We have been writing so much lately about helmet laws and people on bikes getting squished that you might think that cycling is dangerous. In fact, the opposite is true; Karin Olafson suggests in Momentum Magazine that bicycling is a form of preventative health care. She writes:
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the positive impact of making cities more bike-friendly: “integrating health-enhancing choices into transportation policy has the potential to save lives by preventing chronic diseases, reducing and preventing motor-vehicle-related injury and deaths, improving environmental health, while stimulating economic development, and ensuring access for all people.” The CDC also recognized that a lack of efficient transportation alternatives to driving and a fear of biking in heavy traffic only encouraged people to continue to drive all or most of the time.
She claims that with safe bike routes that encouraged people to ride, "billions of health care dollars saved."
Karin pointed to a pair of studies to back up her position, and indeed they do. In Thomas Gotschi's 2011 study Costs and Benefits of Bicycling Investments in Portland, Oregon, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (and free! you can read it!) he writes:
By 2040, investments in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 to $218 million, and savings in value of statistical lives of $7 to $12 billion. The benefit-cost ratios for health care and fuel savings are between 3.8 and 1.2 to 1, and an order of magnitude larger when value of statistical lives is used. Conclusions: This first of its kind cost-benefit analysis of investments in bicycling in a US city shows that such efforts are cost-effective, even when only a limited selection of benefits is considered.
The other quoted study is by Jonathan Patz and Maggie Grabow titled Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States came to much the same conclusion. They include some scary data about how much and what crazy short distances Americans drive:
In the United States, 28% of all car trips are ≤ 1.6 km (1 mi), which is the distance that a typical European would walk. Another 41% of all trips are ≤ 3.2 km (2 mi), a distance that many Europeans would be as likely to bicycle as to walk.
So 69% of car trips in the US are less than two miles, many of which could easily be replaced with good infrastructure for walking and cycling. The benefits:
Across the study region of approximately 31.3 million people and 37,000 total square miles, mortality would decline by approximately 1,295 deaths/year (95% CI: 912, 1,636) because of improved air quality and increased exercise. Making 50% of short trips by bicycle would yield savings of approximately $3.8 billion/year from avoided mortality and reduced health care costs (95% CI: $2.7 billion, $5.0 billion]. We estimate that the combined benefits of improved air quality and physical fitness would exceed $8 billion/year.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that significant health and economic benefits are possible if bicycling replaces short car trips. Less dependence on automobiles in urban areas would also improve health in downwind rural settings.
Lots of good reasons to invest in bike and pedestrian infrastructure and make the roads safer. You would think that anti-tax advocates would leap on this as a way to save money and reduce health care costs. But no, in America, Bike Lanes Part of a U.N.-Led Conspiracy, the Tea Party Says