In addition to many personal benefits, investments in cycling especially in urban areas bring about many advantages for society as a whole. Studies show that every euro invested in cycling creates 8 euros in returns. In this blog post I wanted to go through some of the societal benefits of cycling:
1. Health benefits:
Better health is an important societal goal, and getting people on their bikes increases physical activity. According to the WHO, lack of physical activity is actually the fourth leading risk factor for deaths worldwide. Active modes of transport play an important role in preventing lifestyle-related diseases, and better health has also economic benefits for society as a whole.
In addition to physical benefits, cycling improves mental well-being as well. According to studies, people who bike to work are happier than people who drive or take public transport – a good reason for workplaces to start encouraging cycling to work!
2. Reduced air pollution: cycling is a clean form of transport compared to motor vehicles. The European Commission has calculated that bad air quality is costing the EU several billions in higher healthcare costs, loss of productivity, lower crop yields as well as damage to buildings and infrastructure. Any measures to improve air quality in most impacted areas (Brussels!) are a step in the right direction, and investing in cycling should play a role in these efforts.
3. Cycling, especially in cities, can contribute to reduced congestion and faster journey times. Traffic congestion is bad for the economy, as the European Commission has pointed out to Belgium. People sitting stuck in traffic jams are lowering the economic productivity of the country as well as wasting a lot of time in general, not to mention the environmental consequenses of heavy congestion.
If people can be encouraged to substitute driving with cycling, the effects can be positive in terms of better traffic flows. For best results, however, cities need to invest in proper cycle lanes, so that cyclists and other traffic modes are not slowing each other down.
4. Bikes require little space and infrastructure compared to cars. Cars do occupy a lot of valuable space in cities, especially when parked. One single parking space can be used to store 10-15 bikes. If more people used other modes of transport, such as cycling, cities could free up space for recreational and other use for the benefit of their citizens.
5. Investments in cycling support the economy: Studies suggest that cyclists spend more money and visit their local shops and restaurants more often than car drivers. Shopkeepers tend to overestimate the number of car users who shop at their business and underestimate the share of cycling customers. In addition, replacing busy roads with pedestrian areas and cycling lanes makes for more attractive city centres where people feel more at ease and are happier to do their shopping.
Furthermore, cycling-related industries create lots of new jobs: cycling tourism businesses, companies manufacturing bikes and accessories, and also service jobs in repairs and bike deliveries are being created as the share of cycling increases in Europe. According to the European Cyclists’ Federation, “cycling jobs are more geographically stable than other [transport] sectors, they benefit local economies, and they offer access to the labour market to lowly qualified workers.”
As we can see, the benefits of more cycling are manyfold. Cycling can contribute to more liveable cities via less congestion, better air quality, less noise and more space for people, which in turn will create happier citizens and attractive cities with high economic productivity. Many of these benefits go hand in hand with promoting walking and the use of public transport as well.
It is important that policy makers are made aware of the many different positive impacts of cycling, and that resources are allocated wisely to maximise the benefits that cycling and other sustainable modes of transport can offer.
What would you add to this list? Where should we start?