Pathways to Prosperity; Economic Impact of Investment in Bicycle Facilities: A Case Study of North Carolina Northern Outer Banks

Uses studied:
Place: Outer Banks


This study found that each year, the economic impact from cyclists on the Outer Banks far exceeds the original investment of public funds used to build bicycle-friendly facilities. The majority of visitors were likely to extend their stay and return to the area because of the availability of bicycle facilities.


The Outer Banks are a very popular tourist destination, so the findings are most relevant for communities that are already general tourism destinations but are considering promoting cycling as a means of expanding the area’s appeal.


This study focuses on North Carolina’s Northern Outer Banks in Currituck and Dare Counties (respective populations 23,880 and 34,289 in 2013), from Corolla south to Nags Head and west to Manteo.

Trail Type

Trail types include 31 miles of on-road facilities like wide-paved shoulders, wide curb lanes, and marked bike lanes; and 25 miles of off-road facilities like greenway trails, side paths, and multi-use paths.


This study looks at the impacts of $5.9 million in bicycle Transportation Improvement Program funds from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The northern Outer Banks region was selected for the study because of existing high levels of bicycle activity and the presence of an extensive system of special bicycle facilities that link the towns and villages. The North Carolina Department of Transportation commissioned the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University to examine the value of public investment in bicycle facilities.


The analysis estimates that the multiplier effect for Dare County is 1.32. That is, every $1 spent by tourists becomes $1.32 after further rounds of spending. The annual economic impact of cyclists is almost nine times as much as the one-time expenditure of public funds used to construct special bicycle facilities in the region.

Significant impact findings from the study include:

  • $60 million annual economic impact of these bicyclists.
  • 1,400 jobs were created or supported annually with the expenditures made by bicyclists. This is equal to 4 percent of the people employed in the two counties.
  • 17 percent of visitors report bicycling activity while in the area, accounting for approximately 680,000 bicyclists annually.
  • Almost half of surveyed bicyclists earned more than $100,000 annually, while 87 percent earned more than $50,000. Forty percent had a Master’s or Doctoral degree, and an additional 38 percent reported completion of a college degree.

In terms of the quality of the bicycling facilities’ amenities, this study found:

  • The quality of bicycling in the region had a positive impact on respondents’ vacation

planning, with 43 percent reporting that bicycling was an important factor in their decision to come to the area; 53 percent reported bicycling as a strong influence in their decision to return in the future; and 12 percent reported staying three to four days longer to bicycle in the area.

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated that using bicycle facilities made them feel safer.
  • 84 percent of Bed and Breakfast owners and campground managers rated bicycling as important to their area.

This study found that additional unquantified economic benefits may result from the bicycle facilities, such as:

  • Enhanced property values in areas near bike paths and trails.
  • Reduced healthcare costs, which may result from more opportunities for healthful exercise.
  • Lessened road damage and better preservation of the highway infrastructure resulting from wider paved shoulders.
  • Improved safety and convenience of travel for many residential and commercial areas, beach access sites, and other points of interest.
  • Increased benefits to all road users by reducing congestion and enhancing motorist safety.
  • Reduced parking congestion at popular destinations.


Four types of data were collected:

  • Bicyclists using local bicycle facilities were interviewed by researchers when they were out riding.
  • Self-administered surveys were placed in three visitors’ centers.
  • Mail-back surveys were sent to Bed and Breakfast owners, campground managers, and bicycle shops.
  • Mechanical bicycle traffic counts were taken at 11 locations along the local facilities.

The annual expenditure amounts were analyzed using IMPLAN to estimate the economic impact of expenditures reported by respondents. The model provides economic impact estimates based on data specific to the Dare County area.


Lawrie, J. 2004. Pathways to Prosperity; Economic Impacts of Investment in Bicycle Facilities: A Case Study of North Carolina Northern Outer Banks. North Carolina Department of Transportation.