Tucson doesn’t have the Tour de France, but there is sizable economic influx from out-of-state tourists who bring their bikes with them on vacation.
A study by the Arizona Department of Transportation puts the figure at $88 million annually, but one local man believes the figure is much, much higher – suggesting cyclists are a half-billion-dollar industry to the Grand Canyon State.
The figure from ADOT comes from a study suggesting the economic impact from 250 bicycling events annually, including El Tour de Tucson, coupled with retail sales to out-of-state cyclists.
The study also found roughly 39,000 in-state and 14,000 out-of-state participants are involved annually in as many as 250 bicycling events across the state. Last year, El Tour de Tucson had about 9,000 participants.
The $88 million figure doesn’t include an estimated $114 million in revenue tied to the annual retail sales of bicycle-related goods in the state.
The study, the first of its kind, is old news to Susan Notorangelo, with Wisconsin-based PAC tours.
For 18 years, Notorangelo has been organizing cycling trips to Tucson for groups from across the country, and even internationally.
They come to Tucson in February and March, she says, preferring to ride in the mild desert winters as compared to a much harsher climate back home where an indoor stationary bike might be the only option.
The tours don’t limit themselves to Tucson or even Pima County, she says, noting they regularly go to Wickenberg and Sierra Vista for a few days.
Booking one night at a hotel can easily cost a few thousand dollars. One trip to Sierra Vista meant tens of thousands of dollars to hotel owners, she said.
Richard DeBernardis, the founder of El Tour de Tucson, believes cyclists — both in-state and out-of-state — are worth much more than $88 million or even the combined $202 million figure.
His best guess? A half a billion dollars. “(The study) is just misleading,” he said.
He said the state agency chose to focus only on the out-of-state angle, ignoring tens of thousands of cyclists inside the state who contribute to their local economy.
ADOT also ignored the growing amount spent annually by local governmental agencies to improve infrastructure used by cyclists.
“Just look at how much Pima County has spent on the Loop,” DeBernardis said, referring to a multi-use path around Tucson.
When completed, the Loop will be 131 miles long and will connect the Rillito, Santa Cruz and Pantano river parks and the Julian Wash and Harrison greenways with bicycle-friendly paths across the greater Tucson area.
ADOT estimates cyclists pour roughly $20 million into the Southern Arizona economy. DeBernardis says that’s too low.
“According to my study, the one Eller (the University of Arizona College of Management) did in 1999/2000 ... it was a $6 million to $8 million impact when we had 4,000 cyclists,” he said.
With the size of El Tour de Tucson growing to 9,000 cyclists and adjusting for inflation, DeBernardis estimates his race brings $18 million into the local economy.
He said cycling could continue to grow, needing only a fraction of the money Arizona communities have spent to lure or keep spring training baseball.
Emily Yetman, the founder and president of Living Streets Alliance, said the figures from ADOT are promising to those advocating for walkable and livable streets.
She said the city and county have made great strides for cyclists in the last few years, specifically pointing out the Loop and the green paths painted around town for cyclists.
She said the additional infrastructure is expensive, but the study shows a growing number of locals and tourists want to use it.
She said cycling as the primary mode of transportation is “the next big thing” for the millennial generation, who are seeking cities with multimodal transit options.