million in 2007 to $40.6 million in 2008) and paid nearly 20% more wages because of it. Total wages in 2008 = $7.5 million.
Travelers staying one or more nights spent an average of $98/day whereas locals and day-trippers only spent an average of $13/day. Overnight users traveled an average of 290 miles to the trailhead and back.
Over one-third of these overnight trail users reported household income of $100K or more.
Eight out of every ten trail users were 35 years of age or older.
One-third of the businesses along the trail expect to expand their business operations/services and/or hire additional staff because of the impact of the trail.
So what can we extrapolate from this report to the broader economic impact of 1) long-distance bike/hike trails, and 2) long-distance bicycle routes? And what does all this have to do with the U.S. Bicycle Route System?
First, in order to get the trail built or the bicycle route designated, there has to be buy-in. Businesses, transportation, and land management agencies, city leaders, tourism organizations, and financial supporters all want to know, "What's in it for me? Why should we support this route through our community?"
The quick answer is the daily spending amount of $98/day. (This is a nice number which transfers beyond trail users to anyone going on an overnight adventure by foot or bike.) The demographics of the overnight traveler, mature and affluent, speak to their spending capacity (but by no means do you have to be wealthy to travel by bicycle and you can certainly do it for less than $98/day!).
The fact that these businesses are expanding and employing more people because of the trail is also a key finding.
Finally, though the businesses in this study are along a popular trail that bridges two highly urbanized regions; the general insight is that business benefits. We know from the Adventure Cycling routes that touring cyclists bring a nice economic boon to numerous small-town grocers, cafes, campgrounds, motels, tourist sites and shops across the American landscape.
For the U.S. Bicycle Route System, these numbers may help convince a skeptic that a bicycle route through their community, their region, and across their state is a good economic decision.
photo by bikegeezer on Flickr