LivingReplacing cars with bikes could save more than 200,000...

Replacing cars with bikes could save more than 200,000 lives a year in urban centers

The use of bicycles in urban areas has already been suggested on many occasions as an effective tool to promote public health. It’s nothing new, although research led by a team from Colorado State University estimates for the first time quantitatively the benefits of pedaling in harsh urban environments . According to the study, up to 205,424 premature deaths could be prevented each year if countries further supported a model of high commitment to urban cycling. In the US alone, 15,000 premature deaths could be prevented. Let’s get on the bike and see what this interesting investigation tells us.

The study, signed by three authors, has been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Said publication begins with a few sentences by way of contextualization, among which you can read the following statement: ” No previous study has estimated the health impacts of global cycling scenarios, nor the future substitutions of the change from cars to bicycles.”

This project has been led by the subject specialist David Rojas-Rueda, from the Department of Radiological and Environmental Health Sciences, University of Colorado, in collaboration with scientists from CIBER Epidemiology and Public Health (Madrid) and three other institutions based in Barcelona: Research Center for Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and Municipal Institute for Medical Research (INIM-Hospital del Mar).

The team focused on 17 countries , specifically urban populations with individuals in the 20-64 age range . They quantified premature deaths (increase or decrease) related to traffic accidents, air pollution and physical activity. The spectacular figure of 205,424 premature annual deaths avoided would correspond to an extreme situation in which 100% of journeys were made by bicycle (mechanical or electric) by the year 2050. The reality is that this scenario is a utopia, if we consider counts movements of people with reduced mobility whatever the cause. So the team made the appropriate calculations in the case of 8% car-by-bicycle substitutions: 18,589 premature deaths could be avoided annually by 2050. They also considered two other scenarios: 35% bicycle trips and 0.46% of bicycle trips, although in the publication they analyze it in less detail.

The countries that have been the object of this study are: Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. In all the places and scenarios analyzed, the benefits of physical activity outweighed the mortality risks related to inhaling air pollution and deaths from traffic accidents.

The first prize and with differences goes to India, with a total of 87,337 deaths that could be avoided. In second place we would have China, with just over 25,000 deaths. However, at the head of the percentage increase when it comes to avoiding deaths would be Mexico, with 268%, followed by Canada with 224%. Positive percentages have been calculated in the 17 countries, the lowest being those of Denmark and the Netherlands, both of 17%. Figures that show that the proposal is not trivial.

“Future reductions in premature mortality from bicycle use will depend on current and future transportation and public works policies that promote active transportation, replacement of automobiles with bicycles, air quality and traffic safety,” concludes the study. “The implementation of ambitious urban policies that support the use of bicycles and the substitution of cars for bicycles should be seen as a key in public health interventions for healthy urban design.”

In 2018 55% of the world’s population lived in an urban environment and it is expected that in just 20 years the figure will rise to staggering numbers: 70% – 80%. It is estimated that 70% of the public space has been specifically designed to house motor vehicles, that is, it is not designed for the citizen. This prioritization translates into low levels of physical activity and high levels of environmental pollution (air, noise and anthropogenic heat).

Among the 17 countries in the study, the case of Spain is not considered. But Barcelona does make an appearance, as an example of project management of the “superblock”. “The Superblock model has been implemented to promote sustainable mobility and an active lifestyle.” About superblocks, the Zigurat Global Institute of Technology page explains:

“Superblocks are basically made up of a network of streets, nine existing blocks or, to be exact, a space of 400 by 400 meters. In these areas the circulation of vehicles is prohibited, except the essential ones, whose circulation is limited to 10 km / h. Motorized traffic circulates outside the superblock.

One of the most ambitious objectives of the project is to free up to 60% of the area’s traffic in order to create public, green and multifunctional spaces for citizens ”.

Therefore, the way to cities with more bikes than cars may be to adapt urban environments in which pedestrians and bicycles are given priority , leaving motorized traffic only for urban services, emergencies or residents. What’s more, maybe the change has started and the next step too: educating the youngest.

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