If you’re a regular cyclist, you’re probably already sold on what a panacea cycling is. Its benefits are individual, environmental, societal, financial and global. Here’s 10 of our favourites.
Let’s be blunt, climate change is killing people. Floods kill people, crop failures and starvation kill people, wild fires kill people and heat waves kill people. Globally 3.3 – 3.6 billion people are already “highly vulnerable” to climate change (AR6 Synthesis Report, IPCC). We’ve not even immune here in Wales; in the heat-waves of June-August 2022 there were 3,271 excess deaths across Wales and England attributable to extreme head (Office for National Statistics). By 2050 it’s estimated that UK heat-related deaths will reach 7,040 annually (Third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Technical Report). Yet 40 – 41% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Cardiff come from transport (Cardiff Council), an area in which many of us could affect change.
The cost of congestion to the economy in Cardiff was estimated to be £109 million in 2019 (Inrix). And Cardiff is growing. Multiple studies (e.g. “Designing to Move People” by National Association of City Transportation Officials) demonstrate the appalling inefficiency of private motor vehicles for city transport. If we want to unclog our capital city bicycles are part of the solution, not the problem.
Already 5% of all deaths in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan are estimated to be due to air pollution (Cardiff and Vale University Health Board). No doubt the figure within the city itself is higher. Exhaust emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles are killers. Even wholly electric vehicles (EVs) aren’t immune, with wear to tyres and brake materials causing particulate pollution just like their petrol and diesel equivalents. This cocktail of nasties all too easily finds its way into the lungs of those who live, work, visit or study in Cardiff. The resulting ill-health effects include impacts on lung development in children, heart disease, stroke, cancer, exacerbation of asthma and increased mortality.
Quiet streets during the 2020 – 21 Coronavirus pandemic lockdowns were one of the few silver linings of an otherwise challenging period. Exposure to environmental noise, including that from traffic, is now known to harm human health just as air pollution does; risks include sleep disturbance, poor performance and learning, mental health problems, stress, cardiovascular disease and reduced quality of life (Public Health Wales).
Around one-in-seven (14%) of adults reported being treated for a mental illness in the 2014 and 2015 Welsh Health Survey (Welsh Health Survey, Welsh Government). Decades of shaping our city streets for motor vehicles have left many of them stripped of greenery, choked with vehicles (and the air and noise pollution they create), plus littered with parked vehicles (on and off the pavements). It’s not good for nature or human well-being. However, survey after survey demonstrate the positive impact on mental health of regular exercise including cycling.
Transport inequality (gender, ethnicity, affluence)
Wales-wide, 19% of Welsh households do not own a car (Office for National Statistics Census 2021). The lowest levels of car ownership in Cardiff are amongst young people, the elderly, people with a disability, those living in the poorest parts of the city and those from a minority ethnic background. Women are also less likely to have access to a car than men. Transport poverty robs people of the ability to access jobs, education, health and other services. Lack of adequate transport services, or the inability to pay for these transport services, makes it more difficult for people to lift themselves out of poverty or lead the lifestyles many of us take for granted. A city well-geared to travel by bicycle can redress this inequality.
Sedentary lifestyles (and associated NHS burden)
In a few short generations we’ve transitioned from a nation where many people walked or cycled to a manual job, to one where car use predominates and relatively few of us have a job that entails manual labour. The result is sadly unsurprising. At least 61% of adults in Wales are now classified as overweight, including 25% who are obese (Welsh Government National Survey for Wales). Wales’ children are among the most inactive in the World according to a global study involving 60 countries (Swansea University ‘2021 Active Healthy Kids (AHK) Wales Report Card’). Our modern inactive lifestyles contribute to ill health, disability, mental health issues and premature deaths due to cancer, heart disease, liver disease and diabetes (Welsh Government ‘Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales’). The annual UK government and NHS cost of the physical inactivity epidemic is estimated to be £7.4 billion (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID)).
There’s a high price to pay for the transport habits and infrastructure we’ve adopted across Wales over decades. On average there are around 100 road deaths and 1000 serious injuries on Welsh roads every year (UK Department for Transport); every statistic means lives blighted. In 2020, as COVID-19 rules restricted travel, the number of people killed or seriously injured on Wales’ roads fell by 31% compared with 2019 whilst Cycling increased by 68% over the same period (Stats Wales). It’s not bicycles killing people on our roads and even pavements; it’s motor vehicles.
Cycle campaigners, design professionals and organisations with a vested interest in public health increasingly see active travel going hand-in-hand with a move towards more humanised, liveable spaces. Roads and streets should increasingly become safe, welcoming, greener shared spaces not dominated by motor vehicles. As Welsh Government have said “Motorised vehicles, that can do most harm, should become guests on our roads where they come [in] to contact with pedestrians and cyclists” (Report on the Road Safety Framework for Wales, 2013 to 2020, Welsh Government). Which High Street do you prefer in Cardiff, the present pedestrianised one alive with the thrum of shoppers and outdoor cafe seating, or the previous arrangement choked with buses and cars?
Ask a cross-section of regular cyclists what their motivations are for cycling and you’ll get a range of answers. Money, no car, fitness, health and life expectancy, weight loss, heightened energy levels, mental health benefits, improved sex life (Google it!) and environmental benefits, the list goes on and on. However “fun” will crop up again and again: Children know it; regular cyclists know it: Cycling is just plain good fun!