Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Bikes Can Solve Our Biggest Problems

Interesting statistics on biking and health. Portland could save $400M in healthcare costs by 2040 - imagine if more cities adopted pro-bike strategies and infrastructure.

"There's tantalizing data suggesting that biking could go a long way to solving America's obesity crisis. And much more.

Americans are getting fatter every year, and weight-related diseases kill us at a rate second only to tobacco. There's been lots of proposed solutions to that problem--rejiggering the food pyramid, advertising campaigns, soda taxes. But the simplest of all might just be bikes. Yes, bikes.

If you live in the suburbs where any bike trip would be riding along a highway, that probably sounds totally insane. But this infographic produced by Healthcare Management Degree actually provides several data points that suggest that bikes might not be so ridiculous after all.

A few stats immediately leap out at you: For one, 70% of America's car trips are shorter than 2 miles, which translates to about an easy 10-minute bike ride:

The stats really get eye-popping in the second half of the panel above: 13 pounds in a year, just from riding to work?! The second panel then looks at the obesity rates in various European countries and compares them to the percentage of trips taken by bike:

Obviously, correlation isn't causation, but given how much weight you lose by riding to work, the data is pretty compelling. Then again, could Americans really commit to the cultural shift that biking all the time entails? After all, it's not like our gas prices are going up to $8 a gallon, as they are in Europe where gas taxes are huge. If you're trying to fight cars as an American politician, you'll be out of work fast. Especially since, as of this moment, only a tiny .6% of all errands and trips in this country are made via bikes.

But the last panel does actually suggest that change isn't totally impossible. Portland, which is covered with relatively new bike lanes, has 6% of its population commuting by bike; ridership across the country is growing.

There are suggestions that the government takes this trend serious: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been making noises about making biking easier and safer across the country. 

But nonetheless, the degree to which motorists seem to despise those on bikes is pretty amazing--in New York's own fights over bike lanes, the backlash has been vicious. How do you make cyclists safer without making drivers feel like they're under attack? The answer to that question could hold the key to our biking future.