Study: Biking could save $7 billion, 1,100 lives yearly
Residents in 11 Midwestern cities would generate $7 billion in improved air quality, reduced health care costs and increased physical fitness by biking rather than driving for roughly half their trips of five miles or less, according to the work of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, the decrease in air pollution and increase in fitness would save about 1,100 lives per year.
The findings of the team working at the Global Health Institute were published November 2 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The calculations were based on computer models projecting reduced emissions, hospital visits and deaths if a moderate change to self-propelled travel would cut down residential vehicle use about 20 percent.
In the U.S. roughly 28 percent of all car trips are one mile or less, another 41 percent are two miles or less. Those short trips are particularly damaging, based on research that shows 25 percent of volatile organic compounds and 19 percent of particulate matter are emitted by cars in the first few minutes of operation.
The researchers concluded that the health care savings would be generated through a reduction of roughly 93,607 emergency room visits and hospital emissions annually for respiratory symptoms and another 660 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease. Roughly 425 lives would be prolonged via improved air quality and another 687 due to improved physical health from activity.
Cycling advocates touted the study during a news conference in Madison, and used it to support a push for more state dollars devoted building bike lanes.
"It makes no sense for Governor Walker to slash bicycle funding when there are so many benefits, in addition to supporting the 13,000 jobs in the $1.5 billion Wisconsin bike industry," said Rep. Brett Hulsey, a Madison Democrat.
In the 2011-2013 budget, Walker and the Legislature eliminated $5 million in state transportation funding dedicated to cycling and pedestrians projects. Rep. Mark Pocan and Sen. Fred Risser, both Democrats, have introduced a bill to restore that funding.
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