Cities Should Encourage Citizens to Ride Their Bikes More

Bicycling is more than a practical, cost-effective solution to many municipal challenges. It’s an opportunity to make one’s community a vibrant destination for residents and visitors. Below is four reasons why cities should encourage citizens to ride their bikes more.

Healthier Citizens:

Cycling has the added bonus of providing exercise while reducing traffic congestion. Obesity is something that continues to rise across the United States and has noticeably done so since the 1980s. The current U.S. obesity rate is at 31%, and it contributes to approximately 280,000 deaths a year.[1] Obesity does not care about race, class, gender, age, where one lives, or level of education; no one is immune. According to John Pucher in his article on public policy, by the year 2000, 65% of all American adults were clinically overweight. He goes on to say that in Western European countries “where walking and cycling account for a third to a half of all urban trips, obesity rates range from 3% to 9%…less than a fifth of the American level.”[2]

One of the most effective means of reducing the chance of becoming obese is physical exercise. Cycling is a very good example of an exercise that will help someone keep his or her weight at a healthy level and is “relatively easy to incorporate into a normal daily routine.”[3] The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity and adult get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to “lower risks associated with obesity, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.”[4] The Alliance concludes that increasing biking and walking will improve overall physical health while decreasing the rates of obesity and overweight adults.[5]

Portland Bike Lincoln Park

Downtown Portland, Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

A better place to live:

A study conducted in 2006 found that residents living in neighborhoods with better bicycle connections and more walkable streets made twice as many bicycle and pedestrian trips for non-recreational purposes and traveled 14.7 fewer miles per day than residents of more conventional suburban neighborhoods.[6] Cycling can make it easier for individuals to get around their neighborhoods. Recreational cycling opportunities makes neighborhoods more attractive to residents by providing access to activities that help them become and/or stay healthy. The more cyclists and pedestrians are encouraged to take up outside activities in their neighborhoods, the more active and vibrant their streets become.[7]


A stronger economy:

Encouraging cycling not only improves the flow of traffic, but also has the potential to improve the health of the local economy. Providing improved access to neighborhood retailers for cyclists is an effective way to support local businesses. Reducing traffic congestion and increasing bicycle ridership would benefit business owners by freeing up road space and therefore reducing overall road delays associated with traffic congestion. This benefits businesses because it improves access to “goods and services.”[8] According to a study conducted by the Victorian Government of Australia, allocating vehicle parking spaces for bicycle parking can have a positive impact on local shopping districts. The study concluded, “Every square meter of bicycle parking generates $31 of revenue per hour versus $6 per hour for every square meter of car parking.”[9] In a typical sized parking stall, this equates to approximately $108 per hour from automobile drivers, versus $558 if that same space where to be dedicated to bicycle parking. Converting a car parking space into a bicycle parking space will typically accommodate four bicycles. Based on the assumption of $558 per hour per parking stall, cyclists can generate up to $139 per hour for retailers. Cyclists have an additional $31 per hour of disposable income to spend compared to their automobile-dependent neighbors. The Alliance for Biking and Walking conducted an analysis of multiple studies and found that bicycle and walking projects create “11-14 jobs per $1 million spent versus 7 jobs per $ 1 million spent on highway projects.”[10] Bicycling and walking projects may be smaller than highway projects, but they have a greater rate of return as an investment in the local workforce.

A healthier environment:

Air quality is a big concern when looking at environmental health. It is true that automobile makers have made significant improvements for pollution released from vehicles over the past few decades. However, with the increasing number of automobiles on the road, this reduction in air pollution from each individual car is negligible when looking at the bigger picture of more vehicle miles traveled and drivers traveling further distances for more activities each day. Automobile travel accounts for “70% of carbon monoxide, 38% of hydrocarbons and 41 % of nitrogen oxide released into the air.[11]” Compared to a car in motion, a car idling in traffic produces higher levels of toxins, uses more fuel, and increases the wear and tear on the engine. In contrast, a bicycle does not emit more toxic by-products into the air sitting idle at a stoplight than it does in motion.

[1] Frank, L. Obesity Relationships with Community Design, Physical Activity, and Time Spent in Cars, p.87.

[2] Pucher, J., Public Transportation, p. 223.

[3] Hendrickson, Ingrid J.M (2010) , The Association Between Commuter Cycling and Sickness Absence, p. 132.

[4] webisite.

[5] Alliance for Biking and Walking (2012), 2012 Benchmarking Report, p.18.

[6] Rodriguez, D. (2006): Can New Urbanism Encourage Physical Activity?: Comparing a New Urbanist Neighborhood with Conventional Suburbs, Journal of American Planning Association, 72:1, pp. 50-51.

[7] State of Victoria, Cycling into the Future 2013-23: Victoria’s Cycling Strategy, p.9.

[8] Mid-Region Planning Organization (2012). 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, p. (6)13.

[9] State of Victoria, Cycling into the Future 2013-23: Victoria’s Cycling Strategy, p.9.

[10] Alliance for Biking and Walking (2012), 2012 Benchmarking Report, p.18.

[11] Hanson, S. (1995) Getting There: Urban Transportation in Context, pg. 24.


One thought on “Cities Should Encourage Citizens to Ride Their Bikes More

  1. Pingback: fuel | Car Free 4 Months: Summery of the Car Free A Possible Experiment

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