The Atlantic Cities has a diddy exposing some of the pollution ill-effects of cycling. But, the larger question is still left open. Even considering the air pollution burden from cycling–and perhaps even the safety risks owing to crashes–is it healthy? We need to look at the larger context. The prevailing evidence, I would argue, suggests that cycling is healthy–overall–because of the physical activity benefits.
Planetizen just announced its 11th annual list of the ten best books in urban planning, design and development published for 2012. The list selected by Planetizen’s editorial staff covers a range of urgent topics. A couple of reactions:
-Popular press and journalistic authors dominate (not academics and researchers). This is to be expected, but I did not recognize a single academic. I suppose our writing style (or our findings?) really are boring.
…but, speaking of boring:
-Of the ten books listed, the 329 page Urban Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials is one of them. Seriously? A technical manual as a “best of”? Apparently, the editorial staff is stacked w insomniacs. It is great to see a bike reference among the list. And, it is a really useful guide, don’t get me wrong. But still.
Some of the most robust research, internationally, of the health benefits derived from switching car use to other modes is coming out of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona. They have looked at the impacts of Barcelona’s bike-sharing system in the past. Their latest work is more generally about the benefits of public transport and bike. Yes, they are working with future scenarios. Yes, there are lots of assumptions embedded. But the framework and the identification of key outcomes and specific measures is good to see.
Replacing car trips by increasing bike and public transport in the
greater Barcelona metropolitan area: A health impact assessment study
Volume 49, 15 November 2012, Pages 100–109
Rojas et al.
Estimate the health risks and benefits of mode shifts from car to cycling and public transport in the metropolitan area of Barcelona,Spain.
We conducted a health impact assessment (HIA), creating 8 different scenarios on the replacement of short and long car trips, by public transport or/and bike. The primary outcome measure was all-cause
mortality and change in life expectancy related to two different assessments: A) the exposure of travellers to physical activity, air pollution to particulate matter < 2.5 μm (PM2.5), and road traffic fatality; and B) the exposure of general population to PM2.5, modelling by Barcelona Air-Dispersion Model. The secondary outcome was a change in emissions of carbon dioxide.
The annual health impact of a shift of 40% of the car trips, starting and ending in Barcelona City, to cycling (n = 141,690) would be for the travellers who shift modes 1.15 additional deaths from air pollution, 0.17 additional deaths from road traffic fatality and 67.46 deaths avoided from physical activity resulting in a total of 66.12 deaths avoided. Fewer deaths would be avoided annually if half of the replaced trips were shifted to public transport (43.76 deaths). The annual health impact in the Barcelona City general population (n = 1,630,494) of the 40% reduction in car trips would be 10.03 deaths avoided due to the reduction of 0.64% in exposure to PM2.5. The deaths (including travellers and general population) avoided in Barcelona City therefore would be 76.15 annually. Further health benefits would
be obtained with a shift of 40% of the car trips from the Greater Barcelona Metropolitan which either start or end in Barcelona City to public transport (40.15 deaths avoided) or public transport and
cycling (98.50 deaths avoided).The carbon dioxide reduction for shifting from car to other modes of transport (bike and public transport) in Barcelona metropolitan area was estimated to be 203,251
t/CO2 emissions per year.
Interventions to reduce car use and increase cycling and the use of public transport in metropolitan areas, like Barcelona, can produce health benefits for travellers and for the general population of the
city. Also these interventions help to reduce green house gas emissions.
- We assess the health impacts of replacing car trips by bicycle or public transport.
- Replacement of the car trips reduces mortality in travellers who shift the mode.
- Replacement of the car trips also reduces mortality in residents of urban areas.
- Replacement of car trips can reduce the emissions of CO2.
I have long considered The Economist as a somewhat reliable barometer for mostly, writing style…but also for reliable news about world events. Sure, its a bit liberal, but one could argue that writing style usually makes up for it.
They are now on-board with reporting on cycling. Though, this article, in my opinion, is lacking a bit. The usual dribble is rolled out about increases in cycling in North America; and they kind of hinge a lot on the “doubling” of the cycling population (sure, it is an increase of 100%, but it still hovers around 1%…fully within measurement error).
Still, it is refreshing to see such news reported in The Economist, I suppose.
Most communities around the US celebrate bike to work day and week in May. The idea is to celebrate and promote the whole concept and get more people on-board. In Colorado, the Front Range communities wait until the 4th Wednesday in June. It is quite a celebration with the Regional Council (DRCOG) playing an active role. There are over 45 breakfast stations in city of Boulder alone–that’s almost 2 stations per square mile of town.
The whole idea, it seems, is to get people to “register” for the event and thereby “pledge” to do more of it–almost 1,800 of them across the Front Range. I’m not sure I fully follow the wisdom of such, but it seems harmless. Relative to previous years, it seemed that attendance was a bit down in Boulder, likely owing to the obsessive heat for several consecutive days prior and the onset of pretty dramatic forest fires.
The ACT Research Group will be partnering with DRCOG analyzing some of the survey results. Some positive university press has already been generated. Our central research question is going to focus on those who do it this day but not the rest of the day–drilling down into the strength and duration of the “lag effect” of such an intervention. Supposedly 30% were first time participants.
People love their bikes. In a recent survey of 5000 Bicycling magazine readers, 50% of men and 58% of women said that—if pressed to choose between sex or bikes—they’d pick the bikes. Draw your own implications about the future of our cities, society in general or even the nature of relationships.