Cycling, health and logistical benefits.
I like to consider myself a cycling enthusiast. I commute to work by bike most of the time and I use it the rest of the time as my main form of transportation. Plus, I enjoy going on regular Saturday/Sunday cycling club rides.
For a couple of years I found the idea of going on a longer bike trip quite fascinating. The sense of freedom, the challenges that one would possibly face on the roads and the overall spirit of adventure really appealed to me. So, after carefully planning it for a while, I decided to go on my first bike holiday, or to use a more technical term, bikepacking. A tent, some changes of clothes, first aid kit and hygiene essentials. I got everything packed on my road bike and I just started to ride. For the next 11 days I cycled around France. Experiencing the country from a complete different point of view. I could go into much greater detail, however, that is a story for another time.
Needless to say, it was an amazing experience. However, I started to ask myself some questions about the benefits of cycling:
How much “greener” was my travel compared to a car alternative? Did I gain any health benefits? I was unable to find information on this that related to this kind of trip. However, if we scale the topic down to every day commuting a lot of research has been done on the subject. Most developed countries have low physical activity standards. On average in Europe62.4% of adults are considered inactive. By country this ranges from 43.3% (Sweden) to 87.7% (Portugal) . Regarding the environment it really hits home the potential benefits of cycling when one considers that motorised transport makes up the 70% of environmental pollution and 40% of greenhouse gases emission in Europe.
Talking specifically about British logistics, the average UK commuting distance is 17 miles takes an average of 41 minutes. 53% of Brits use a car to get to and from work.
But what if commuters had access to proper cycling infrastructure when living within reasonable distance from work?
Fig.1- Hovenring, suspended cycle path roundabout. Image sourced from Pinterest.
In this scenario, the time required for cycling from home to work need not differ from driving. One of the main worries of many people regarding switching to an active transportation method such as cycling it is being exposed to smog, particulate matter (PM25), and road accidents. However, studies have proven that through active transportation methods, such as cycling, health benefits outweighs the possible health risks[2-4].
For this change to be widespread, and last, it needs to be sustained by government policies that facilitate it. There have been large studies into the effectiveness of such interventions on changing behaviour, and resulting improvements to people’s lives. A study conducted over 6 different European cities (Barcelona, Basel, Copenhagen, Paris, Prague and Warsaw) in 2016 showed interesting results (David Rojas-Rueda et al. 2016). The cities included in the study had different characteristics regarding their population, population density, road traffic fatalities per year, Concentration of PM2.5(particulate matter) (μg/m3), overall cycling levels, etc. The study confirmed once more that health benefits from active transportation like cycling outweigh the health risk, and also that active transportation promoting policies are even more effective in cities with previously low cycling levels.
More active ways of commuting, such as cycling, have the potential to not only benefit the single individual but the overall air quality of cities. The city of Stockholm (Sweden), was part of a study (Christer Johansson et al. 2017) which revealed that if all the commuters who lived within a cycling distance of 30 minutes from their workplace did so (in the case of Stockholm that number rounds up 111,000 people), in addition to individual health benefits they would significantly contribute to lowering the overall air pollution of the metropolitan area.
It might be hard for local institutions to promote active commuting policies in absence of proper infrastructure. However, ideas like bike-sharing services(Fig.2) are becoming quite popular. This has proved to be an effective method to promote active transportation locally and once again shows evidence of health benefits and overall reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
Fig.2 – Example of bike sharing service (Brighton, UK)
It seems clear that switching towards more active ways of commuting and/or moving around your city can be very beneficial, both to the individuals who make the switch and to the local environment. However, this approach, in order to be most effective and involve a wider range of individuals, has to be sustained by local policies.
- J. J. de Hartog et al. (2010). Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? Utrecht University, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Netherlands.
- D.Rojas-Rueda et al. (2016). Health Impacts of Active Transportation in Europe. ISGlobal, Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona, Spain.
- Randstad (2017) Britain’s workers are using their commutes to become more productive, according to research by recruiter randstad.
- M. Tainio et al. (2016). Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?
UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge, UK.
- C. Johansson et al(2017). Impacts on air pollution and health by changing commuting from car to bicycle. Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
- D.Rojas-Rueda et al. (2016). The health risks and benefits of cycling in urban environments compared with car use: health impact assessment study. Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, 08003 Barcelona, Spain;