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03/11/2011 // INFO Leave a comment

Cycling could save the American economy billions

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A US-focused study on commuting to work has found that cutting out short car journeys and replacing them with mass transit and active transport such as cycling could yield major health benefits to the American workforce.

The health benefit of replacing a car with a bicycle on half of the short trips (less than 5 miles), during the warmest six months of the year in the 11 biggest metropolitan cities in the US Midwest, saved about $3.8bn per year from avoided mortality and reduced health care costs for conditions like obesity and heart disease.

$7bn saved

The report, published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, calculates that if more people cycled short journeys it could save the US economy an estimated $7bn in terms of health benefits, including saving the deaths of 1,100 lives each year from improved air quality and increased physical fitness.

Methodology

Researchers on the study, which was put together by the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, came to their conclusions by firstly identifying the air pollution reductions that would result from eliminating short auto trips.

They found that there was a small average reduction in very fine particles, which lodge deep in the lung and have repeatedly been tied to asthma as well as deaths due to cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. The study projected that 433 lives would be saved due to the reduction in fine particles.

The second step was to look at the health benefits of using a bicycle on those short trips during the six months with optimum weather, when cycling is feasible and at its most popular. The study concluded that if exercise can automatically occur while commuting to work, there would be a major benefit in stemming the obesity epidemic, and reduction in conditions such as type II diabetes.

Benefits underestimated

The study’s authors also believe the true benefits of eliminating short auto trips are underestimated. The study for instance did not measure the financial savings due to reduced auto usage.

The authors acknowledges that it’s unrealistic to expect to eliminate all short auto trips, but notes that biking as transportation is gaining popularity in the United States, and that in some cities in Northern Europe, approximately 50% of short trips are done by bike, and there is no reason why some cities in the US can be the same as long as there is investment in bike infrastructure.

“Transportation accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, so if we can swap bikes for cars, we gain in fitness, local air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gases, and the personal economic benefits of biking rather than driving. It’s a four-way win,” said Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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