Five reasons why investing in cycling is good for society

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!

Happy people on bikes on a car-free day in Brussels.
Happy people on bikes on a car-free day in Brussels.

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.

A waterbus transporting cyclists in Holland.
A waterbus transporting cyclists in Holland.

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.

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A bike park in front of the Brigittines in Brussels.

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.”

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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?

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4 thoughts on “Five reasons why investing in cycling is good for society

  1. Thank you so much for starting this blog! All the posts are informative and well thought out. You’re right: Brussels is an absolute mess, though there are things the city or region could do about it – if they dared!

    I can think of two additional benefit of promoting cycling: 1) the roads, 2) quicker emergency services.

    At the moment so many cars and lorries drive over the same bits of road (which are mostly laid on old cobbles) that the roads wear out really quickly. They are full of potholes and in some places quite dangerous. Cycles really don’t have the same damaging effect on roads as cars, so reducing the number of heavy vehicles and cars on roads, and increasing cycling would reduce the need for expensive, annoying and disruptive roadworks all the time.

    On the second, I would like to ask the authorities how many people die as a result of delayed emergency services in this city. We’ve all seen it: ambulances stuck behind lorries that are parking, policy cars stuck in the many traffic jams on Rue de La Loi or the ‘petite ceinture’, or pompiers/fire engines stuck behind queues of cars and unable to get to the emergency. So you can guess what the benefit of more cycling/fewer cars would be: quicker response to emergencies by the authorities. It would also cut back on the noise of the sirens, which would get to the emergency quicker rather than being stuck in jams in residential streets blocked by people parking ‘sauvage’!

    Anyway, thanks for your blog and your initiative. It would be great to have more comments from other expats (I suppose) – the city is such a mobility mess and really needs some brave action to sort it out.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, you made some good points. Indeed, emergency vehicles would also benefit from less congestion and more controlled parking. I remember reading somewhere that increasing cycling does not necessarily result in less congestion,though, if people switch walking and public transport to cycling but car drivers carry on as before. I wonder what arguments would work best with car drivers in order to encourage them to switch to cycling too.

      I agree with what you said about infrastructure, building and maintaining roads for bikes requires a lot less resources (and space) compared to cars.

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  2. it also reduces crime and increases social cohesion; it mediates/buffers negative impacts of socio-economic inequalities on health outcomes.

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    1. Thanks for commenting! I haven’t heard the argument about cycling reducing crime before – what kind of evidence is there supporting that view? On socio-economic inequalities: cycling is a much more equal mode of transport compared to cars (as is walking); everyone can afford a bike. I believe there is a study from London showing that most disadvantaged/poorest people tend to live next to bigger roads, and suffer more from bad air quality as a result.

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