Why We Should Pay People to Bike to Work

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This morning, it took me 40 minutes to drive 3.5 miles from my house in Jamaica Plain to my office by Symphony Hall. That’s about 5 miles per hour, a pace that makes me want to slam my head into the dashboard, over and over again. I can jog faster than that, and I am not a good runner. Traffic was particularly brutal today, but I’ve never made it less than 30 minutes during rush hour — which is why, 99 percent of the time, I bike to work (20 minutes, door-to-door) or take the T (25 minutes).

After I fired up my computer and settled into my desk, I opened the Globe and was reminded again why biking is the best way to get around Boston: Booming Kendall Square has vastly increased its office space over the past few years, while actually cutting car traffic. Yes, you read that right. Here’s the Globe‘s Eric Moskowitz:

­”Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last ­decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.

Although more commuters are churning in and out of Kendall each day, many more than ever are going by T, bike, car pool, or foot.”

How’d they do it? By encouraging people to bike and take public transit. Back in 1998, Cambridge passed a serious parking and traffic ordinance requiring employers to make smart commuting subsidies. Workers receive a monthly stipend (the Globe gives examples of companies offering $100 to $125) that they’re allowed to put that toward parking or just buy a T pass, and keep what’s leftover. Or, if they bike or walk, they can keep the entire stipend. Do that year round and you’re looking at a pretty sizable bonus for being healthy: $1,200 to $1,500.

The benefits of policies like this are so far beyond obvious, it’s baffling that every city hasn’t adopted them. Some people will always need to drive — that’s totally fine. But by providing a real economic incentive for workers to take public transit or to bike or walk, everyone wins. Bikers and walkers get a bit of extra cash and exercise, public transit is being put to good use, and drivers can actually get to work faster.