• David Thibodeau

How Cycling Can Save the World

On World Bicycle Day, we explore the case for increasing the accessibility of biking in our communities. Reasons to increase active transport infrastructure in our cities and towns can be boiled down to three main reasons: health, safety and equality. The book How Cycling Can Save the World by Peter Walker details these in great depth (in addition to other reasons).


Increasing active transport infrastructure in communities directly contributes to increased health of citizens, directly and indirectly. Directly, active transport can contribute to the health of citizens by increasing physical activity levels. Health care costs of inactivity are almost $60 billion worldwide. Introducing active transport as the main mode of transportation can help get more people even just slightly more active.

Indirectly, increasing active transport as the chosen option for trips in cities will help decrease air pollution. In the UK, the main cause of poor air quality is road transport “with health impacts including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases”.


In Canada, since 1994 there have been 1408 cyclists who have died in crashes (an average of 74 each year). The fatality rate for cyclists was 2.6 per million population in 2012, this was lower than pedestrians (9.0 per million population) and vehicle occupants (43.0 deaths per million).

In the United States, based on the number of 100 million person-trips by mode of travel, Beck et al. reported fatality rates in crashes caused by motor vehicles for cyclists at 21.0 per 100 million, pedestrians at 13.7 per million and passenger vehicle occupants at 9.2 million per 100 million. They also found that non-fatal injury rates per 100 million person-trips to be 1,461.2 per 100 million for cyclists, 803.0 per 100 million for passenger vehicle occupants, and 215.5 per 100 million for pedestrians.

Deaths are much higher for vehicle occupants than cyclists, however when you look at per trip deaths, cyclists are much higher. Study after study has shown that when you increase proper cycling infrastructure you reduce the risks involved with cycling. By increasing cycling infrastructure, you can reduce deaths across the board. When less people drive and more people bike it creates a safer world. Decreasing motor vehicle crashes, make our cities more livable and safe for citizens.


Perhaps this is an unusual reason for increasing cycling, but active transport makes for a more equal world. Biking remains one of the most affordable forms of transportation, even electric bikes are still more affordable than motor vehicles.

In the UK, men make nearly three times more cycling journeys than women and travel 4 times as far. Studies show that one huge reason why women do not pick cycling as an option for transportation is safety. However, in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark where cycling infrastructure is the norm, 55% of cyclists are women. If you want to increase women cyclists, we must increase proper infrastructure.

In the USA, walking and biking to work is highest among the lowest income groups. A lack of proper cycling infrastructure disproportionately impacts the lowest income people in our society. However, I think that in recent years an increase of (mostly) young people wanting to cycle in downtown cores has been reported.

Proper active transport infrastructure is an equality issue. Separated biking lanes will increase usership. It will help get people on bikes, making our communities healthier, safer and more equal.