Biking Means Big Money: Let’s pave the trail

Across northwest Michigan, tourism generated from bicyclists continues to grow and flourish, especially in the communities that have an awareness of the potential economic benefits gained from proper infrastructure and social acceptance. Some examples? To our south: the Betsie Valley Trail between Beulah and Frankfort. To our north: the Little Traverse Wheelway connecting Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs. Both offer wonderful and safe riding opportunities on bike-friendly infrastructure. Ditto with the TART Trail in Traverse City and the Leelenau Trail that will soon be paved all the way to Suttons Bay. Add to that locally sponsored events such as the Ride Around Torch in Antrim County, the Leelanau Harvest Tour, the Cherry Roubaix in Traverse City, and the infamous Iceman, which runs from Kalkaska to Grand Traverse counties. All told, these races bring thousands of cyclists into our communities each year. These visitors occupy our motels, eat in our restaurants and visit our shops. Money is spent here, and that money stays here.

Like Colorado or Oregon, northern Michigan has the ability to capitalize on its reputation as a bicycling and outdoor recreational destination. A recent Colorado Department of Transportation study concluded that bicycling annually contributed $1 billion to its state's economy. The state of Maine has been making a concentrated effort to improve its biking roads and pathways because it's generating $66 million dollars per year from bike-based tourism.

As this article goes to press, I hope to be in Quebec on a portion of the 2,702-mile La Route Verte, which many claim is the best bicycle route in the world. A report has shown that in 2001, cyclists on La Route Verte spent a total of $95 million dollars, which in turn supported 2,000 jobs and generated $15 million in tax revenue. Multiply that number by the last ten years since, and the money that route has brought in is staggering.

Not only should our chambers of commerce, visitor bureaus and municipalities redouble their efforts to attract cycling tourists, this area should strive to attract healthy-lifestyle seekers as residents, as well as clean businesses that would naturally thrive in our blessed environment. Businesses such as Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance come to mind, as do the many Hagerty name-emblazoned black and blue riding jerseys seen on the roads and trails of Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties -a sight that bespeaks a company culture of healthy, hardworking and innovative individuals.

Along with providing safe trails and road infrastructure, our municipalities should consider reviewing and implementing the laws pertaining to the respective responsibilities between motor vehicles, non-motorized cycles and pedestrians. No doubt, every public safety department in northern Michigan would agree that safety is a number one priority, and the people on bikes, in cars and on the streets need to be better educated on their joint responsibilities. Share The Road is the slogan, but how it's done and enforced is critical to the growth of cycling related activities and the continued generation of revenues. From experience, I suspect there is little to no training conducted within our police agencies relating to bicycling safety, nor is there any real enforcement of the laws pertaining to the respective responsibilities between motor vehicle drivers and cyclists. Our local political leadership should work with their public safety executives to review this public safety responsibility. If we truly are making an effort to create bike friendly communities, the educational component is as important as the "complete street" component.

Imagine a safely designed bicycle and pedestrian route from Manistee, connecting to the Betsie Valley Trail, connecting to the TART Trail, connecting to the Little Traverse Wheelway. Coupled with our wine and food industry, northwest Michigan could become a world riding destination! So, let's share the road, understand the revenue opportunities and safely grow our communities together.