Transport Theory

Commuter biking could save US $17 billion a year

Posting in Cities

According to a new report on the public benefits of commuter biking, the practice can generate massive savings in health care.

The U.S. spends around $2 trillion a year on health care, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Wouldn't it be nice to find a way to cut back on those costs, while simultaneously improving public health and lowering carbon emissions?

Copenhagen recently published its 2012 Bicycle Account, which enumerates the considerable public benefits of commuter biking. One-third of the city's population bikes to work, and this has benefited everything from transportation costs to security, tourism, traffic infrastructure, and public health.

Andy Clarke, president of the league of American Bicyclists (as quoted in The Grist):

“When all these factors are added together the net social gain is DKK [Danish Crowns] 1.22 per cycled kilometer. For purposes of comparison there is a net social loss of DKK 0.69 per kilometer driven by car.” 1.22 Danish crowns is about 25 cents and a kilometer is 6/10 of a mile, so we are talking about a net economic gain to society of 42 cents for every bicycle mile traveled. That’s a good number to have in your back pocket.

Business Insider did some simple arithmetic and found that if the same proportion of Americans commuted to work by bicycle as our counterparts in Copenhagen (35 percent), we'd have 109 million cyclists. At a rate of social gain of 0.42 cents per mile, even if our cyclists biked only a mile per day, we'd be adding $46 million to the economy each day, and $17 billion per year. This doesn't even account for the benefit of offsetting the social loss caused by driving, as many of these bikers would otherwise have driven to work.

Business Insider argues that most of this social gain would ultimately find its way back to the health industry, citing the Copenhagen report:

The most important socio-economic impact of cycling lies in the area of health care. When we cycle we save ourselves and society as a whole significant health care costs, including saved treatment expenses and increased tax revenues as result of fewer illnesses.

That's a strong argument for American cities to improve their biking infrastructure. The public gains may prove to be more than worth the investment.

Photo: Flickr/I Bike Fresno, Emil Myrsell

via [Business Insider]

Channtal Fleischfresser

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Channtal Fleischfresser has worked for The Economist, WNET/Channel 13, Al Jazeera English, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure