Though the U.S. has seen 40 percent growth in bicycle commuters since 2000, their numbers have yet to surpass 1 million. In contrast, there are 204 million personal vehicles on the road on a given day.
That's a shame.
Not only does biking to work have the potential to improve individuals' health, wealth and standard of living, but the combination of more cyclists and fewer cars on the road could give the entire country a much-needed boost.
It is vastly cheaper than driving. Due to rising fuel costs and tire upkeep, the cost of owning a car increased nearly 2 percent in 2012 to $8,946, according to AAA. It costs just $308 per year to keep bikes in shape––nearly 30 times less than cars, according to the Sierra Club: "If American drivers were to make just one four-mile round trip each week with a bicycle instead of a car, they would save nearly 2 billion gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon, total savings would be $7.3 billion a year."
It's a free gym on wheels. When I started cycling two years ago, I started shedding pounds almost instantly –– without all the hassle of paying for and finding time to hit the gym. On average, bicycle commuters lose 13 pounds in their first year of cycling alone.
"[Bike commuting] can be a very effective cardiovascular benefit," says Lisa Callahan, MD, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "If you're overweight and start an exercise program, sometimes it's harder on your joints because you are overweight ... so something like swimming or biking that's not pounding on the joints can be a good thing."
You won't miss morning traffic jams. Americans spend more than 25 minutes driving to work each day, according to the latest U.S. Census data , and trips can take nearly twice as long in populous cities like New York and Atlanta. Cycling could help you get there faster.
"Half of the working population in the U.S. commutes five miles or less to work, with bike trips of three to five miles taking less time or the same amount of time as commuting by car," writes Kiplinger editor Amanda Lilly .
You don't even have to own a bike. There's been a wave of new bike share programs in major cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago and Miami, which typically allow riders 30 to 45 minutes of free transportation for a small annual fee. When New York City's bike share launches in Spring 2013, annual memberships will cost $95 –– about $10 less than subway commuters spend per month.
We could save hundreds of millions on healthcare expenses. "The most important socio-economic impact of cycling lies in the area of health care," says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists . Nowhere is that more clear than in Portland, Ore. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that "during the next 30 years, Portland’s residents could save as much as $594 million in health care costs because of an investment into biking culture" and "fuel savings of $143 to $218 million."
Businesses will save millions in lost productivity. A recent study by Dutch economic think tank TNO found people who commuted to work by bike were less likely to call in sick. "Commuting to work by bicycle by just 1 percent could save [Denmark’s] employers approximately $34 million in lost productivity from absenteeism," Oregon state rep. Earl Blumenhauer writes in American Bicyclist . "That’s assuming a workforce of 7.1 million people. The U.S. has more than 154 million people in its workforce."
It would make cycling safer for everyone. Much unlike cars, the more bicycles on the road, the safer it becomes for cyclists, research shows. "It's a virtuous cycle," Dr. Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from UNSW, says . "The likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls with increasing rate of bicycling in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people are prepared to cycle."
You're way more likely to get sick taking the bus. Fresh air does a body good. A recent study by the University of Nottingham found public transit riders were "six times more likely to suffer from acute respiratory infections," the New York Daily News reports. Supposedly, occasional riders were even more at risk. Another study found a host of illness-causing viruses lurking in passenger vehicles, including E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter, according to Safetyissues.com.
Uncle Sam will pay you to bike. Since January 2012, cyclist commuters have been entitled to a $20 per month tax-free reimbursement for bike-related expenses. This applies to workers who bike at least three days per week to the office. Qualifying expenses include bike repairs and storage expenses, according to the National Center for Transit Research.
Women could use the extra bone support. As women age, they become increasingly susceptible to bone deterioration through osteoporosis. A team of researchers from a Swedish university found middle-aged women were less likely to sustain wrist fractures if they commuted by bike or participated in other physical activities like walking.
You inhale more harmful exhaust in your car than on a bike. While fuel emissions are bad news for any set of lungs, drivers are actually more susceptible to harmful air than bicyclists. "Studies show you get the biggest hit of the nasties when you’re inside a car," notes the Grist's Umbra Frisk . "Sure, a personal Mobile Emissions Source [ie: cars] appears hermetic, but it’s an illusion: MES occupants are very close to sucking on the tailpipe of the MES just ahead of them. In a bus, riders’ lungs are a bit above these sources. And bikers and pedestrians are on the outskirts."
You'll never have to worry about a parking spot again. Hundreds of major companies have entered the American League of Bicyclists' "Bicycle Friendly Business" program and c ities like New York require commercial office buildings by law to offer some sort of bike storage. Otherwise, invest in a sturdy bike lock and all you need is a spare bike rack or street sign to park your ride. Folding bikes are another useful option, as they can be packed into a bag and stashed easily under a desk or a closet.
Our economy could use a boost. Cyclists in cities like Copenhagen have become the poster children for the benefits of cycling, both at the micro- and macroeconomic level. In its 2012 Bicycle Account , the city says bike commuters generated savings ($0.42 for each mile biked) in just about every way imaginable: lowered transportation costs, security, branding/tourism, traffic infrastructure and public health.
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