Cycling networks could prevent up to 10,000 premature deaths in European cities

January 17, 2018, Barcelona Institute for Global Health
Bicycle lane in Barcelona, 2017. Credit: ISGlobal

A study led by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health has found that expanding designated cycling networks in cities could provide considerable health and economic benefits.

Analysis of data from 167 European cities suggests that the length of cycling infrastructures is associated with a cycling mode share of up to 24.7 percent, in which one in every four citizens is likely to choose cycling for their daily commute. The study, published in Preventive Medicine, estimates that if all the cities under study achieved a 24.7 percent bicycle mode share, over 10,000 premature deaths could be avoided annually.

"This is the first study evaluating the potential associations between cycling length, mode share and associated health impacts across European cities," says Natalie Mueller, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the paper. The health impact assessment showed that a routine shift in the transport mode to cycling is positive for health due to the associated increase in physical activity. "These benefits outweigh detrimental effects of air pollution and traffic incidents," adds Mueller.

The greatest health benefits among the different estimations made by the researchers were found in a scenario where the assessed cities had bike lanes in all their streets. In that case, London could avoid up to 1,210 premature deaths yearly, followed by Rome with 433 premature deaths yearly, and Barcelona with 248 premature deaths yearly. However, a 10 percent increase in designated cycling infrastructure was estimated to lead to significant increases in cycling and resulted in 21 preventable in Rome, 18 in London and 16 in Barcelona.

Besides being a means of transport, the bicycle is also a way to stay healthy and make cities healthier. In this infographic we give you seven good reasons to move on two wheels. Credit: ISGlobal

The researchers also performed an economic analysis to compare the costs of increasing cycling networks with the estimated of prevented premature mortality. Results show that the best cost-benefit ratios would be met in a scenario of a 10 percent increase in the cycling network, in which the ratio of benefits per euro spent would be up to 70 to 1 in the case of Rome, 62 to 1 in the case of Zurich, and 35 to 1 in the case of Barcelona.

"Even though we did not consider other determinants of cycling and cannot infer causality here, we simply like to express that cycling networks should be high up on the agendas of governments, which have direct local accountability for providing healthy choices to their citizens," says Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, coordinator of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative of ISGlobal and last author of the study. According to the study, cities with low cycling mode share (such as Rome, Barcelona and London), have great potential to increase cycling just by expanding their cycling networks. "A 10 percent increase in cycling infrastructure, which we perceive as an achievable policy for city governments, most likely provides considerable health and economic benefits," adds Nieuwenhuijsen.

"Once again we can see that getting people out of their own cars produces great health benefits. A combination of 'push' measures that make cars unattractive and 'pull' policies aimed at making public transport and more appealing would be best to improve and well-being in European cities," concludes researcher Natalie Mueller.

Explore further: Men aged 20-29 who swap car for bicycle for work commute have 'particularly high risk' of collisions, study finds

More information: Natalie Mueller et al, Health impact assessment of cycling network expansions in European cities, Preventive Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.12.011

Related Stories

Men aged 20-29 who swap car for bicycle for work commute have 'particularly high risk' of collisions, study finds

June 8, 2017
Switching from driving to a cycling commute helps Dublin city dwellers improve their physical health and mental wellbeing. However, the overall positive health benefits of cycling to the local population may mask some potential ...

Walking and cycling are good for health even in cities with higher levels of air pollution

May 4, 2016
The health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the negative effects on health of air pollution, even in cities with high levels of air pollution, according to a study led by researchers from the Centre for Diet and Activity ...

Cycling or walking to and from work linked to substantial health benefits

April 19, 2017
Active commuting by bicycle is associated with a substantial decrease in the risk of death from all causes, cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared with non-active commuting by car or public transport, finds a study ...

Air pollution exposure on home-to-school walking routes reduces the development of working memory in children

October 6, 2017
A study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has demonstrated that exposure to air pollution on the way to school can have damaging effects on children's cognitive development. The study, published ...

Pregnant women could get on their bikes and stay healthy with better support

June 7, 2017
Medical advice from risk-averse health professionals may contribute to some women's decisions to stop cycling to work during pregnancy, meaning they miss out on the potential benefits of the active commute. A recent study ...

Recommended for you

Don't eat bitter pumpkin, study warns after women lose hair

May 25, 2018
A doctor warned Friday that bitter-tasting pumpkins and squashes can contain potent toxins, after two women were poisoned by their dinners and lost most of their hair.

Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour

May 24, 2018
A lot can happen at 160 degrees Fahrenheit: Eggs fry, salmonella bacteria dies, and human skin will suffer third-degree burns. If a car is parked in the sun on a hot summer day, its dashboard can hit 160 degrees in about ...

Research finds a little exercise does a lot of good for ageing muscles

May 24, 2018
Getting old doesn't necessarily mean getting weak and frail – just a little bit of exercise can help maintain muscle mass and strength, Otago research has revealed.

In helping smokers quit, cash is king, e-cigarettes strike out

May 23, 2018
Free smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine patches and chewing gum, are a staple of many corporate wellness programs aimed at encouraging employees to kick the habit. But, new research shows that merely offering such aids ...

What makes us well? Diversity, health care, and public transit matter

May 23, 2018
Diverse neighbors. Health centers. Commuter trains. These community attributes, and other key factors, are linked to well-being and quality of life, according to Yale researchers.

Widely used e-cigarette flavoring impairs lung function

May 23, 2018
A new study has found that a common e-cigarette flavoring that has chemical characteristics similar to toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke disrupts an important mechanism of the lungs' antibacterial defense system. The ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.