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IGERT students analyze impact of bicycling in Wisconsin


NSF-funded graduate researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison produced one of the first comprehensive reports on the economic and health impacts of bicycling in the state of Wisconsin. The report, “Valuing Bicycling’s Economic and Health Impacts in Wisconsin,” was produced in response to a request from State Representative Spencer Black. It is unique because it does not just look at the direct economic impacts of bicycling, but also analyzes potential health benefits, avoided pollution (from reduced car trips), and other issues to present a much more complete analytical picture of bicycling. The full report is available online at:

The report shows that the economic impact of bicycle recreation and tourism in Wisconsin is approximately $924 million. Additionally, the potential value of direct and indirect health benefits from reducing short car trips and increasing bicycle trips is approximately $410 million, bringing the impact of bicycle tourism and recreational/commuting use to almost $1.5 billion. Wisconsin also has a significant bicycle manufacturing, sales, and service industry. If the $594 million value of this industry is added to Grabow, Hahn, and Whited’s analysis, the total impact of bicycling in Wisconsin is approximately $1.93 billion. By comparison, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates the total economic impact of deer hunting (a major seasonal sport in the state) at about $1.4 billion.

The study authors, Maggie Grabbow (MS and PhD candidate in Environment Resources and MPH candidate in the Department of Population Health Sciences), Micah Hahn (PhD candidate in Population Health Sciences and Environment & Resources), and Melissa Whited (MS and PhD candidate in Environment & Resources), are students in UW-Madison’s graduate Certificate on Humans and the Global Environment (CHANGE) and are funded through the NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. Because this study represents one of the first attempts to quantify this important aspect of Wisconsin’s economy, it was used by legislators, popularized by bicycle organizations interested in policy change, and widely discussed in the media. Ms. Grabow testified to the Wisconsin Assembly special committee on Clean Energy and Jobs, Ms. Whited and Ms. Grabow testified to the Wisconsin Senate committee on Clean Energy, and all three authors testified to the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Bicycling. Media reports included write-ups in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Fox Cities Post Crescent as well as coverage by radio and TV stations.

This type of policy-relevant research is at the heart of UW-Madison’s CHANGE program. CHANGE was as developed when UW-Madison professor Jonathan Patz was awarded NSF funding for his IGERT proposal titled “Vulnerability and Sustainability in Coupled Human-Natural Systems: An Integrative Traineeship in Sustainability and the Global Environment.” The CHANGE program trains students from various natural science, social science, and humanities disciplines how to work together to understand and solve environmental problems. The capstone course in CHANGE requires students to work together in interdisciplinary teams on real-world environmental problems. Often, as in this case, clients outside the University identify the issues requiring research. Grabow, Hahn, and Whited’s report was produced as part of the CHANGE capstone course. Because it trains students to work together on interesting environmental research projects, and emphasizes communication outside of an academic setting, the CHANGE program has become a popular certificate for environmentally-focused graduate students. In addition to being the Principal Investigator for this IGERT, Dr. Patz is the advisor for Ms. Grabow and Ms. Hahn.

Address Goals

This activity meets the “Discovery” strategic goal because the student’s report is the first of its kind in Wisconsin to quantify both the economic and the potential health benefits of bicycling. This report also emphasizes systems thinking because it adds a health impact analysis to a conventional economic analysis of bicycling, and is an example of more sophisticated efforts to capture the costs and benefits of environmentally sound behavior. This activity meets the “Learning” strategic goal because the researchers involved took responsibility for publicizing and explaining their analysis, thereby acting as the best kind of scientist/citizens.