Benefits of Cycling
Individuals, communities, the economy and society as a whole have much to gain from increased participation in cycling.
The figures speak for themselves. Specialist economic consultancy SQW has shown that a 20 per cent increase in cycling in 2012 would release a cumulative saving of £500m by 2015. A rise of 50 per cent on current rates would unlock more than £1.3bn, derived from savings in congestion, pollution and healthcare.
At the same time, switching from four wheels to two for the school run or the commute would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. If all the commuters in England with a journey of under five miles went by bike rather than car or bus, they save a collective 44,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent emissions produced by heating nearly 17,000 houses. And that would just be in the first week.
However, the benefits of cycling run much deeper than balance sheets or carbon footprints. It’s a crucial life skill, giving children an early road sense as they take their first steps towards independence. As well as offering easy, exhilarating exercise, it also helps young people develop what psychologists call resilience the crucial ability to assess and navigate through risk.
Despite these gains, cycling still faces extinction. Over the past generation, participation in cycling declined by 50 per cent, as parents and schools have withdrawn from the road. For many, traffic just seems too dangerous. More than three quarters of parents now ban their children from cycling independently, or limit their routes to such a degree that they have become kids restricted to circuits of their immediate roads or neighbourhood streets.
But the cost of staying indoors or being restricted to ever-decreasing neighbourhood cycles - could be even more damaging over the long term. The grim predictions of the Foresight Report (published in October 2007) underlined the threat of childhood obesity, set to affect half of all primary school boys and a fifth of girls by 2030. By 2050, the cost of this epidemic could reach £45bn a year, draining the NHS if not the entire economy.
Set against this context, the low-tech bicycle could be one of the most effective weapons we have both in the fight against climate change, and the fight against flab.