What if We Biked to Work Every Day?
By Dan Sherman
This month is national Bike Month. Hopefully, you’ve been able to strap on a helmet, make the ride to the office, and remind yourself just how long it has been since you did a leg day at the gym. Biking for one day, week or month a year is great, but it doesn’t have a significant lasting impact. If you biked to work every day it would improve your health, your wallet, and your planet. If all commuters made the change, results would be staggering.
According to a collaborative study done in part by Harvard, adults who exercised thirty minutes a day, five times a week were 31% less likely to die over the 14 year course of the study. According to a 2005 article, those who “get a good workout almost daily can add nearly four years to their life spans”. If everyone rode bikes to work we could reduce annual deaths by at least 112,450 per year[i]. Adding four years to everyone’s life expectancy would take America from the 42nd ranked country for life expectancy to the fourth, behind only Monaco, Macau and Japan.
While living longer is certainly an important benefit, I would argue that your quality of life is more important than the length. According to one rider: "I love biking for so many reasons but especially for the community it builds. Every day on my way to work all the commuters give a little nod or wave to each other… do we do that in cars when we see each other every day? Nope. That's why I'm staying on the bike." Another cyclist went farther in his praise: “Cycling has been my salvation, my vehicle for the return to physical and mental wholeness after experiencing a heart attack a few years ago. It provides an amazing mixture of things; it challenges and strengthens the body, sharpens and stimulates the mind, and caresses the soul with the pure joy of flying at the ground level.” Short of caressing the soul, all the benefits he mentioned are scientifically documented benefits that come from cycling.
Your wallet will thank you as well. According to the 2014 AAA study, driving costs about 60 cents per mile for an average sedan. If we assume a typical commute is 10 miles, the annual cost is about $3,000 to drive to work. After factoring average cost increases in food consumption to cover calories burned and $100 per year in bike repairs you’re still saving roughly $2,650 per year. About $362B spread across all US workers.[ii]
Those are decent savings. Now, suppose both costs rose with inflation and you bike to work for 20 years, all the while putting that money into the S&P 500. If the S&P 500 generated the same return it did over the past 50 years (6.71%), you would end up with about $133,000. Not a bad payout for picking up a healthy habit.
If all commuters biked, they could be saving the planet while being healthier, wealthier and happier. Based on EPA Estimates for MPG and CO2 emissions per gallon of gas, each individual would keep roughly 4,500 lbs. of CO2 from being produced each year, 570B lbs. across all working Americans, over 90,000 pounds over the course of 20 years, about 11.5T lbs. across all working Americans[iii].
Driving has a host of other issues associated with it. From oil leaks, to rusting parts to nitrogen and other contaminants, cars have a tremendous impact on water. Every year Americans dump enough oil to contaminate 1.5 trillion gallons of water. This pollutes drinking water and finds its way into aquatic life. Along with the death it causes in oceans and waterways, the toxins often find their way back up the food chain to people.
Air pollution is another common side effect of driving. Emissions generate nitrogen oxides which causes lung irritation and weakens immune defenses to lung infections. Carbon monoxide, a poisonous, odorless gas contributes to blocking oxygen from reaching the brain and vital organs (including the heart).
If working Americans switched to biking, we could dramatically improve our air and water quality, and make a good investment both financially and ecologically while living healthier, happier lives.
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[iii] This assumes a static labor force, May 2015. Each individual has a 10 mile commute each way and works approximately 250 days a year.
Posted: May 20, 2015