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  September 21, 2011

Bikes a Path to Jobs

Heidi Garrett-Peltier: Roads built with bike paths create more jobs and promote green economy
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Heidi Garrett-Peltier holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and works as an assistant research professor for Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). Her research focuses on the employment impacts of public and private investments, particularly in the realm of clean-energy programs. Heidi has written and contributed to a number of reports on the clean energy economy (see Recent publications, below). She has also written about the employment effects of defense spending with co-author Robert Pollin, consulted with the U.S. Department of Energy on federal energy programs and is an active member of the Center for Popular Economics.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. With unemployment still at record levels, there's a lot of talk about further building of America's crumbling infrastructure, and people always talk about roads and bridges as the prime example. Well, one study says if the object is short-term employment, it's not just about building roads. And they've looked at one very specific piece of this, and that's about the use of bicycles and actually building infrastructure for bikes on existing roads and on new roads. And now joining us to talk about her paper is Heidi Garrett-Peltier. She's at the Political Economy Research Institute, PERI, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and her paper is entitled Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impacts. Thanks for joining us, Heidi.

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER, PERI: Thanks very much for having me, Paul.

JAY: So what did you set out to uncover or research?

GARRETT-PELTIER: There are other studies that have looked at some of the economic benefits and some of the non-economic benefits of building bike lanes and multiuse paths that joggers and bikers can use, and what we wanted to do was to look at the infrastructure side of that, to look at designing and building and manufacturing all of the materials that go into bike lanes and multiuse paths, and see how the employment effects differed between that and just building roads without those components.

JAY: So what did you find?

GARRETT-PELTIER: Well, we found, not surprisingly, for the same number of dollars spent, there are more jobs created building bike paths and building roads with bike lanes than by building roads without bike lanes.

JAY: What were some of the numbers you found in terms of--I think they used for $1 million you could get so many jobs. How did that break down?

GARRETT-PELTIER: We looked at data from 11 different cities, 58 projects total in those cities. There were about three to six projects in each city. So within those projects what we found was that bike infrastructure created the most jobs for each $1 million of spending, and there were about 11.4 jobs created within the local area for bike infrastructure. There were about ten jobs created for multiuse trails and for pedestrian infrastructure, a little bit less for roads that had bike lanes or sidewalks. And the lowest employment category was for roads without bike lanes or sidewalks, and that was a little bit less than eight jobs. So about a third more jobs can be created through bicycling infrastructure than just road infrastructure.

JAY: This kind of presupposes that when public policymakers are making policy, jobs is actually the objective. So I guess that would be the starting point of making use of research like this. You actually have to want to create employment.

GARRETT-PELTIER: That's right. And, you know, we hear a lot of rhetoric about job creation, job creation, job creation, and this is certainly one way that we can create more jobs at the same time that we're trying to do things like mitigate climate change and try to reduce our carbon emissions. And we're also fighting a national obesity epidemic, and having more access to healthy ways of exercising is also vitally important. So bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure is not just about job creation. But at a time when we have 15 million people currently looking for work that don't have jobs, jobs needs to be part of the story and needs to be part of the solution, and this is one of the many ways that we can try to get people back to work. Building infrastructure creates construction jobs, creates manufacturing jobs for all of the materials that are involved, and those are two of the sectors in our economy that are most suffering right now from unemployment.

JAY: But this is all triggered, I would think, through some kind of government spending, whether it's municipal or state or even federal. But the debate in Washington seems to be all about private sector is the engine of job growth. This really does require some public spending to trigger it, doesn't it?

GARRETT-PELTIER: For the employment creation story, it doesn't actually matter if the funds come from the private sector or public sector. As long as the project is being built, the jobs will be created. But certainly there's a lot of justification for public spending on infrastructure projects in general.

JAY: Well, unless you're going to have tollbooths on the bicycle lanes, it's pretty well going to have to be public money.

GARRETT-PELTIER: And there's justification for public spending, since it really is the community at large that benefits from these types of things, not just through employment, but also through reduced congestion, through better health outcomes, through safer travel for everybody who's on the roads and who's using the bike lanes and paths, so that there really is a justification for having public support for these types of projects.

JAY: Thanks a lot for joining us, Heidi.

GARRETT-PELTIER: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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