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City Cycling advocates for bicycling as transportation


by Jane Ward, MD, MPH

City Cycling (MIT Press, 2012, 393 pgs.)

John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, Eds.

John Pucher (Professor, Dept. of Urban Planning, Rutgers University) and Ralph Buehler (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Urban Affairs and Planning, Virginia Tech) have masterfully complied evidence-based research covering bicycling as transportation into City Cycling, a new book that offers a rallying call for more people of all ages and backgrounds to bike more often.

This authoritative anthology includes peer-reviewed chapters that are thoroughly referenced and carefully edited. City Cycling covers all aspects of “utilitarian cycling,” or cycling for transportation. Contributing authors have various professional backgrounds in geography, urban planning, environmental science, transportation planning, civil engineering, and public health, and present insights from 8 countries on 4 continents. Proven strategies to make cycling for transport more convenient, safe, and enjoyable are presented in order to attract a broader sector of the population (i.e., women, older adults, young people) to engage in cycling. Moreover, clear guidance is provided for a broad audience, ranging from the individual cyclist, to cycling advocacy groups, to transportation or city planners, and to policy makers and public health scientists and practitioners.

The book begins by documenting the cycling boom of the last 2 decades in traditionally bike-friendly Europe, and also in the U.S., Australia, and developing countries. A main goal of City Cycling is to promote cycling by documenting the many benefits of cycling to improvements in health (physical, mental, and emotional), in environmental stewardship (reduced air pollution, greenhouse gas production, and noise pollution), in traffic flow and safety for all modes of travel, in economy of travel (time and cost savings), in social capital (more community interaction, decreased crime, more affordable transportation), and increased quality of life.

Some key points from the topics of health and safety include the following:

  • Virtually all available studies report that cycling is beneficial to health and function across the life-span
  • Utilitarian cycling is an efficient way for people to achieve the recommended 30-60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity. This is particularly important as these same individuals may not choose to exercise otherwise in their leisure time
  • Using the World Health Organization’s Health Economic Assessment Tool, investigators have observed that the increased prevalence of cycling typically following community investment in cycling-friendly transportation infrastructure results in a 2.5:1 benefit-to-cost ratio, primarily attributed to lower cycling fatalities
  • A review of 16 studies, including data on active transportation, health, and transportation infrastructure, suggests an average benefit-to-cost ratio of 5:1 from community-wide support for active transport
  • As the number of cyclists in a city or region increases, cycling becomes safer and transportation for all other modes of travel becomes safer
  • The scientific evidence reviewed in Chapter 7 demonstrates that the health benefits of cycling far exceed traffic safety risks
  • The key to improved cycling safety is reducing motor vehicle speeds on shared roadways and providing physical separation of cyclists from motor vehicle traffic on arterials.

There are additional chapters covering cycling for women, cycling for children, cycling equipment, cycling in bike-friendly cities, cycling in mega-cities, and city bike-share programs. This extensive research compendium would be an excellent course text for students in urban or transportation planning, public health, public policy, or environmental science. Anyone interested in how to solve the modern-day dual burden of rising health care and transportation costs would enjoy the insights provided in City Cycling. Those who are already advocates for active transportation will benefit from having published evidence to back their claims of greater health and function from cycling.


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