Atlantic Cities

A Sober, Data-Based Approach to Bicycle Advocacy

A Sober, Data-Based Approach to Bicycle Advocacy
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In their new book, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler come right out and state their belief in plain English: "Cycling should be made feasible, convenient, and safe for everyone." The editors of City Cycling, just published by MIT Press, aim to further that cause by gathering together as much data as they could find to support their case that "it is hard to beat cycling when it comes to environmental, economic, and social sustainability."

This is not a book of impassioned arguments or heartfelt polemics. Pucher and Buehler are academics, the former at Rutgers University and the latter at Virginia Tech. The 19 contributors to the book are also academics. Each chapter is followed by multiple pages of references and citations, and the entire book underwent peer review. City Cycling is unabashedly pro-bike, but its authors aren’t relying on gut feeling. This is all about the numbers.

Cycling advocates pushing for better bicycling infrastructure on streets around the world are accustomed to meeting with skeptical audiences. They will find a lot of ammunition here, much of it gleaned from studies of nations such as Germany and the Netherlands, where cycling is a routine part of daily life. Divided into chapters on subjects such as health benefits, safety, bikesharing systems around the world, cycling for women, and cycling for kids, the book marshals an impressive and fascinating assortment of facts, figures, trends, charts, and diagrams.

For instance:

  • Biking could help you live longer, despite perceived safety risks. One study of cycling in the Netherlands found that people taking up biking as their primary travel mode "gained nine times more years of life than they lost as a result of increased inhaled air pollution and traffic injuries."
  • Women are more likely than men to express concern about the risk of cycling, although they may actually be at lower risk from injury.
  • Biking for transportation isn’t just for people who can’t afford to drive. "Cycling can thrive in countries with high levels of income and car ownership….[T]he bike share of daily trips is 26 percent in the Netherlands, 18 percent in Denmark, 10 percent in Germany, and 9 percent in Sweden and Finland, all of which are affluent countries."
  • Several studies show that young people who ride bikes to school have better cardiovascular fitness than those who don’t. Plus, kids like bikes. In one Australian survey, 81 percent of students said that cycling was their favorite method of getting to school.
  • Biking isn’t just for younger people. In the Netherlands, 23 percent of trips by people 65 and older are by bike. In the U.S., that number is less than 1 percent.
  • Watch out for guys behind the wheel: "over 90 percent of the drivers who kill cyclists in London…and New York City…are men."

While City Cycling probably won’t convince the most hard-core bike haters, it has the potential to help change the debate about how biking fits into the transportation system in countries such as the U.S., where it has traditionally been perceived as marginal. This thoroughly academic approach could be just what we need to move the conversation forward.

Top image: Luigi Masella/Shutterstock.com

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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