Valuing Bicycling’s Economic and Health Impacts in Wisconsin

Benefits studied: ,
Uses studied:
Place: Statewide


This study found that 13 million days of cycling occur in Wisconsin each year, roughly half of which are taken by non-residents who contribute $309 million to the state’s economy. The health benefits associated with increased physical activity for residents could reduce annual healthcare costs in Milwaukee and Madison alone by up to $320 million, and less pollution due to fewer car trips is associated with as much as $89 million in benefits.


This is a very broad study of the benefits associated with cycling that can be monetized. It is important to note that because these estimates are measuring different types of benefits (e.g., spending at local businesses versus fewer sick days) they cannot be added together.

The estimates of health benefits from increased physical activity assume that commuters would not otherwise reach physical activity goals. It is likely that many commuters lead active lifestyles, so these estimates are likely at the upper end of actual reduced health care costs.


This study addresses cycling statewide in Wisconsin.

Trail Type

This study does not analyze any specific trails, but considers all cycling activity throughout the state. The authors report results separately for trail-using cyclists for some parts of the analysis. There are 744 miles of paved or gravel trails in the state, and 371 miles of mountain biking trails.


The purpose of the study is to estimate the current economic and health impacts of cycling in the state, and to predict the potential impacts based on projected changes in demographics and the state’s economy. This study was prepared for Spencer Black, a state representative at the time the study was published, presumably to inform deliberation on investment in cycling infrastructure.


  • The authors estimate that there are 13 million annual user days for cyclists within the state, roughly half of whom are non-residents.
  • Non-residents spend, on average, $54 per day for road cycling and $34 per day for trail cycling. Residents spend, on average, $40 for road cycling and $18 for trail cycling. Road cyclists spend more across all expenditure categories than trail cyclists.
  • The estimated economic impact from non-resident cyclists is $309 million per year (58% of total), and $225 million for resident cyclists (42% of total).
  • This impact on businesses generates $924 million in labor earnings and 13,000 jobs supported by this spending.
  • The total potential reduction in annual health care costs is $319.6 million in Madison and Milwaukee, the two cities for which data were available.
  • Replacing 20 percent of short car trips with bicycle trips in the cities of Madison and Milwaukee would result in $85.8 million in benefits from reduced fine particulate matter and $3.4 million in benefits from reduced ozone.
  • Bicycle manufacturing, sales, and services are associated with $593.8 million in annual economic impact.


The authors estimated economic impacts by collecting data on the number of days spent cycling by residents and non-residents, the type of cycling, and the total number of days per person, using existing data sources such as the National Household Transportation Survey and the state Department of Natural Resources Trail Pass Survey. They broke out user days into four groups: road cyclists, rail-trail cyclists, cyclists at single-day events, and cyclists at multi-day events.

The authors generated expenditure estimates for residents and non-residents by type of cycling by extrapolating data from existing regional studies. These data were used as inputs into a regional economic impact model called IMPLAN.

The authors estimated health impacts in two ways: avoided health care costs from diseases associated with physical inactivity and avoided health care costs due to reduced air pollution.

To calculate avoided costs from diseases associated with physical inactivity, the authors use existing data on the incidence of diseases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and treatment cost for these diseases from Blue Cross Blue Shield. These data were only available for Madison and Milwaukee. Changes in disease incidence due to individuals becoming “sufficiently active” (exercising at least 150 minutes per week) were based on estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO data estimate that an individual who is physically active at least 150 minutes per week reduces their disease risks by the following: 47 percent for ischemic heart disease, 39 percent for breast cancer for women, 43 percent for colon cancer, and 31 percent for Type II diabetes. To calculate cost savings, the authors assume that all 44.9 percent of Wisconsin residents who currently do not meet recommended physical activity levels would meet those recommendations via cycling.

To estimate the benefits of reducing air pollution via fewer automobile trips, the authors used the Benefits Mapping Analysis Program (BenMAP), a tool created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This tool uses data on changes in air quality to estimate changes in the incidence of asthma, chronic bronchitis, hospital admissions, acute myocardial infarctions, lost days of work and school, acute and chronic respiratory infections, and upper and lower respiratory infections. The tool then estimates the monetary value of decreased incidence of these health conditions.


Grabow, M., M. Hahn, and M. Whited. 2010. Valuing Bicycling’s Economic and Health Impacts in Wisconsin. The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at University of Wisconsin-Madison.