Monday, April 29, 2013

Health Impacts of Cycling in Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s focus on encouraging bicycling has not only had an impact on safety and the environment; it also has had a big impact on health. Cycling is good for the body and the mind. It gets people energized for the day and calms them down after work. It also helps exercise the heart and helps people stay in the habit of moving. Cycling also means fewer cars on the road, which leads to a reduction in air and noise pollution.

In early 2012, a Copenhagen-based global alliance of cities, regions, countries, and corporations named Green Growth Leaders released a report titled Copenhagen - Beyond Green. In the report, Green Growth Leaders described the economic and social benefits of biking. Benefits from biking include lower air pollution, less accidents, less congestion, less noise, and less wear and tear on the roads. The report found that for every kilometer traveled by a bike that would have been traveled by an automobile, the taxpayers of Copenhagen save 7.8 cents. Since cyclists in Copenhagen bike more than 1.2 million kilometers per day, Copenhagen taxpayers are saving more than $34 million a year. Health benefits including less sick days used and lower medical expenses save the people of Copenhagen more than $380 million.

In Copenhagen’s most recent biannual bicycle account they looked at all the social benefits related to biking. Social benefits included in their formula included transportation costs, security, comfort, branding/tourism, transport times, and health. According to the report, every kilometer of cycling has a social benefit around 21 cents while every kilometer of driving has a net social loss of around 12 cents.

As talked about in past blog posts, Copenhagen has a plan to building a network of bicycle superhighways leading into the city from the suburbs. Two of those superhighways have already been built out, and both have seen a 10% increase in bicycle traffic already. The plan calls for an additional 26 bicycle superhighways to be built. According to Copenhagen’s local health authority, Region Hovedstaden, once the network is built out, an additional 30,000 people are expected to cycle each day. Also, 15,000 people are expected to switch from driving to cycling. According to The Copenhagen Post, studies have found that cyclists take fewer sick days than non-cyclists. Once all 26 bicycle superhighways are completed, Copenhagen expects 34,000 less sick days to be taken a year across the city. Since the average sick day costs around $300 in lost production on average, the bicycle superhighway network is expected to save Copenhagen $10 million in saved productivity over the next year and $470 million over the next 50 years once you account for the cost of the infrastructure.

Copenhagen is doing many things to encourage cycling. Since cycling has so many positive impacts on safety and the environment, sometimes it’s easy to forget how many positive impacts cycling has on health. Cycling in Copenhagen not only saves citizens money on health costs, it also improves their quality of life.

Bicycle superhighways expected to save society millions by Peter Stannes
The Copenhagen Post
April 24, 2013

Copenhagen's health care system is to save $60M/y with new bike highways
Polis Network
September 20, 2012

Copenhagen's Green Sheen: It's Not Just About The Bikes by Justin Gerdes
January 23, 2012

One mile on a bike is a $.42 economic gain to society, one mile driving is a $.20 loss by Christopher Mims


  1. Do you think the difference in the popularity of cycling between Denmark and the United States is mostly attributable to built environment factors? Namely, low-density development and high speed road infrastructure. Or, do cultural factors help explain the difference? Or do the built environment and public policy help to reinforce the cultural prestige that biking enjoys in Copenhagen?

  2. Matt, you did a nice job in class hooking me into your blog post. I even jotted it down to take a look.

    The “superhighway” cycling network you outline is an absolutely fascinating idea and to me, feels like a relevant next step for a city like Copenhagen that generates such staggering volumes of cyclists on a daily basis. However, what really caught my ear was the health care topic. “Health benefits including less sick days used and lower medical expenses save the people of Copenhagen more than $380 million.” These are some pretty powerful numbers. It actually reminds me of the California Air Resource Board (CARB) and their decision to crack down hard on harmful emissions, particularly from diesel exhaust (i.e. long haul trucking fleets). The Public health benefits of reducing emissions would essentially save the city billions. “Preliminary analysis indicates that the total economic value associated with public health benefits is likely to be on the order of $4.3 billion in 2020.”
    Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
    Obviously, Copenhagen has an entirely different model but the core idea of the issue is public health and what it would cost the government, the people and the environment depending on what decisions were made. It is novel to think that it comes down to how much decisions cost in the long run vs making a choice (possibly even an unpopular one, like in California’s case) up front, to save money in future.

    California's Climate Plan


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