On Saturday night the Des Moines Register announced the major stops on the 2012 Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). The 471-mile ride will start in Sioux Center on July 21 and end in Clinton on July 28.
Overnight stops are after the jump, along with findings from a new study on the economic impacts of recreational bicycling for Iowa.
The event’s theme this year is “Celebrating 40 Years of Iowa,” and its less-intensive route should afford space to pause and reflect: The route is the 18th-shortest in RABRAI history and the 11th-flattest. Only eight routes since the ride’s 1973 inception have been easier.
RAGBRAI riders will start in Sioux Center (Sioux County) on July 21.
July 22: 54.4 miles with 1,583 feet of climb to the next overnight stop in Cherokee (Cherokee County).
July 23: 62 miles with 2,062 feet of climb to Lake View (Sac County).
July 24: 81.2 miles with 1,724 feet of climb to Webster City (Hamilton County).
July 25: 77.1 miles with 2,018 feet of climb to Marshalltown (Marshall County).
July 26: 84.8 miles with 3,576 feet of climb to Cedar Rapids (Linn County).
July 27: 42.2 miles with 2,272 feet of climb to Anamosa (Jones County).
July 28: 69.4 miles with 2,890 feet of climb to Clinton (Clinton County).
As a politics geek, I couldn’t help noticing that this route goes through a bunch of competitive Iowa House and Senate districts:
House district 48 (Webster City)
Senate district 36 (Marshalltown)
Senate district 38 (en route between Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids)
Senate district 49 (Clinton)
I wonder how many candidates will ride this year. Lots of current state legislators have done parts of RAGBRAI in the past. State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City has completed the ride several times.
Getting ready to host RAGBRAI can be a huge organizational task, but businesses along the route tend to benefit from the thousands of tourists on wheels. According to the Des Moines Register, “an economic study from the University of Northern Iowa two years ago found the [RAGBRAI] festival brings $24 million in new spending to Iowa, or $3 million for each hosting town.”
This week the Iowa Bicycle Coalition posted findings from a study on the “Economic and Health Benefits of Bicycling” in Iowa, conducted by the University of Northern Iowa’s Sustainable Tourism and Environment Program.
The project was sponsored by a grant from Bikes Belong, Creating Great Places, and members of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. Research tools were created to survey Iowa bicyclists, bikes shops, and bike clubs.
The study cites the economic impact of recreational cyclists’ spending to generate $364.8 million in direct and indirect impacts to the State of Iowa. This is equivalent to $1 million per day spent for cycling.
“The return on investment was much larger than expected. We know that communities recognize the impact that an event like RAGBRAI has on the local economy. But what about the rest of the year when cyclists aren’t concentrated on one route?” said Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.
In addition to being an economic generator, bicycling can curb health care costs. Iowans need more physical activity. The Iowa Department of Public Health reports 29.3% of Iowans do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control report 67.2% of Iowan adults were overweight or obese. Being sedentary and overweight leads to health problems increasing health care costs.
Bicycling can be part of the solution to Iowa’s health issues. The study estimates that bicycling saves the State of Iowa $73.9 million in healthcare costs for those who cycle recreationally. Another $13,266,020 in health care costs is saved by those who commute to work.
“More opportunities for Iowans to bicycle will help Iowa become the healthiest state,” says Wyatt, referring to the Healthiest State Initiative to make Iowa number one in health and wellness. “We know a lot of Iowans have bicycles, but may not have ridden them in some time. We need to find ways to encourage more bicycle riding.” Trails are an investment in which 41% of Iowans use for physical fitness and 51% of the population is interested in using trails according to the 2006 Iowa Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
Encouraging bicycling means continued investment in bicycle infrastructure like trails. The study indicates 66.5% of respondents would bicycle more often if there were more or better bicycle facilities. “Bike lanes, trails, cycle tracks, and other treatments make bicycling more convenient than driving.” states Wyatt. “The bicycle facility workshop at the Iowa Bicycle Summit shows how cities can integrate bicycle facilities into their community infrastructure.”
Small investments are made each year through the Iowa Recreational Trails Fund administered by the Iowa Department of Transportation through the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. In 2011 the legislature invested $3 million for trails. $2.5 million is in the budget for 2012. Efforts are underway to see the fund raised to $3 million or more. “This study indicates there is a solid return on investment through trails with more than $21 million being returned to the state in the form of sales tax. This study doesn’t include out of state tourism dollars and the potential in recreation tourism. As demonstrated during the Iowa Bicycle Summit, there is more we can in addition to trails to encourage more bicycling in Iowa.”
The full report can be downloaded here (pdf file).
Research in other countries and across the U.S. suggests that addressing women’s concerns is critical to getting more people to use bicycles for transportation:
“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’-just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.
Women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities for several reasons. First, studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.
“Despite our hope that gender roles don’t exist, they still do,” says Jennifer Dill, a transportation and planning researcher at Portland State University. Addressing women’s concerns about safety and utility “will go a long way” toward increasing the number of people on two wheels, Dill explains.
So far few cities have taken on the challenge. In the U.S., most cycling facilities consist of on-street bike lanes, which require riding in vehicle-clogged traffic, notes John Pucher, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers University and longtime bike scholar. And when cities do install traffic-protected off-street bike paths, they are almost always along rivers and parks rather than along routes leading “to the supermarket, the school, the day care center,” Pucher says.
Although researchers have long examined the bike infrastructure in Europe, they have only just started to do so for the U.S. In a study conducted last year, Dill examined the effect of different types of bike facilities on cycling. The project, which used GPS positioning to record individual cycling trips in Portland, compared the shortest route with the path cyclists actually took to their destination. Women were less likely than men to try on-street bike lanes and more likely to go out of their way to use “bike boulevards,” quiet residential streets with special traffic-calming features for bicycles. “Women diverted from the shortest routes more often,” Dill says.
I will often ride an extra mile or two to avoid busy streets. When riding to or from the downtown Des Moines area, I usually prefer a bike trail or a quiet street like Kingman to the bike lane on Ingersoll.
Any comments about RAGBRAI or bicycling are welcome in this thread.