Mobility Cycling How to Get People Head Over Wheels About Cycling

How to Get People Head Over Wheels About Cycling

Jo Helme
I studied (and cycled) at the Universities of Cambridge, Nottingham and Vienna. My day involves squeezing information out of cycling advocates, experts and policymakers, and then writing all the juicy bits into articles. When the climate crisis gives you lemons, ride bicycles.

The humble bicycle may just be the cure we need for our suffocating planet, sickly air and illnesses stirred by static lifestyles. Divided into four arguments, this article hopes to illuminate why cycling cities are so desperately needed. 

1. Cycling Saves: The Planet 

Cycling can cool our sweltering planet. Image credit: Pexels / Markus Spiske

Transport accounts for a quarter of all EU greenhouse gas emissions, according to the European Confederation of Cycling. Tackling the transport sector is therefore vital to stop planet suffocating under the climate crisis. 

By riding a bike, instead of a driving car, this can significantly reduce carbon emissions. Globally, the Institute for Transport and Development Policy predict that there would be an 11% reduction in carbon emissions if bikes and e-bikes made up 14% of travel in every city. 

These figures are striking because they show that cycling can be instrumental in cooling our sweltering planet. With cities clamouring to be carbon neutral, shifting from petrol-powered to people-powered transport is therefore critical in achieving this. Moreover, given that half of all car journeys in Europe are less than 5km, this behavioural shift is certainly attainable as these short distances can easily be covered by bike. By simply pedalling more, and driving less, the world can begin to breathe again. 

2. Cycling Saves: Lives 

Inactivity is claiming lives around the world. In a group of ten people, one person will die of inactivity according to a 2012 study published in the Lancet. The World Health Organisation underlines inactivity as the fourth leading cause of death and estimates that at least 60% of the world’s population do not achieve a daily 30 minutes of moderate exercise.

A toxic cocktail of coronary heart disease, breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and generally weak immune systems stem from inactivity. It also stirs mental health crises, as a static lifestyle correlates with depression. 

With mortality at stake, the case for cycling could not be stronger. As a relatively moderate form of exercise, cycling or e-biking can be inclusive of all demographics. It is therefore a viable route out of inactivity’s clutches, lifting the mental and physical well-being of city dwellers. Increased fitness reduces the risk of illness, whilst the endorphins generated by physical exercise improve mental health. Reduced stress and better sleep are also positive spin offs from cycling. The particular benefit of cycling is that combines commuting with exercising – it gives people the opportunity to be active without having to squeeze exercise around demanding schedules.

If constructing a tapestry of cycle lanes across a city could save one in ten lives, it is a compelling reason to start building.

3. Cycling Saves: Money

For the individual commuter, swapping the car for the bike is an economically sound decision. 616€ is the monthly average total cost of car ownership in Europe, making the bike a much more affordable option – not to even mention the free parking! Cycling also saves the commuter time; cycling in urban environments frequently undercuts driving time and is much more predictable due to reduced congestion. Not only good for the heart and planet, cycling is good for the wallet as well. 

For the community at large, cycling as a mode of transport can be a huge cost saver. The funds funnelled into road infrastructure, maintenance, congestion mitigation measures and road accidents dwarves that of cycling infrastructure. Take Seville as an example. 32 million EUR was spent building an entire cycling network of 80km, serving 67,000 trips a day – the same amount of funding could finance 5 or 6km of highway.

Cycling makes cents. Image credit: Pexels / Zhang Kaiyv

The cost of sick days and health conditions caused by inactivity are also significantly elevated by cycling; the British Cycling Study estimated that the UK’s National Health Service could save 17 billion pounds within 20 year if the cycling and walking modal share matched that of Denmark. Hence, there is a compelling governmental case for cycling investment.

Lastly, cycling can be an economic stimulant in its own right. The Dutch Cycling Embassy calculates that cyclists spend 3x more than motorists, shop more locally and are more loyal customers. Whilst cyclists spend less per visit, they visit more frequently so spend more overall. Buenos Aires illustrates these benefits, as its bicycling industry has grown confidently since the city increased its cycling lanes in 2011. From bike shops, repair workshops, bike rental agencies and even cafes offering specialist ‘cyclist’ coffee, jobs and business have sprung up from the new transportation mode. 

The case for cycling cities can therefore stand up on its economic merits alone – it saves and makes money simultaneously.

4. Cycling Saves: The Surroundings

Less tarmac, more trees. Image credit: Pexels / Taryn Elliott

Cycling makes cities nicer places live in. Increased cycling can reduce air and noise pollution. Given that air pollution causes 7 million annual deaths globally and that more 50 million people in Europe alone are exposed to noise levels considered to detrimental health, cleaner air and quieter streets can change lives.

Eight bicycles can be parked in one carparking spot, allowing for more greenery and space to be dedicated to the community, not to concrete. Cyclists are also more likely to make eye contact, interact with other lane users and appreciate the surrounding environment, making for a more sociable commute. Reduced car use also means cities do not need to be designed around cars, allowing for the preservation of the city’s historic layout. 

Cities speckled with green and pollutants replaced with pollen make for more liveable homes. By designing cities around cycles, this can be a reality.

How to In a Nutshell…

When persuading people to embrace cycling, ask them if saving money, lives, the surrounding or the planet appeals. Then remember these four figures:

  • 11% reduction in carbon emissions
  • 1 in 10 inactivity deaths,
  • 616€ spent monthly on cars,
  • and 7 million pollution deaths.

That should get some heads spinning. 

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