Rhode Island bike lane initiative at center of controversy over state spending

A rendering of the Rhode Island bike path in question (via GoLocalProv).

August 7, 2012 — With an increase in the number of bike riders over the past few years, cities around the country are taking note and building bike lanes.  The Department of Transportation of Rhode Island is following suit, allotting $21 million for bike lanes — to much controversy.

Though many find these new additions beneficial, others wonder if the lanes are worth the cost.  One cyclist tells GoLocal, “We feel that’s a ridiculous way to spend money … when you can spend it in other ways, when our roads are in such a state of disrepair.” These Rhode Islanders argue that $21 million could be better used — to improve general road conditions, for example, rather than to widen bike lanes.

Though this alternative certainly sounds reasonable, it ignores some of the issue’s complexity. When viewed as an investment, the city’s decision starts to make sense. After all, if more people ride bikes instead of driving cars, there will be less need to fix the roads in the first place. As the adage goes, you have to lose money to make money.


Bike lane signs like this one are used to mark the presence of a bike lane on roads.

This money may also have been earmarked originally away from road maintenance and toward projects that might encompass bike lanes but not general road improvement. In many cases, where the money comes from is just as important as the amount. If a particular account is allotted only for green initiatives, for instance, it would be inappropriate to spend the money on improving road conditions. This funding, however, could be used to promote the usage of bicycle lanes.

While critics of the Rhode Island bike path widening remain staunchly opposed to this “wasteful spending,” it appears that they fail to consider the benefits that wider bike lanes could bring to the area. By virtue of having more room, the bikers will not only be safer, but there will be more of an incentive for people to get out and ride their bikes in the outdoors. Increased bike riding improves both environmental health and the health of the riders involved, and when 39% of Rhode Islanders are overweight, and more and more initiatives crop up to protect bikes, these bike lanes seem like an even better idea.

– T. Caruso