By Ami Cholia
Posting in Cities
An investment into biking infrastructure will reduce Portland's health care costs in the long run, a new study finds.
The advantages of biking are manifold: bikes don't pollute, they keep you in shape and during rush hour traffic, they often go faster than cars. Now, researchers in Portland say that the city's bike paths will cut its population's health costs.
Portland has spent an estimated $57 million on its biking infrastructure so far, and the city has one of the country's highest biking rates (a little more than 6 percent of the city's residents commute by bike).
The study published last week in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health has 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. Essentially, the money that is spent on biking infrastructure, is money that is eventually saved on health care costs, the study says.
Swiss epidemiologist Thomas Gotschi, who, led the study, put together the cost/benefit analysis on biking in a U.S. city by adding Portland's past and planned expenditures on biking, and comparing it with health care cost savings. The savings are based on the amount of health care dollars that would be spared if Portland’s citizens got more regular exercise from biking, and thus incurring fewer chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
The study is also timely since the city recently approved a plan to spend another $600 million more dollars to improve bike infrastructure over the next 20 years. Of course, Gotschi's study is slightly flawed, because there is no guaranteed proof that if more bike lanes are built, bikers will necessarily come.
Also, there's no way to know if the same correlation will be found in other cities, but the study definitely proves that health care costs go down, if people bike.
Carolyn Voorhees, professor in behavioral and community health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told the Portland Tribune that heart disease costs the country about $351 billion a year, and obesity about $117 billion a year.
Imagine if some of those costs cuts were achievable just by buying a bike.
Via Portland Tribune
Mar 3, 2011
I just moved from NYC to Portland and I find that people bike even more here than what I saw in NY. I had a bike in the city and brought it with me when I moved, but I don't use it as much simply because my office isn't that close to home. I bought a used hybrid from http://autos.oregonlive.com
While biking may be good for your health, the truth is that the people who might benefit the most from biking are usually less likely to take it up. Certainly more bike paths are an incentive, but at the margin many people will try it a few times and decide it's just too much effort. If you have to lose a lot of weight before regularly biking to work is not an ordeal, it's next to impossible to get converts. I live in Boulder, CO which has excellent bike paths covering the whole city. In fact, almost no major road improvement gets done unless it also provides more space for bikes. Our own usage is also around 6% of the commuting public. We have an annual "bike-to-work" day in June which is a lot of fun where many businesses along the bike paths give out free breakfasts, etc. This draws a much larger crowd -- but it always rapidly goes back to the core 6% or so. Beyond more bike paths, you also have to figure out a way for parents to get to their kids and take them home in case of emergencies, or even just deliver them to/from school. There are also plenty of regular after-work errands that require more than a bicycle.
I live and bike in Portland. Yes during the winter there is a decline in bike riders, but you would be surprised to see how many die-hard bikers are on the street even during tough times. Also consider that when the bikes stay at home, these same people almost exclusively use the excellent mass transit system that Portland has. Also, take a look at all the bike riders in Portland vs. their car driving counterparts and you will see slim folks vs. not so slim folks. I believe there is a direct correlation in health benefits.
Oh and that 6% bike use study - they do the survey of bike users in September of each each year - the best weather month and at the start of the U of Portland school year when all the college students commmute to school - to boost the numbers up and that SINGLE survey is used as show how many people bike ALL YEAR LONG. They NEVER survey in Feburary when it rains 20 days out of 28, its 35 degrees out, and only the real die-hards are out willing to risk riding on wet slipery streets / hills / mud and in road slime on the way to work / school.
It would be nice to see a follow-up with real results from these pie-in-the sky forecasts. $57 million is just money in a black hole. The projected savings will not occur and whatever savings might occur will not accrue to the source of the expenditure.
just imagine. lots of studies have been made to show all sorts of good effects that never ever pan out because the assumptions made are unrealistic. dreams are good for everyone, but they are poor things to use to forecast the future, if one wants to see what failure looks like, look up the GM exhibit at the ny world's fair of 1939 as a model of the future world. not only did nothing like this ever happen, the original model showed a city in which there were few people and fewer autos on the streets. that ain't what happened. actually we doubled our population in the u.s. since then and probably increased our auto numbers many fold.. go figure.