A QALY is a “quality-adjusted life year”, or “the equivalent of on additional year of life at full health.” A new study, The cost-effectiveness of bike lanes in New York City, has determined that New York City’s bike lanes deliver a QALY for just $ 1300. That’s more expensive than the most cost-effective investment, vaccines (at just $ 100 per QALY) but a lot better than direct health treatments like dialysis, at $ 129,000 per QALY.
Coauthor Dr. Babak Mohit of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University tells Kathryn Doyle of Reuters:
For bike lanes the cost per QALY is $1,300, a little bit higher than vaccines but way lower than most medical interventions that we have in healthcare. We’re finding more and more of these social interventions are not directly medically related but have an extremely positive effect on giving us more life years…I definitely think there’s room for expansion of bike lanes, the city spends $67,000 per QALY for Medicaid and we think spending $1,300 per QALY buys you a lot more life for a lot less money.
Bike lanes do their magic by increasing ridership while reducing the risk of injury, encouraging physical activity while reducing pollution. In New York, it was found that bike lanes increased the probability that someone would ride by 9.32 percent, cost only $ 2.79 per person but added .0022 quality-adjusted life years per person. Doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up.
The abstract of the study concludes:
We conclude that investments in bicycle lanes come with an exceptionally good value because they simultaneously address multiple public health problems. Investments in bike lanes are more cost-effective than the majority of preventive approaches used today.
While the study was done in New York, the results would probably be similar wherever bike lanes are installed. On Bike Biz, Carlton Reid notes that “In UK terms, if more cities became cycle-friendly the NHS would save billions of pounds.” Where I live, in Toronto, the Mayor is studying the data on a new bike lane with uncharacteristic rigor. Perhaps he should look at this study too; it might tip the balance.