Two years ago Glasgow University highlighted the benefits of an active commute on our health and wellbeing, with cycling coming out top. Across the 250,000 people studied, those cycling to work had a 52% lower chance of heart disease than their peers taking the car or public transport. And these odds grow even more favourable the longer we commute for.
While health benefits of active commuting seem intuitive and obvious, the financial benefits from a cycling society seem less obvious. Research from the University of Toronto found that cycling to work can provide a significant and lasting boom to the economy of a city.
The authors highlight that Toronto significantly expanded its bicycle network during the Covid pandemic, with approximately 25km of temporary bikeways added to the city during 2020. The researchers used official city data along with census and survey data to examine the impact of this expansion on the vitality of the city itself.
The impact was significant. For instance, the enhanced bike infrastructure was found to have increased road access to jobs and amenities by up to 20%, with a 6% boost to access to parks in the city. That these results were achieved in the incredibly short time the network was in place is a strong indication of the role cycle highways can play in supporting economic growth.
The analysis found that the biggest impact was when the additional bike infrastructure was added to the existing cycling network in areas with a strong concentration of jobs and other amenities, such as retail stores. In other words, just as the network effect sees the value of a network multiply with each new mode, each addition to the overall cycle network multiplies the impact of the network already in existence.
The study’s findings that cycleways are a crucial conduit by which people can access jobs is even more potent as the researchers believe that jobs can easily be regarded as a proxy for other vital amenities that people may wish to travel to, such as movie theaters, restaurants, sporting facilities, and so on.
The results chime with research conducted last year by Portland State’s Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC), which found that bike lanes were extremely positive for businesses in the vicinity of such infrastructure. The researchers looked at 14 distinct pieces of cycling infrastructure in Seattle, Portland, Memphis, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis, and found that the presence of cycle lanes boosted the sales and the number of jobs in local businesses.
These benefits were especially pronounced among food and retail businesses, both of which have suffered enormously during the pandemic. The pandemic has prompted a large amount of introspection among city planners who are not only using the pandemic as a reset point to re-examine old assumptions, but also address concerns that the rise in remote working might result in urban flight as work is no longer tethered to particular locations.
It provides a natural point in which planners can strive to make cities healthier, greener, and generally more liveable places to encourage sustainable growth post-Covid. As the studies above show, cycling infrastructure should be at the heart of any such initiatives.