Cyclists are ready to let you in on a little secret: cycling makes both you and your community happier and healthier. That’s right: cycling has positive impacts even on non-cyclists.
In a new report commissioned by British Cycling, Dr. Rachel Aldred of the University of Westminster points to data around the world that points to the benefits of cycling, certainly for the cyclist yes, but also for cities and communities that make significant investments in cycling infrastructure.
“The fantastic thing about investing in cycling is that it can generate benefits in a range of policy areas. Whether the goal is quicker urban journeys, improving life chances for low income people, revitalising town centres or reducing the growing burden of non-communicable diseases cycling can be part of the solution,” said Aldred in a statement about her study.
Let’s look at the money first.
For one, more funding for cycling could save the National Health Service around £17 billion, according to Aldred’s research, which calculated the savings within 20 years if residents of urban England and Wales cycled and walked as much as their cycling-happy counterparts in Copenhagen.
Cycling for a commute or to run errands means people get their needed exercise while getting from A to B and back. A 30-minute commute to and from work would add up to 300 minutes of exercise per week. Considering the 2008 Health Survey for England found that just one in 20 adults was meeting the minimum weekly recommendation for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, bike commuting seems a fairly shameless step (pedal?) toward a solution.
Riding a bike also means fewer cars on the roads,which means less carbon. Alder found that “shifting just 10 percent of journeys in urban areas from car to bike would reduce air pollution and save 400 productive life years.”
Need more economic arguments?
The report also found that streets with protected bike lanes saw up to 24 percent greater retail sales than similar streets without protected lanes, according to 2014 research from NYCDoT. And the benefits are felt across economic income levels: increased cycling would provide a 25 percent increase in mobility for the poorest British families, making it easier to access jobs and reliably get to and from employment centers.
If money is not compelling, consider what a switch from car to bike would do for congestion.
Cycling saves a third of road space compared to driving. And that’s just in traffic lanes. When you consider you can fit 10 to 12 bikes in the parking space of one car, the argument for making room for bikes in compelling.
A bicycle trip is also much more predictable in length of time than a car trip–a benefit to cyclists, but also to other drivers. Again look to New York’s dedicated bike lanes, and you’ll find the city’s car and taxi trip times either remained stable or even decreased in they city’s central business district.
Then there’s the happiness factor.
Both younger and older cyclists get more exercise and have a greater sense of independence than those who do not ride a bike, according to Aldred’s report.
In her studies, she found that more than two-thirds of Dutch people aged 55 to 74 get at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, mostly through cycling. Even among Dutch people aged 80-84, more than 20 percent say their preferred method of transit is cycling. Cycling keeps older Dutch residents active, socially connected and healthy.
And for Dutch children, nearly half of them (49 percent of primary school children) ride to school.
Those not riding also benefit from better bike infrastructure, in the form of safer streets.
“Studies show people feel safer on routes separating them from busy motor traffic, for example, involving separate infrastructure or quiet streets,” Aldred writes.
When people switch from driving to walking or cycling, injuries decrease. One study found that while switching from driving to cycling or walking may pose a greater risk of injury to the individual making the switch, they become less of a threat to those around them. And improved infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians, separated from vehicular traffic can reduce the risk cars pose to other road users.
Whether you are swayed by finances, health, congestion or just plain happiness, the British Cycling report makes the case for investing more heavily in bike infrastructure and in promoting cycling across the broad range of a population.
“We only have to look to Denmark and the Netherlands–countries that regularly top surveys on being the happiest and healthiest nations in the world – to see what a transformative effect cycling can have,”British Cycling Policy Adviser Chris Boardman said in a statement. “This is about creating better places to live.”