Economic and Health Benefits of Bicycling in Iowa

Benefits studied: ,
Uses studied:
Place: Statewide


This study found that cyclists in Iowa, including those who ride for recreation and to commute to work, contribute substantial spending associated with commuting and cycling trips within the state. The physical activity from cycling is associated with as much as $354 million lower annual health care costs due to fewer cases of heart and lung disease, and other diseases associated with less physical activity.


Although this statewide assessment is impressively broad, the findings should be used with caution due to some methodological concerns. The economic impacts of cycling-related spending in the state need to be interpreted carefully because the analysis includes only resident spending, which is not “new” spending within the state. It is difficult to know how much of this spending would have occurred regardless of cycling infrastructure. In other state-wide studies (see 68 and 71), non-resident spending was acknowledged as the primary source of economic impact. The health benefits are likely overstated as well because the analysis assumes that the cycling population would not get the diseases associated with less physical activity, but that they would have if they had not been cyclists.


The study is a statewide assessment in Iowa.

Trail Type

The study does not address specific trails, but includes all types of cycling in the state on roads and trails. There are 1,600 miles of trails in Iowa.


The purpose of this study is to estimate the economic and health impacts of cycling in Iowa, information which can be used to support additional funding for cycling infrastructure. The study was prepared for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, which provided support by contacting individuals and organizations but did not provide funding.


  • One-third of respondents commute to work via bicycle, half of whom make two to five round trips each week. There are approximately 25,000 bicycle commuters in Iowa.
  • Nearly all respondents are recreational riders, and 83 percent ride at least twice per week. There are approximately 150,000 recreational cyclists in Iowa.
  • Two-thirds of respondents strongly agree that cycling facilities influence how much they cycle. It is not clear exactly what type of facilities this included.
  • Over half of respondents spend more than $250 per year on cycling. The average respondent spent $1,214 per year on cycling-related expenditures per year; by far the largest expense was on bicycles.
  • The authors estimate that commuters contribute $41 million in direct spending annually, which supports $56 million in labor income, and 1,500 jobs.
  • They estimate that recreational riders contribute $250 million, which supports $331 million in labor earnings, and 9,000 jobs.
  • Across Iowa, the median annual health care cost savings associated with residents commuting to work by bicycle is $54 million. The median savings associated with recreational riders is $300 million.


The authors estimate economic impacts using primary data obtained from three surveys administered in 2011 with cyclists, bicycle retailers, and bicycle organizations in Iowa. Cyclists were asked questions about commuting and recreational riding, overnight trips and spending patterns, and demographics. Via email the authors recruited members of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition to be respondents and received 1,090 completed surveys (the response rate was not provided).

The authors use data from the American Community Survey and Iowa Department of Transportation to estimate the number of cyclists in the state. The authors use expenditure and participation data as inputs into a regional economic model called IMPLAN to estimate local spending, labor earnings, and jobs attributable to cycling in the state.

The authors estimate health impacts by combining the primary survey data with secondary health statistics data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health. To determine health care cost savings, the authors use secondary data on rates and cost of care for non-communicable diseases related to inactivity. The diseases include diabetes, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Their approach is drawn from methods used in study 75.

Results are reported separately for commuters and recreational riders.


Lankford, J., S. Lankford, O. Grybovych, B. Bowles, K. Fleming, K. Fuller, J. Lankford, and J. Printz. 2011. Economic and Health Benefits of Bicycling in Iowa. Sustainable Tourism and Environmental Program, University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.