The Economic and Personal Benefits of Cycling Culture
In America, cycling culture seemingly belongs to a very select group of individuals: those who favor skintight clothes and who arrived at their place of work drenched in sweat and short of breath.
But the wider world of cycling is much different; it’s a difference you can see plainly when you visit just about any country in Europe, where cycling culture is much more than a hobby or something enjoyed by hardcore practitioners; it is, instead, a way of life.
Cycling culture is on the rise in America, for a number of excellent reasons. But for us to really invest in it, and enjoy the benefits it can have on our health and economy, we need to leave some of our preconceptions behind.
Is America Cycling-Friendly?
Let’s look at the numbers. If you were to rank the most cycling-friendly cities in the world, you’d find that the only American city to make the cut is Minneapolis, coming in at a dismal 18th place. The top spots were taken by Nordic cities like Copenhagen and Utrecht.
To understand why this is, we need to look at something else the United States fails to invest in: infrastructure. Right now, the United States has just 213 protected bike lanes in 70 cities, which is a great place to start, but is still a bit shaming when you consider our geographic size and the density of our population.
The problem, of course, is that most of our cities were built with automobiles in mind; a pattern that continues today unabated. This, despite the fact that we’re more aware than ever of what commuting costs us, both economically and productivity-wise.
Europe Leads the Way
With the understanding that American infrastructure and city layouts don’t favor the cyclist, the question becomes something like this: What could galvanize us to do something different?
The short answer is (as usual) money. Those cycling-friendly cities in Europe are proving that encouraging cycling culture nets not just personal financial gains, but significant gains for the local economy as well.
Take a look at New Zealand, for example, where every dollar spent on building protected bike lanes saved the city in question about $24. The factors at work here include lower health care costs, dramatically reduced pollution, and less traffic and congestion.
How American Cities Benefit
As long as we’re thinking with our wallets, let’s take a look at the benefits already being enjoyed by some of America’s most bike-friendly cities.
New York City and Washington, D.C. are two of the first cities to invest heavily in cycling infrastructure. In New York alone, streets with bike paths enjoyed a 40% reduction in crashes, which in turn nets significant savings on health care expenses. As long as the basic tenets of cycling safety and etiquette are observed, everybody benefits.
The larger picture is even more encouraging: the average economic benefit-to-cost ratio for building bike lanes is 13:1, which we can attribute to the sky-high costs of building freeways ($60 million/mile) versus the much lower cost of building bike lanes ($170,000-$250,000/mile).
Knowing what you now know about cycling culture in the rest of the world, picture once again the “quintessential biker.” Hopefully the Lycra and Spandex is gone, in favor of casual clothes: the clothes of the Average Citizen.
Because cycling is for everyone. It benefits all of us, whether we personally partake or not. And remember this: America is a crucible of ideas, borrowed from forward-thinking peoples and nations across this world of ours. We should learn from Europe’s example and embrace cycling over here in the States–for the good of our planet, our waistlines, and our pocketbooks.