Cities Stand To Save Billions From A Bike-Friendly Commuter Culture

Cities Stand To Save Billions From A Bike-Friendly Commuter Culture

A new study by University of Wisconsin shows significant health, air quality, and emergency savings in bike-friendliness.

Biking has been held up as the ideal alternative to American commuter culture for decades. European cities that rely much more heavily on bicycle traffic have healthier populations, cleaner air, and more sustainable infrastructure. People that use bicycles to commute to work, or for trips five miles or shorter, have significantly improved cardiovascular health, and are breathing cleaner air from less automobile pollution. However, for municipal leaders around the country, public health and environmental sustainability are often not enough to make large changes to city infrastructure in the midst of a recession. However, a new study linking increases in bike commuters to major decreases in cities’ bottom lines may turn some heads in City Hall.

According to a new study by the University of Wisconsin published in Environmental Health Perspectives, looked at the economic, as well as the health benefits of a public that uses bicycles for short trips and commutes rather than automobiles. This study came on the heels of the statistic that 70% of Americans’ car trips are shorter than two miles. In other words, only one in four times that a person has to go somewhere in a car, the trip is two miles or more. If you’re not shocked by that information (and how incredibly lazy we’ve become as a car culture!) you might be to learn that the study found that simply by switching from cars to bikes, cities can save billions annually. That’s billions of dollars… with a “b”.

The study look at 11 metropolitan cities in the northern Midwest, taking into account data on air pollution, healthcare costs, mortality rates, public fitness, and frequency and severity of car accidents. The study ranked each sampled region based on economic savings from switching from primarily car commuter cultures to ones in which everyone made trips of 5 miles or shorter on a bicycle instead. The results were a net social healthcare benefit from improved air quality of $3.5 billion, and $3.8 billion in savings from reductions in car accidents, mortality rates, and other miscellaneous healthcare issues related to sedentary lifestyle.

To make the study’s findings even more dramatic, it should be mentioned that the authors only considered Midwesterners biking in fair weather, figured to be roughly four months out of the year. One could only imagines the increased savings to cities in more temperate climates where the savings might be projected year round.

If public health benefits, higher air quality, fewer traffic accidents, and a lower mortality rate aren’t enough to convince city leaders and commerce boards to aggressively pursue a bike-friendly city agenda, perhaps the potential to save millions of dollars is.