Spinning the Wheels and Rolling the Dice: Life-Cycle Costs and Benefits of Bicycle Commuting in the U.S.

Ryan D. Edwards, Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY)
Carl Mason, University of California, Berkeley

We assess average net longevity benefits of bicycle commuting in the U.S. by constructing age-specific fatality rates from official fatality statistics and the 2009 National Household Travel Survey. We model the impact on the life table of switching from car to bicycle commuting. Bicycling fatality rates in the U.S. are an order of magnitude higher than in Europe. These costs follow an age pattern that punishes both young and old, while the health benefits guard against causes of mortality that rise rapidly with age. The lifetime health benefits of bicycle commuting appear to outweigh the costs, but individuals who sufficiently discount or disbelieve the health benefits may delay or avoid bicycling. Bicycling in middle age avoids much fatality risk while capturing health benefits. Significant cross-state variation in bicycling mortality risks suggest that safety improvements in the built environment might spur changes in transit mode.

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Presented in Session 35: Smoking, Obesity, and Exercise