With one grand gesture, IKEA has drawn attention to bicycling in America. The Swedish marketing giant presented an all terrain bicycle to every IKEA employee in America. A press release from the IKEA Charlotte location, said the bicycles were part of “a strong commitment to good health and being environmentally conscious.” The bicycles give IKEA employees the option of bicycling instead of driving, but could this high profile gesture motivate non-IKEA employed Americans to get on their bicycles as well?
Bicycling offers a host of benefits. Riding a bicycle is great aerobic exercise. Bicycling can ease the inconvenience of cutting back on driving. Bicycling instead of driving can help reduce vehicle released CO2, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Despite the benefits, according to the most recent transportation survey conducted by Nationwide Personal Transportation Surveys and the National Household Travel Survey, most households have at least one bicycle, yet only 8% used them during the week before the survey was conducted.
Bicycling – More Benefits Than Risks?
Of course there would be some safety issues associated with an upsurge in bicycling. Accidents and, ironically, pollution inhalation related health issues rise with an increase in cycling. A recent study, “Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?” took on the challenge of measuring these factors. The results published June 2010 on the NIH PubMedCentral site found the “beneficial effect of increased physical activity due to cycling resulted in about 9 times more gains in life-years than the losses in life years due to increased inhaled air pollution doses and traffic accidents.”
US Department of Transportation National Bicycling and Walking Study
The US Department of Transportation became bicycling fans two decades ago. In 1990, the Federal Highway (FHWA) Administrator named bicycling and walking “forgotten modes of transportation, overlooked by government transportation agencies.” That year they adopted a policy dedicated to increasing walking and bicycling. They commissioned the “National Bicycling and Walking Study” to determine how best to accomplish that goal.
In April 1994 the Federal Highway Administrator and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator walked their initial findings to Congress. The report outlined a range of action plans for Federal, State and Local governments, as well as two overall goals:
1- Double the percentage of bicycling and walking trips.(from 7.9% to 15.9% of all travel)
2- Reduce bicycle and pedestrian injuries and deaths by 10%.
While bicycling did not double during the five years after the release of the initial Bicycling and Walking Study, the attention and effort generated a significant bicycling increase in the 1990s. The agencies believe an increase in financial resources and state level staff will help create a more “bicycle-friendly” infrastructure that will further encourage both riding and safety.
Research proves a return to biking would have many benefits; but in our car-addicted culture, how do we make the transition from auto to bicycle? Americabikes.org is a coalition of leaders from the bicycling community that hopes to motivate Americans to get on their bikes. They believe “cycling can improve Americans’ quality of life by providing inexpensive and sustainable transportation and recreation.”
Americabikes.org also believes safer streets could be a contributing factor to increased cycling and that federal funds can help. Their website provides information on the Federal Transportation Bill, The Complete Streets Act and other federal initiatives that could pave the way for increased bicycling in America.
The organization encourages you to contact Congress to show your support for federal legislation that includes key bicycling and walking provisions.
Nationwide Personal Transportation Surveys and the National Household Travel Survey. Household, Individual, and Vehicle Characteristics:
IKEA Charlotte Press Release:
US Department of Transportation National Bicycling and Walking Study:
“Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?”