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Money spent on cycle infrastructure delivers longer, healthier lives

Bike lanes are a better return on money invested in public health than many other measures, a new study has found.

Researchers who looked at cycle infrastructure in New York found that every $1,300 spent on it could equate to an additional quality-adjusted life year, or QALY, for every one of the city’s residents.

By contrast, the authors showed that a health treatment like dialysis costs $129,000 for one QALY, while vaccines have a return of one QALY per $100 spent.

The report, published in the Journal of Injury Prevention, concluded that “investments in bicycle lanes come with an exceptionally good value because they simultaneously address multiple public health problems.

“Investments in bike lanes are more cost-effective than the majority of preventive approaches used today.”

Coauthor Dr. Babak Mohit of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York said that New York built 45.5 miles of bike lanes in 2015, with an investment of about $8 million. This increased the probability that residents would ride a bike by 9 percent.

“For bike lanes the cost per QALY is $1,300, a little bit higher than vaccines but way lower than most medical interventions that we have in healthcare,” Mohit said.

“We’re finding more and more of these social interventions are not directly medically related but have an extremely positive effect on giving us more life years.

“I definitely think there’s room for expansion of bike lanes, the city spends $67,000 per QALY for Medicaid and we think spending $1,300 per QALY buys you a lot more life for a lot less money,” he added.

Earlier this year we reported how people who drive as their main form of transport are, on average, 4kg heavier than those who cycle, according to an ongoing Europe-wide study that adds further evidence to the benefits of active travel.

Researchers from the EU-funded Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches (PASTA) project have, so far, monitored 11,000 volunteers in seven European cities, looking at how they get around the city and how much time they spend travelling.

Researchers asked participants to record their height and weight, and to provide information about their attitudes towards walking and cycling. Initial data analysis found those who drive cars as their main form of transport are, on average, 4kg heavier than those who cycle; researchers are looking for more participants in Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Orebro in Sweden, Rome, Vienna and Zurich.

Imperial University’s project lead, Dr Audrey de Nazelle, from the Centre for Environmental policy, said: “We don’t have cause and effect yet, but we hope this first finding will encourage more people to take part in the survey so that we can get more data over time and make a link between transport decisions and health.”

“Our research shows that factors like urban design, how we move in cities, and the use of cars, bikes or walking could all play an important role in determining the level of people’s daily physical activity.”

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.