If you’ve ever stepped foot in the Community Builders’ office, there’s a good chance you’ve had to navigate your way around a bicycle or two. Let’s just say it. We like to bike. And we like to bike to work.
So, for Bike to Work Day, I thought I’d write a bit about why we’re so crazy about biking here… besides, of course, the fact that it’s so fun.
One of the biggest reasons we love biking is the environmental benefits. The transportation sector is the #1 contributor of greenhouses gasses in the US (recently matched by electricity production), and the majority of those transportation-related greenhouses gasses are emitted from cars. For every mile you bike instead of drive, you save a pound of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. In the US, half of of every trip taken is less than 3 miles, and 28% of all trips are less than a mile—easy biking distance! Currently, 60% of these sub-3-mile trips are done in private cars or trucks.
This presents us with a great opportunity and call to action—if we bike as a many of our sub-3-mile trips as possible, we’ll be tackling a significant portion of one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters there is—private cars driving a mile or two.
The average US household today spends nearly as much on transportation costs as they do on housing. Biking saves those households an incredible amount of money… which can then be spent on other things and circulated in the local economy. Perhaps due to this increased spending power, people who regularly get around on bike (or by walking) have been shown to spend more money at local businesses each month than people who regularly drive.
Beyond economic benefits for bicyclists (and their favorite local businesses), bike infrastructure can actually provide an economic jolt of energy for neighborhoods. After construction of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in 2008, a series of studies found that property values within a block radius from the trail increased 148% in the seven years after the trail was built. While increased property value is not always (or ever, really) the best way to measure the economic prosperity of a community (google “bike lane gentrification” for a primer), it is certainly a good thing for areas that have been massively lacking investment over the years. Especially for parts of town with minimal housing and a lot of vacant industrial buildings, bike lanes can provide a much-needed infusion of both dollars and humanity.
Yes, riding a bike comes with the inherent risk of injury. But it’s a tiny risk, and the benefits greatly outweigh it. Recent studies have found that regular bike commuters face 52% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and 40% lower risk of dying from cancer than their non-bike-commuting counterparts. Overall, bike commuters have 41% lower risk of dying from any cause than people who drive or take transit to work.
Also, biking is a low impact activity, making it easier for folks with existing injuries, aches, or pains to hop on than other forms of activity (like running). It also allows you to get exercise while you get to places, making it just a little easier to squeeze some cardio into even the busiest of days.
Biking is fun, and inherently more social than driving. When you choose to bike instead of drive, you’re much more likely to see (or meet) your neighbors, stumble upon a fun community event to attend, and generally be more present in your neighborhood. On the flip side, if you live on a street where lots of folks are out walking and biking instead of in their cars, your street is likely to feel much safer.
Beyond bringing people together, biking can have some major impacts on equity in your community. While the term “cyclist” makes many people think of the MAMIL archetype (middle-aged male in lycra), this stereotype is far from representative. According to census data, the lower your income is, the more likely you are to be a bike commuter. The data also shows that by ethnicity, Latinas and Latinos are the most likely to be bike commuters, and that white people are the least likely to walk to work.
This all brings up the concept of the invisible cyclist. While many folks think of white urban hipsters when they think of bike commuters, the truth is that bike commuting involves more working class people and people of color. This means that our bike networks and bike infrastructure need to be designed for everyone (and preferably, by everyone). Bike networks that focus on connecting all neighborhoods together—as well as to job centers—help to equitably expand access to opportunity. Bike networks that solely focus on connecting only some neighborhoods to recreational trails do not.
Thankfully, this is a nationally growing conversation, and one we plan to write about more in the future—so stay tuned for more.
For starters, go ride your bike! It’s Bike To Work Day after all, so go dust off that old cruiser, air up your tires, and get rolling!
Do you work for a town, city, or company that believes in these benefits of biking, too? Then put your money where your mouth is, and start investing in quality bike infrastructure that connects people to jobs and opportunity. Need a benchmark goal? Try shooting for official Bicycle Friendly Community status with the League of American Bicyclists—it’s a great goal, and one that’s easy for city councils to get behind.
Now go out and ride!