A family walking their bikes along the boardwalk to the beach

Benefits of Biking on Hilton Head Island

Bicycle-friendly towns, like those with good schools and enjoyable downtowns, are communities that are often health, vibrant and offer improved quality of life for families, which can lead to higher property values, business growth and increased tourism. Nowhere are all of these factors more evident than on Hilton Head Island!

Why is it Important for Communities to Strive to be Bicycle-friendly?

Many communities today struggle with traffic congestion, environmental degradation, a declining public health and skyrocketing transportation costs. Other communities look for ways to attract tourists, business and provide safe ways to school. Bicycling is part of the solution to these problems.

Of the top 10 retirement destination towns, six have been designated as a Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC), and two more have applied.

Also, it’s becoming a competitive thing to use as a marketing tool: Savannah and Charleston (two of Hilton Head’s closest competitors for tourism) are both working to be able to advertise their cities as BFC’s, which are often seen as places with a high quality of life. This can translate into increased property values, business growth and increased tourism.

How Do You Benefit From Living in a Bicycle-friendly Community?

The U.S. as a whole is experiencing alarming rates of obesity due to sedentary living and poor diet—resulting in 300,000 deaths a year from related illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Obesity is the second leading cause of death after tobacco use in the country. Bicycling is one of the best exercises for the cardiovascular system and is very effective at reducing weight and keeping it off.

Bicycling gets you where you need to go without burning fossil fuels, emitting pollutants, or increasing traffic congestion. It is the ultimate form of clean and efficient transportation. According to the 1995 Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25% of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40% of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50% of the working population commutes five miles or less to work-all distances easily traveled by bike. Yet more than 82% of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle.

For most Americans, transportation is an expense second only to housing. The average American household devotes 18 cents out of every dollar it spends to getting around. In some metro areas, households are spending more on transportation than on shelter. For the vast majority of that spending, 98% is for the purchase, operation, and maintenance of automobiles. Most American families spend more on driving than on health care, education, or food. And the poorest families spend the most—sometimes more than one-third of their income goes to transportation. Low-income communities, in addition to the 1/3 of the population that is too old or young to drive, do not have sufficient transportation choices. Bicycling addresses these issues of mobility and affordable transportation.

1. Individual Benefits of Cycling

Fitness Increased – Through cycling, you will be able to increase your heart and lung fitness, as well as your strength and stamina. Bicycling is nearly a life-long activity. It is low impact on the body—and, best of all, biking in fun!

Weight Loss – Cycling is a great way to help lose weight. You burn fat as you cycle, which helps you look and feel better. Bicycling is a great initial activity for people who are obese and help them on their way to a healthier life.

Stress Reduction – Exercise in general has been shown to decrease anxiety and stress levels, and bicycling is a fun way to exercise. (And staying out of traffic jams will also help in reducing stress.)

Heart Benefits – Studies have shown that regular exercise, such as cycling, lowers your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Research shows that regular cycling can cut the chances of heart disease in half.

Lowered Risk of Other Health Problems – In addition to heart disease, regular exercise can also help you to avoid other health problems such as non-insulin dependent diabetes, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Exercise also relieves symptoms of depression and increases your mental health.

Increased Life Expectancy – The end result of having better health through cycling is that you will live a longer and happier life!

Reduced Costs – Based on an hourly wage of $10.00, a motorist must work 300 hours per year to pay for his or her annual commute. A bicyclist only has to work about 30 hours per year to operate his or her bike.

  • It’s usually easier to park a bike than it is to park a car, and it’s certainly less expensive.
  • Cycling may save money by reducing the wear on your automobile
  • Bicycles increase mobility for those who can’t afford motor transport.
  • Save travel money by biking. If the switch is from a car, this includes purchase price, gas, tires, fluids, insurance, maintenance, washing, parking, etc.
  • Regular cycling can lead to lower health care expenses—so you can save money for a nicer vacation!
  • Save money on a membership to a health club and get your exercise by bicycling to work, school, shopping, etc.

2. Environmental Benefits of Cycling

Fewer people cycle per capita in the U.S. than in many other parts of the world, and the U.S. is a leader in petroleum consumption. These high levels of consumption are leading to many negative effects on the environment, such as increased emissions of harmful gases, including Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Volatile Organic Compounds, Hydrofluorocarbon, Perfluorocarbon and Sulfur Hexafluoride.

These emissions are believed to be causing warming through “the greenhouse effect”, depletion of the ozone layer, and a reduction in general air quality. Vehicles also cause noise pollution; however, the ongoing use of a bicycle has virtually no carbon footprint, and also:

Reduces air pollution – cycling emits few poisonous gases; in fact, a four-mile bicycle trip keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe.

Reduces water pollution – bikes don’t drip brake fluid, anti-freeze, transmission fluid, toxic dust, etc.

Reduces noise pollution – even without a muffler, bikes are quiet and create a quieter community.

Reduces deforestation – for planting of rubber plantations and bio-fuel crops, because bicycles use very little rubber and fuel/lubricants.

Reduces road wear and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

3. The Economic Benefits of Cycling on Tourism

Investing in bicycle infrastructure and promoting cycling can draw new money to a local economy by attracting visitors who may otherwise spend their vacation dollars elsewhere. For over 20 years, Maine has made a concerted effort to improve its bicycle infrastructure by widening shoulders and creating shared-use paths—generating $66 million a year in bicycle tourism.

One of the most celebrated examples is North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which, by a conservative estimate, generates $60 million in economic activity through bicycle tourism. They spent $6.7 million on bicycle infrastructure and have seen an annual nine to one return on that one-time investment. The types of visitors drawn to bike on the Outer Banks add a boost to the economy with their ability to spend money. A study shows that the bicycle tourists there tend to be affluent (half earn more than $100,000 a year and 87 percent earn more than $50,000) and educated (40 percent have a masters or doctoral degree). Expenditures by the 680,000 annual visiting bicyclists support 1,400 jobs in the area. The study shows that the quality of bicycling in the Outer Banks influenced vacation planning. Over half of survey respondents said bicycling had a strong influence on their decision to return to the area. The facilities themselves were well-received. Two-thirds of respondents said that riding on bike facilities made them feel safer and three quarters said that more paths, shoulders and lanes should be built.

Québec, Canada has also seen a measurable impact of bicycle tourism on its economy. In 2000, Province-wide spending by bicyclists totaled $166 million. The Québec bicycle industry generated sales over $181 million, supporting 2,800 jobs and generating $17.2 in tax revenues for Québec and $13.6 million in national taxes. To draw tourists and encourage cycling, Quebec developed a network of 2,702 miles of bicycle paths and roadway routes called La Route Verte, which is promoted as the “best bicycle route in the world.” In 2000, when only part of the route was complete, La Route Verte cyclists spent a total of $95.4 million, corresponding to approximately 2,000 jobs and $15.1 million in tax revenue for Québec and $11.9 million for the Government of Canada. In 2005, bicycle tourists spent $83 a day, more than other tourists’ average of $66.

4. The Economic Benefits of Cycling on Businesses

Businesses can also benefit from the health impacts of their employees bicycling to work. A study of 30,604 people in Copenhagen showed that people who commuted to work by bike had 40 percent lower risk of dying over the course of the study period than those who didn’t and bike commuters average a day fewer absences due to illness each year than non-bike commuters. In recognition of these economic advantages and in an effort to attract and retain highly sought-after employees, employers are continuing to add wellness and health management programs to encourage healthy habits among employees.

Employers are now recognizing the benefits of encouraging their employees to be healthy and bicycling is part of a healthy lifestyle. There are other benefits to the employer:

  • People that cycle to work regularly are more productive and take less time off for sickness. When they don’t have to fight traffic jams, cyclists arrive at work less frustrated and the morning exercise makes them more alert.
  • With less staff driving cars to work, less parking space is required.
  • Organizations that encourage bicycling are perceived as environmentally aware and concerned employers.

Today the national bicycling industry contributes an estimated $133 billion a year to the U.S. economy. It supports nearly 1.1 million jobs and generates $17.7 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. Another $46.9 billion is spent on meals, transportation, lodging, gifts and entertainment during bike trips and tours.

5. Cycling Benefits for Schools

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a national program that seeks to encourage and enable more children to safely walk and bike to school. All across the United States, schools are initiating SRTS programs with the help of federal funding that was allocated through the federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users Act, (SAFETEA-LU). The purposes of the program as described by the federal legislation are the following:

  • To enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school.
  • To make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age.
  • To facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that reduce traffic and improve safety, fuel consumption and air quality in the vicinity of primary and middle schools (kindergarten through 8th grade).

6. Cycling Benefits on Traffic Flow

Cycling reduces congestion by shifting short trips (the majority of trips in cities) out of cars. It also makes cities more accessible for public transport, walking, essential car travel, emergency services, and deliveries. Connectivity is really important for encouraging people to bicycle (e.g. linking Hilton Head Island with Bluffton).

Creating safer conditions for bicyclists can save lives and as a direct consequence improve the safety of all other road users. Research shows that increasing the number of bicyclists on the street improves bicycle safety.

In Summary

The positive consequences of biking as a healthy mode of transportation, or as a purely recreational activity, span across many aspects of our lives on Hilton Head Island. They can be expressed in terms of the health of the environment (and resulting health of all living things), as well as the health of individuals who are more physically active.

A transportation system that is conducive to bicycling can reap many benefits in terms of reduced traffic congestion and improved quality of life. Economic rewards both to the individual and to society are also realized through reduced health care costs and reduced dependency on auto ownership (and the resulting insurance and maintenance costs). There are also other economic benefits of bicycling that are more difficult to measure, such as the increased economic vitality of communities that have emphasized bicycle mobility. Finally, bike-able communities create a more equitable society that provides transportation choice for all citizens.

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