Health Risks and Benefits of Bicycle Sharing Schemes

Overview: Public bicycle sharing schemes are becoming increasingly popular worldwide including UK towns and cities, London, Cardiff, Blackpool and Reading. These schemes provide a sustainable mode of transport for short urban trips and promote physical activity.

The London scheme which launched in July 2010 attracts almost 186,000 cycle hires per week, with an average journey time of 16 minutes on weekdays and 29 minutes at weekends.

Current advice: NICE public health guidance, found insufficient evidence to recommend the use of cycling schemes to promote physical activity, other than as part of research studies where effectiveness can be evaluated. However, it recommended that professionals should continue to promote cycling, along with other forms of physical activity like walking, gardening and household activities, as a means of incorporating regular physical activity into people’s daily lives.

New Evidence: A health impact study (Rojas-Rueda D et al, BMJ. 343:d4521) focused on Barcelona’s public bicycle sharing initiative, Bicing, to estimate the health risks and benefits of travel by bicycle compared with travel by car in an urban environment.

‘Bicing’ was launched in March 2007 and by August 2009, when the study was carried out, 11% of the population had signed up to the scheme, although of these only 1.7% were regular users.

The researchers used a newly developed health impact model to estimate all cause mortality, focusing on physical activity, road traffic accidents and exposure to air pollution. They also considered reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Results found the health benefits of physical activity from cycling using the Bicing scheme were large compared to the risks from inhalation of air pollutants and road traffic incidents (benefit:risk ratio 77).

In terms of its environmental impact the study calculated that annual carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 9,062 metric tonnes, equivalent to 0.9% of gas emissions from all types of motor vehicles in Barcelona.

Commentary: “There are many reasons other than health for introducing public bike sharing schemes, for example, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, reducing congestion, managing public transport demand, making cycling more visible, encouraging cycling infrastructure, and making streets more liveable. But we know that any intervention that shifts the modal share from motorised transport to cycling will have a health benefit.

“This study assumes that 90% of people using the scheme started cycling as a result of Bicing, and that these people were previously making the same trips by car. Nevertheless, it does show that the benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks, as confirmed by other models.

“There is no doubt that the best way to increase physical activity is to incorporate it into activities of daily living, and cycling plays an important role through active travel for commuting, and local journeys for shopping, schools runs etc. There are examples in several towns and cities in the UK where bringing investment closer to European levels, and integrating a range of hard measures (coherent high quality networks linking everyday destinations, bike sharing schemes, reducing urban speed limits to 20mph) and soft measures (personalised travel marketing, school and workplace travel plans) increases cycling. There are some outstanding examples of public health teams engaging with local transport planners to ensure that health impacts are part of the argument for encouraging cycling initiatives. Bike sharing schemes though can only be part of the solution”. - Dr Alison Hill, Director - South East Public Health Observatory.

Source: Newsletter from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

One Comment

  1. Mosquito
    Posted 23 March, 2012 at 11:59 | Permalink

    spot 😉

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