A US-focused study on commuting to work has found that cutting out short car journeys and replacing them with mass transit and active transport such as cycling could yield major health benefits to the American workforce.
The health benefit of replacing a car with a bicycle on half of the short trips (less than 5 miles), during the warmest six months of the year in the 11 biggest metropolitan cities in the US Midwest, saved about $3.8bn per year from avoided mortality and reduced health care costs for conditions like obesity and heart disease.
The report, published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, calculates that if more people cycled short journeys it could save the US economy an estimated $7bn in terms of health benefits, including saving the deaths of 1,100 lives each year from improved air quality and increased physical fitness.
The study’s authors also believe the true benefits of eliminating short auto trips are underestimated. The study for instance did not measure the financial savings due to reduced auto usage.
The authors acknowledges that it’s unrealistic to expect to eliminate all short auto trips, but notes that biking as transportation is gaining popularity in the United States, and that in some cities in Northern Europe, approximately 50% of short trips are done by bike, and there is no reason why some cities in the US can be the same as long as there is investment in bike infrastructure.