Can Biking Save Billions in Health Expenses?

By: Jessica Pearce

November 15, 2011

Commuting from the Financial District to Park Presidio? Taking your out-of-town friends from your place in the Panhandle to play tourist at Fisherman’s Wharf? Want to go from Twin Peaks to the Mission on a Friday night? Instead of driving, you can hop on your bike. Not only is it better for you, but scientists at the University of Wisconsin say more biking could stimulate local economies to the tune of $3.5 billion a year.

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The scientists researched the economic and health benefits of biking short trips (shorter than five miles) in 11 Midwestern metro areas. According to the experts over at GOOD.is:

Combining data on air pollution, medical costs, mortality rates, car accidents and physical fitness, the researchers found that if inhabitants of the sample region switched to bikes for half of their short trips, they'd create a net societal health benefit of $3.5 billion per year from the increase in air quality and $3.8 billion in savings from smaller health care costs associated with better fitness and fewer mortalities from a decreased rate of car accidents.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, also took into account the frigid weather in the Midwest, only counting about four months of cycle-friendly days. Having lived in both the Midwest and San Francisco, I can say that the calf-busting hills here cancel out the six months of snow and bonechilling wind there.

In 2010, the SFMTA counted 8,713 bikes in the city, and Reset has covered the improvements in the works to make the city even more bike friendly – from new bike lanes to buffered bike lanes to bike sharing programs. We’re working hard to reset transportation in San Francisco, making it faster, more efficient and reliable for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you ride a bike or a bus, drive your car or use your feet, everyone deserves to get where they’re going safely, quickly and reliably.

We already knew that biking saved money and served as a stimulus to the local economy – to the tune of more than $13,000 a year. And we know that the more people we can entice out of their cars with safe and reliable options, the better it will be for everyone, from bus rider to car user. Now we know one more benefit to a more bikeable San Francisco – a chance to peddle our way to greater prosperity through savings in health care costs.


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