Cycling revolution could save 10,000 lives per year in Western capitals alone, study claims

UN organisations call for Copenhagenization of major cities

by John Stevenson   April 15, 2014  

Cyclists in Copenhagen (CC licensed image by acf_windy:Flickr)

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If cycling were as popular in every Western capital as it is in Copenhagen, the benefits in healthier population and side effects such as reduced emissions would save 10,000 lives a year, according to a new study from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe.

And that’s not all. The organisations say that they have been able to estimate for the first time the economic benefits, which they put at the equivalent of 76,600 new jobs in bicycle retail and maintenance, provision of clothing and accessories for cyclists, urban development and new mobility schemes.

The findings have been released during the Fourth High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment, currently in progress in Paris and organised by UNECE and WHO. The meeting brings together European ministries of transport, health and the environment to examine how innovative transport policies can create employment opportunities, along with healthier and greener societies.

“An efficient transport system is vital for the functioning of modern economies. However, transport can greatly damage environment and health. That is why we call for a bold Paris Declaration, urging government investments in green and healthy transport,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The pay-offs from these investments are enormous and include new jobs and healthier people from more physical activity, fewer road traffic injuries, less noise and better air quality.”

Pro-environmental and pro-cycling campaigners are often painted as being anti-transport. But the report acknowledges that transport provides jobs and access to leisure activities and livelihoods.

However, it points out that there’s a huge cost to those benefits. Across the region, air pollution, largely caused by traffic, results in almost 500,000 deaths annually, according to new evidence. Road accidents kill 90,000 people prematurely each year. Exposure to excessive street noise affects almost 70 million people. Transport adds 24 percent to total greenhouse gas emissions in Europe and North America. When it discourages physical activity, transport contributes to nearly 1 million deaths per year.

WHO and UNECE see cycling as an essential part of reducing these costs. If 26 percent of all journeys in the region's capital cities were taken by bike, as they are in Danish capital Copenhagen, the benefits would be immense: 10,000 fewer deaths per year and 76,600 new jobs. Extend that beyond the capitals and you’d be talking hundreds of thousands of lives and perhaps a million or more jobs.

To bring it closer to home, the figures for London alone are startling. WHO and UNECE estimate over 500 lives would be saved every year in London. The Greater London Authority (GLA) estimated that in 2008 there were 4,267 deaths attributable to long-term exposure to small-particle air pollution.

The Copenhagenisation of London would also create over 8,000 new jobs.

Active travel organisation Sustrans welcomed the findings.

Sustrans’ London director, German Dector-Vega, said: “The evidence that cycling keeps the wheels of the economy turning and is essential for our good health is now beating us over the head and cannot be ignored.

“We must act now to end car dependency and make cycling a safe and convenient choice by lowering traffic speeds, creating more dedicated space on our roads and by improving education for drivers.

“Cycling is a silver bullet that could rescue the UK from the physical inactivity crisis, the economic downturn and dangerous air pollution.”

For those who love a good table - and who doesn’t? - here are the organisation’s estimates for the benefits by city across Europe and North America.

Potential results of increasing cycling modal share in major cities

Country

City

Population

Current cycling modal

share (%)

Estimated number of existing jobs associated with cycling

Potential number of additional jobs created

Additional lives saved

Albania

Tirana

536,998

3 a

73

562

33

Andorra

Andorra La Vella

22,256

3 a

3

23

2

Armenia

Yerevan

1,121,933

3 a

153

1,175

119

Austria

Vienna

1,721,573

6

470

1,568

106

Azerbaijan

Baku

2,122,300

3 a

290

2,223

167

Belarus

Minsk

1,885,100

0

17

2,215

454

Belgium

Brussels

163,210

5

37

156

12

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo

305,242

3 a

42

320

30

Bulgaria

Sofia

1,170,009

1

53

1,332

195

Canada

Ottawa

1,239,140

2

113

1,354

100

Croatia

Zagreb

792,875

5

181

758

77

Cyprus

Nicosia

55,014

3 a

8

58

3

Czech Republic

Prague

1,241,664

1

57

1,413

143

Denmark

Copenhagen

549,050

26

650

0

0

Estonia

Tallinn

401,072

4

73

402

50

Finland

Helsinki

595,384

7

190

515

42

France

Paris

2,234,105

3

305

2,340

174

Georgia

Tbilisi

1,167,600

3 a

159

1,223

147

Germany

Berlin

3,501,872

13

2,073

2,073

151

Greece

Athens

655,780

2

60

717

47

Hungary

Budapest

1,740,041

1

79

1,981

298

Iceland

Reykjavik

117,980

3 a

16

124

6

Ireland

Dublin

527,612

3

72

553

29

Israel

Tel Aviv

404,543

9

166

313

13

Italy

Rome

2,761,477

0

50

3,219

154

Kazakhstan

Astana

661,700

1

30

753

131

Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek

889,600

3 a

122

932

121

Latvia

Riga

650,478

3 a

89

681

92

Liechtenstein

Vaduz

5,207

3 a

1

5

0

Lithuania

Vilnius

552,008

1

25

628

102

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

99,852

3 a

14

105

6

Malta

Valletta

6,221

3 a

1

7

0

Monaco

Monaco

36,371

3 a

5

38

3

Montenegro

Podgorica

180,810

3 a

25

189

20

Netherlands

Amsterdam

1,068,724

33

1,606

b

b

Norway

Oslo

599,230

5

136

573

36

Poland

Warsaw

1,710,130

5

374

1,651

194

Portugal

Lisbon

474,696

1

22

540

45

Republic of Moldova

Chisinau

789,500

3 a

108

827

283

Romania

Bucharest

1,937,421

1

88

2,205

132

Russian Federation

Moscow

11,541,000

3 a

1,576

12,085

2,912

San Marino

San Marino

4,479

3 a

1

5

0

Serbia

Belgrade

1,639,505

1

75

1,866

255

Slovakia

Bratislava

411,884

3 a

56

431

51

Slovenia

Ljubljana

272,554

10

124

199

17

Spain

Madrid

3,265,038

1

149

3,717

211

Sweden

Stockholm

864,324

1

39

984

54

Switzerland

Bern

124,381

11

62

85

5

Tajikistan

Dushanbe

704,000

1 a

32

801

82

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Skopje

316,849

3 a

43

332

33

Turkey

Ankara

4,890,893

3 a

668

5,122

565

Turkmenistan

Ashgabat

637,000

3 a

87

667

111

Ukraine

Kyiv

2,772,736

1 a

126

3,156

613

United Kingdom

London

7,826,000

3

1,069

8,196

542

United States of America

Washington, DC

617,996

3

84

647

36

Uzbekistan

Tashkent

2,296,500

1 a

105

2,614

197

Totals

76,658

9,401

a Assumed modal share – likely to be an overestimate.

b No additional jobs or lives saved are projected for Amsterdam, as its cycling modal share is already higher than that of Copenhagen.

Source: UNECE

17 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Nice idea but I'm not sure the 'lives saved' theory is actually supported by the existing data.

Denmark for example is in 37th position in the 'Life Expectancy by Country' table with the UK in 29th. The countries at the top are Japan and Italy, not particularly noted for their use of cycles as a mode of transport.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

posted by Joeinpoole [201 posts]
15th April 2014 - 17:42

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I'm not sure that your doubts are actually supported by the data you quote.
Overall life expectancy is the product of vary many factors besides transport caused deaths. It is not possible to isolate one of the many factors. It is much more justifiable to attribute accident deaths and pollution deaths to the traffic arrangements and air quality of each city.

posted by felixcat [204 posts]
15th April 2014 - 23:01

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felixcat wrote:
I'm not sure that your doubts are actually supported by the data you quote.
Overall life expectancy is the product of vary many factors besides transport caused deaths. It is not possible to isolate one of the many factors. It is much more justifiable to attribute accident deaths and pollution deaths to the traffic arrangements and air quality of each city.

Of course life expectancy is due to a whole range of factors ... but there appears to be no evidence whatsoever (as yet) that a cycling population lives longer than a non-cycling population.

That *is* disappointing and, to be honest, I'm not sure that I really accept the validity of the Wiki 'data' in it's entirety in this context. Maybe it will take another 20 years before the true results will actually show up?

posted by Joeinpoole [201 posts]
16th April 2014 - 0:15

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What would be more interesting is to look at cycling modal share, life expectancy and per capita health care spend (public & private).
I suspect our increased life expectancy in the UK is medically influenced with advances in this field rather than lifestyle.
In addition, most of the modal shift was in the last 30-40 years so any benefit won't show up yet.

posted by arfa [455 posts]
16th April 2014 - 7:08

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If you look at cycling modal share, life expectancy and per capita health care spend (public & private) it is surprising that we spend less on healthcare than the Dutch and Danes as well !
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_total_health_expenditure_(PPP)_per_capita
However most of the modal shift was in the last 30-40 years so any benefit is unlikely to show up yet.

posted by arfa [455 posts]
16th April 2014 - 7:15

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.

posted by arfa [455 posts]
16th April 2014 - 7:16

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Joeinpoole wrote:
felixcat wrote:
I'm not sure that your doubts are actually supported by the data you quote.
Overall life expectancy is the product of vary many factors besides transport caused deaths. It is not possible to isolate one of the many factors. It is much more justifiable to attribute accident deaths and pollution deaths to the traffic arrangements and air quality of each city.

Of course life expectancy is due to a whole range of factors ... but there appears to be no evidence whatsoever (as yet) that a cycling population lives longer than a non-cycling population.

That *is* disappointing and, to be honest, I'm not sure that I really accept the validity of the Wiki 'data' in it's entirety in this context. Maybe it will take another 20 years before the true results will actually show up?

There's plenty of evidence that individuals who cycle live longer. Which can easily be applied to a larger population.

posted by Bikebikebike [71 posts]
16th April 2014 - 13:30

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This 'revolution' will not occur, because the lives saved (and money not spent on reactive medecine) would not become visible until years after the fact.

Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote of the United States...

'I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men...'

But he could have been referring to the UK. Capitalism is evil and its proponents and practitioners deserving of summary execution. But the anglo version of capitalism is more pestilent still.

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

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posted by cyclingDMlondon [205 posts]
16th April 2014 - 14:34

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Hmm, not sure how de Tocqueville comes into it but capitalism has arguably led to rising life expectancy in the developed world so I think I'll beg to differ on that one.
I doubt there will be a revolution but attitudes do evolve over time. For example look at the way smoking is viewed vis a vis 20 years ago. In a mere generation it has been pushed to the fringe. All we need is a more hardened attitude on pollution and the tide could turn.
I will accept though that the media is broadly keeping cycling on the fringe rather then accepting it into the mainstream. Still, little by little things are changing.

posted by arfa [455 posts]
16th April 2014 - 15:09

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arfa wrote:
Hmm, not sure how de Tocqueville comes into it but capitalism has arguably led to rising life expectancy in the developed world so I think I'll beg to differ on that one.
I doubt there will be a revolution but attitudes do evolve over time. For example look at the way smoking is viewed vis a vis 20 years ago. In a mere generation it has been pushed to the fringe. All we need is a more hardened attitude on pollution and the tide could turn.
I will accept though that the media is broadly keeping cycling on the fringe rather then accepting it into the mainstream. Still, little by little things are changing.

Everything that we are constantly told has happened because of capitalism, has in fact happened despite it. And with the greedy, incessant consumption of resources to make a tiny, rich minority ever richer, there would arguably have been a greater increase in life expectancy without capitalism.

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

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posted by cyclingDMlondon [205 posts]
16th April 2014 - 15:17

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I think you're confusing corruption with capitalism there. Sure, there's imperfections but it's turned out a lot better over here than in say North Korea or Venezuela.
Anyway, the sun's shining so I'm off to ride my bike.

posted by arfa [455 posts]
16th April 2014 - 15:36

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cyclingDMlondon wrote:

Everything that we are constantly told has happened because of capitalism, has in fact happened despite it. And with the greedy, incessant consumption of resources to make a tiny, rich minority ever richer, there would arguably have been a greater increase in life expectancy without capitalism.

What absolute fucking hogwash. The previously communist states of China and Russia have truly awful life expectancy. They lie in positions 97th and 124th in the 'league table'. Quite a lot of people cycle everywhere in China too so it's not lack of exercise that's killing them.

Compare communist North Korea, with their life expectancy of just 69, with their capitalist Southern cousins who enjoy an average life of 81 years. That's a change that has happened in just 60 years ... thanks to capitalism.

Who do you think develops all those fancy drugs or scanning machines that are keeping people alive today? Was it capitalist private businesses, operating for profit, or were they mainly invented in communist countries? What utter nonsense you write sometimes.

posted by Joeinpoole [201 posts]
16th April 2014 - 15:39

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Joeinpoole wrote:
cyclingDMlondon wrote:

Everything that we are constantly told has happened because of capitalism, has in fact happened despite it. And with the greedy, incessant consumption of resources to make a tiny, rich minority ever richer, there would arguably have been a greater increase in life expectancy without capitalism.

What absolute fucking hogwash. The previously communist states of China and Russia

As soon as you write gobshite like the above, you just come across as being uninformed and with the political nous of a 7-year-old boy.

Neither Russia nor China is, or ever was 'communist'.

Grow the f**k up and learn what you're talking about.

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

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posted by cyclingDMlondon [205 posts]
16th April 2014 - 15:45

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arfa wrote:
Anyway, the sun's shining so I'm off to ride my bike.

Lucky you. I vegged out this morning and got the train into work. Amazingly, South Eastern actually got me to Cannon Street only eleven minutes late.

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning' (Henry Ford)

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posted by cyclingDMlondon [205 posts]
16th April 2014 - 15:50

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I suppose we are lucky to live in a post capitalist / communist society, whose rough edges has been smoothed out to yield a more centrist, consensual, but not necessarily more caring arrangement.

Why lucky? Because we can blog freely, enjoy the benefits of large organized societies, pursue or hobbies, rectify major policy mistakes. Regarding the latter, and befitting these pages, the absurd (public) transport policies in place, which discourage bicycle use, should be rethought from scratch. A biking town is a happy town! Check out Groningen, Utrecht, The Hague, Amsterdam. Or more recently, Tel Aviv and Barcelona.

I was in Beijing recently, spotted only one cyclist in an ocean of cars during my stay, but that was maybe due to the heavy pollution which had sharply reduced visibility.

Cyclists of the World: Unite! Ride out and spread the Truth: Defossilze or Die!

The enthropy of the universe increases constantly. Carpe diem.

posted by noether [42 posts]
16th April 2014 - 22:24

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But only if the bike manufacturers make/sell bikes ordinary people want to buy. What use is a head-down, arse-up racer to go to Sainsburys?

posted by bobdelamare [19 posts]
17th April 2014 - 20:04

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There is absolutely no doubt that cycling helps you live longer, or at leasts it's a fun way to try and live longer. Laughing

Would I be right in saying that going by these figures cycling in the old eastern block countries is about to rapidly increase. ? Confused

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posted by Rupert [80 posts]
26th April 2014 - 16:34

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