In celebration of National Bike Month this May, millions of people across the U.S. are leaving their car keys at home and taking to the streets to bike to where they need to go. By saddling up, these cyclists decrease their carbon footprint while simultaneously reducing their chances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Currently, the transportation sector accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making it the second largest contributor of emissions after the electricity sector. About half of transportation emissions come from passenger vehicles, meaning the cars and light trucks each of us drive to go to work, to friends, to the doctor, or anywhere else. By replacing these miles traveled by passenger vehicles by miles traveled by bike, we can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is no small impact either; the EPA sees biking and other forms of active transportation as a key strategy for reducing emissions associated with passenger vehicles.
By taking action on climate change-causing vehicles, we also gain a number of co- benefits to public health. Researchers from San Francisco quantified the public health co-benefits of reduced automotive use, and found that biking and other forms of physical transportation reduced the chances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 14%. Biking can also help with weight management, which is critical as over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Moreover, fewer cars on the streets mean fewer pollutants that cause respiratory illness and aggravated asthma.
Bike promotion as a climate and health strategy has grown exponentially in the past few years. Cities across the nation have been adding more and more bike paths as demand for them accelerates, and additionally providing commuter resources to facilitate biking. Bike paths are increasingly incorporated into Climate Action Plans and city plans, in a way that acknowledges health co-benefits and addresses areas to improve bike and pedestrian safety. While there is still a long way to go in terms of reducing dependence on passenger vehicles, the actions people and cities are taking together now is definitely a pedal in the right direction.