The United States lags behind most other developed countries when it comes to adopting alternative forms of transportation. Urban sprawl, limited public transportation options and lapses in pedestrian-friendly travel routes encourage most commuters to reach for a set of car keys when heading out to run errands or travel to work.
Very few Americans commute to work via bike, despite the associated health and environmental benefits.
Increased cost savings
Automobiles are expensive. Drivers need to pay for gas, vehicle repairs and tolls to use highways, and all these costs add up over time. Bicycles are more affordable than cars. On average, it costs six times as much to drive a car as it does to ride a bicycle.
The average new vehicle costs more than $33,000, while the ordinary new bike costs around $50. A bike can provide an affordable alternative to gaining a higher degree of independence, compared to public transportation.
Highway and road construction is also a considerable expense for communities. Heavily used roadways require high volumes of expensive aggregates, concrete and reinforcing steel to maintain their integrity. Depending on the amount and type of traffic, it can cost upwards of $60 million per mile to construct a new highway. New bicycle lanes are significantly less expensive, costing up to $250,000 per mile.
Cycling also improves the local economy. Community residents relying on a vehicle for transportation are more likely to drive outside of their community to purchase goods and services. Cyclists likely won’t travel as far as they would in a vehicle, and instead purchase items closer to home. Cycling can help revitalize small businesses in the area and improve residents’ quality of life.
European countries — including the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden — have much higher percentages of their populations using bicycles compared to the United States, in part due to the concentration of their cities. The United States is notorious for urban sprawl, which makes it much more difficult to get around without a car. There is a positive correlation between the number of cyclists and the size of a city.
Reduced environmental impacts
Cars produce greenhouse gases, which contribute to global climate change. Biking relies on human power, which doesn’t contribute any noxious emissions responsible for environmental pollution. Even taking just short trips on a bicycle instead of using a vehicle can make a tremendous impact. Vehicles produce approximately 60 percent of their emissions in the first few minutes of operation. Switch to using your bicycle for shorter trips, and keep your car in the garage for longer adventures.
Not only does cycling reduce carbon-based emissions on the roadway, but it also helps conserve environmental resources. It takes fewer materials to build a new bicycle than it does to manufacture a new car. The vehicle manufacturing process produces nearly 32.2 billion cubic feet of pollution annually. Many materials used for the construction of vehicles need to be mined, which can compromise the quality of the soil the materials are removed from.
Additionally, less land needs to be cleared for parking. More green space can improve air quality and reduce the volume of polluted runoff from roadways and buildings by increasing infiltration and decreasing impermeable surfaces. In turn, this improves the water quality in communities for both wildlife and humans. Improvements in air quality can reduce respiratory illnesses and associated diseases from inhaling particulate matter and chemicals.
Positive health benefits
Tired of getting stuck in morning rush hour? Biking to work can decrease your commute time and be 50 percent faster than battling traffic during prime travel times. You’ll arrive at work sooner, feel less stressed and help lower the number of vehicles on the roadway, which can help reduce traffic. Chances are, you’ll also be in a much better mood. Studies show a city’s happiness has a positive correlation with the number of bicycle commuters.
Biking is also an excellent form of exercise. Using your bicycle to get to work every day can help you squeeze in an extra workout, which in turn, can increase your overall health and lower your annual health care expenses by up to $544 per year. Overall, you’ll be more likely to enjoy getting around town, and you can put the money you’d normally have spent on a gym membership into other expenses.
Additionally, cycling is safer than driving. Each year, more than 30,000 motorists are killed in automobile accidents throughout the United States. This figure is more than 40 times the number of cyclists killed in annual biking accidents.
Making the transition to using a bicycle for your daily commute can help you reduce your carbon footprint, improve your health and save you money.
This is a guest post written by Kate Harveston.
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger. Her writing focuses on politics and the environment, with a particular emphasis on social change. You can follow her writing by visiting her blog, So Well, So Woman.