Sunday, August 8, 2010

Do the risks outweigh the benefits for urban cyclists?

Often, as I pedal into work on Pewaukee Road, past the airport, over the interstate, I wonder to myself, "Why do I do this? Does the exercise and well-being that I get from biking really outweigh the potential risk of having an accident?"

Apparently, some researchers from the Netherlands wondered the same thing. They conducted a risk/benefit analysis and found that, at least for the Dutch, the health benefits of cycling exceed the potential risks:

"For the people who shift from car to bicycle use for short trips, we estimated that the beneficial effect...of the increased physical activity due to cycling is substantially larger than the potential...effect of increased inhaled air pollution...and the effect of traffic accidents."

Overall, the study found the following results:
  • Estimated gain in life expectancy because of increased physical activity: 3 to 14 months
  • Estimated life expectancy lost because of traffic crashes (in the Netherlands): 5 to 7 days
  • Using the crash rate from the UK, where the risk of dying for a cyclist is more than twice as high as the Netherlands, the estimated life expectancy lost due to traffic crashes: 14 days
Tip of the hat to the Racine Journal Times, which had an excellent set of articles on biking in the July 21 issue, including profiles of local urban cyclists, a look at the economic benefits of cycling for the state of Wisconsin, and some suggestions for people thinking about commuting by bike.

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