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The Nickel Tour: Cycling has positive impacts both for cyclists and non-cyclists alike, helping to reduce pollution and congestion and improving health and economic factors with just two wheels.
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.
Earlier this year, major bike share programs released data showing a glaring gender disparity among bike renters in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Women riders accounted for an average of 23.5 percent of overall rentals across these cities.
The raw data in these studies points pretty blatantly to the existence of the gap. As with any study however, the numbers themselves aren’t as important as where they come from, or as what we choose to do with them.
So let’s take a closer look.
For starters, the reasons behind many women’s reluctance to biking has been well documented.Elizabeth Plank at Mic writes the gender gap can largely explained by a mix of “women’s aversion to risk, women’s clothing, economic and time poverty, as well as sexual harassment.”
Women frequently cite safety as a major concern for cycling on the road. Lacking infrastructure and aggressive drivers are among several major risk factors that many women weigh in deciding whether to bike or not.
Beyond traffic safety, personal safety is on the line as well. Grooming and getting “office ready” post-ride keeps many women off bikes. And whether they’re wearing work fashions, cozy weekend gear or “cycling chic” clothing, many women are subjected to sexual harassment while biking.
Beyond those issues, and a long list of traffic concerns, we land on the issues of time and money—the two categories into which seemingly all other factors fall. We know that on average American women make less money than American men, so women need to spend more time working to make even close to an equal wage. They also frequently have more increased responsibilities at home compared to their male counterparts, hence, less time.
For many women, using a bike as a major mode of transportation just isn’t efficient for their lifestyle. Forplenty of others, biking is just the right fit. Whether the majority of women want to bike or not isn’t the issue. The issue is working to eliminate the frequent barriers to biking so that any woman who wants to do it can if she chooses.
That’s a long road. But the data, at least, serves as a reminder of the strides we still need to make, and at best, offers some opportunities for action.