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The study shows that bike sharing systems in Barcelona saves 12 lives and over 9,000 tons per year of CO2
Friday, August 5th, 2011
Researchers from Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Barcelona, found that the health benefits from physical activity during cycling are much larger than any risks from air pollution and accidents. The results were based on a health impact study of Bicing, the public bicycle sharing system in Barcelona. One of the most important conclusions is that each year the number of deaths is reduced by 24% (in case of Barcelona 12 deaths) and the CO2 emissions by over 9,000 tons approximately.
Public bike sharing systems are becoming increasingly popular in cities with more than 360 in use around the world. Cities, such as Paris, London, and Montreal have implemented large low-cost rental systems aimed at stimulating cycling for the typically short urban trips and multimodality (bike + transit) for longer trips. Audrey de Nazelle, who jointly leads the project, said that “the bike sharing systems provide a sustainable mode of transport, to make short trips within the city.” David Rojas, the lead author, continues “Active transport policies such as bike sharing systems promote physical activity among the population and are a good mean to improve public health and also reduce expenses in public health services.”
This is the first study to quantify the health impacts of a bike sharing system and found large use of a public bike sharing system in Barcelona with up to 180,000 subscribers. In the case of Bicing, 68% of trips were for commuting to work or school, and 37% combined Bicing with another mode of travel. The mean workday Bicing trip distance was 3.29km, lasting on average 14.1 minutes; average week-end trips were 4.15km lasting 17.8 minutes
The fear of accidents or concerns about air pollution are often heard as arguments not to start cycling, but this studies shows that although there are some risks related to air pollution and accidents, the health benefits from physical activity are much larger and save lives. Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, the senior author and overall project coordinator said “We therefore encourage people to start cycling. More than 30% of all trips in Copenhagen are made by bicycle, while this is only a few percent in Barcelona, leaving large potential for improvement”.
The study was motivated by the growing challenges of the global obesity epidemic and climate change. International organizations such as the World Health Organisation, the European commission and the US Centre for Disease Control have been calling for multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approaches to increase physical activity and reduce car reliance. Cycling, including the use of public bicycle sharing systems could form part of the solution.
The work is part of the European-wide project Transportation Air pollution and Physical ActivitieS: an integrated health risk assessment programme of climate change and urban policies (TAPAS-website), which has partners in Barcelona, Basel, Copenhagen, Paris, Prague and Warsaw. TAPAS is a four year project (2009-2013) coordinated by CREAL. Dr. Nieuwenhuijsen, adds that “in the next stage of the project we will work on scenarios for other cities, include estimates on morbidity and estimate the effects of reduction in air pollution levels on the general population.”
The health risks and benefits of cycling in urban environments compari with car dirà: health impact assessment study. British Medical Journal. doi=10.1136/bmj.d4521
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