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Riding to work could save lives in Canberra

By Anne Treasure - 1 May 2017 11

We’ve long known riding to work will add years to your life by maintaining your health and fitness, and now there is strong evidence that commuting by bike cuts the risk of cancer and heart disease by almost half.

A study published recently in the British Medical Journal showed that people who ride a bike to work have better health outcomes over any other method of commuting – including walking.

This is of particular interest in the ACT, where we have very low rates of commuter cycling despite some of the highest recreational-cycling participation in the country.

The authors of the study explained their methods in an article in The Conversation:

“We followed people for around five years, counting the incidences of heart disease, cancers and death. Importantly, we adjusted for other health influences including sex, age, deprivation, ethnicity, smoking, body mass index, other types of physical activity, time spent sitting down and diet. Any potential differences in risk associated with road accidents is also accounted for in our analysis, while we excluded participants who had heart disease or cancer already.

“We found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.”

The study is the largest of its type ever conducted, involving a quarter of a million participants. The numbers demonstrate a clear link between active travel commutes and health benefits.

It should be noted that the study accounted for road accidents as a major risk to vulnerable road users like bike riders, and yet people who ride bikes are still far ahead of other commuters in terms of health and longevity.

In the ACT, only a very small percentage of the population ride their bikes to work. Given our reputation as one of the most bike-friendly places in Australia, and the indisputable benefits that riding to work brings to both individuals who participate, and society as a whole, this is disappointing.

We all know that commuting by bike can save time and money spent on parking and the gym, is good for the environment and allows commuters to multitask by staying fit while travelling to work. So why don’t more people do it?

Cycling advocacy organisation Pedal Power ACT recently introduced an initiative called Cycle Works, hoping to encourage more Canberrans to give riding to work a try. The possibility of winning a new bike has proved almost as large an incentive as the promise of better health.

The ACT Government also facilitates and promotes riding to work through the Active Travel Office, which held Canberra Walk and Ride Week in March to encourage walking, riding and catching public transport.

The Government has compelling motivation to get more Canberrans riding to work. Increased cycle commuting population-wide will reduce pressure on the health system and road networks, reduce pollution and make the ACT a better place to live.

The health benefits alone could save taxpayers billions of dollars by increasing daily physical activity and reversing the current trend towards more sedentary lifestyles.

Following Canberra Walk and Ride Week, the Active Travel Office has recently introduced four new Park and Pedal locations to encourage mixed-mode active travel – that is, driving to a location closer to work, and then riding a bike the rest of the way.

With all the incentives on offer – not least of which is a longer, healthier life – if you don’t ride to work, why not?

Anne Treasure is the Communications Manager for Pedal Power ACT. She writes on bike riding in the ACT from the perspective of someone who rides mainly for transport. 

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11 Responses to
Riding to work could save lives in Canberra
G-Fresh 10:59 am 05 Jun 17

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRFoodie) said :

Probably also worth mentioning the huge cost benefit for the community from reducing the demand for car parking in the city. When I ride to the shops or the city it frees up a parking space for someone who doesn’t have that option. Parking is a huge expense on everyone who pays rates, especially when you consider the potential leased value of that space that the city is forgoing, just so someone can leave an empty vehicle sitting on it while they are at work or visiting the shops.

No point being smug. It’s ugly.

Keen to point out we are also doing everyone a favour by reducing congestion on the roads through one less car.

Indeed we are creating zero emissions as well, while everyone in a car is killing the planet.

And we get abused by some of the very people who are benefiting from all of this.

thelonius 4:52 pm 03 May 17

Thanks, Anne. Great article.

Canberra has ALL the necessary assets required to define global best practice in multi-modal, active transport. Including cycling and walking. Canberra could be better than Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Just look at our perfect weather. Who really wants to ride a bike when it’s below zero and snowing?

But when my partner and I cycle around Braddon, Civic, and around the lake, I am saddened to see the opportunities overlooked by Canberra’s designers.

I don’t think it’s a matter of incompetent or bad design – as much as it is just NO design. No thought, awareness, or focus at all.

Serina Bird Huang (a 11:00 am 02 May 17

So you encouraged me to ride home last night. I had my bike at work, having cycled in, and it took me several weeks to ride home. It took me longer than expected but it was great. Then I cycled in this morning. I was very late because I had a few dramas getting my kids to school, then I forgot my helmet (so had to cycle home) and realised my back tyre was flat. But I did it. And it was soooo much fun.

Rollersk8r 2:06 pm 01 May 17

The health and financial benefits are incidental for me – I just like riding. However, I also drive to work more than I used to, due to commitments with kids etc. To state the obvious a number of stars have to align for cycling to work to be practical and possible for people. Pedal Power and Ride to Work do a great job to reduce the number of excuses people might have.

Anne Treasure 1:26 pm 01 May 17

Paul Costigan said :

Good to encourage cycling – but

You said: A study published recently in the British Medical Journal showed that people who ride a bike to work have better health outcomes over any other method of commuting – including walking.

I think you have over emphasized the negatives on walking

Whereas the original report says:
Commuting undertaken totally or partially by bicycle was associated with a lower risk of a range of adverse health outcomes. Commuting by walking was associated with a lower risk of adverse CVD outcomes. The findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling, such as the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport.

And goes on to say number of things including:

What this study adds:
Commuting by cycling was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality and adverse CVD and cancer outcomes, and walking commuting was associated with lower risk of CVD incidence and mortality, in a dose dependent manner and independent of a range of confounding factors.

So you are right on the fundamentals– but I read the report as giving fairly equal benefits to walking.

My comment – walking is great especially at this time of the year (autumn) – but can be hazardous if one walks on bike paths or shared paths. Human nature.

The report also noted that in the UK people chose to walk only short distances, which would have had an effect on any health outcomes. I’m definitely not trying to denigrate walking, but for me riding a bike from Belconnen to Civic is a far more reasonable ask than walking that distance. That’s the main reason I do it.

Anne Treasure 1:22 pm 01 May 17

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRFoodie) said :

Nice article. I know I’m always happier when I cycle. That’s probably mostly from endorphins but probably also at least partially from that smug sense of superiority I get from passing traffic jams using only pedal power as well as knowing that I’m doing the right thing for the whole community by cycling when it is sometimes easier to drive.

Probably also worth mentioning the huge cost benefit for the community from reducing the demand for car parking in the city. When I ride to the shops or the city it frees up a parking space for someone who doesn’t have that option. Parking is a huge expense on everyone who pays rates, especially when you consider the potential leased value of that space that the city is forgoing, just so someone can leave an empty vehicle sitting on it while they are at work or visiting the shops.

Absolutely – parking is ugly, expensive and a huge waste of time for drivers. While we’re waiting for self-driving cars to solve that problem, bike are already here with the answer.

Anne Treasure 1:20 pm 01 May 17

Serina Bird Huang (aka Ms Frugal Ears) said :

Thank you for sharing this. I moved to the inner north recently with the aim of cycling to work – but so far have only done it once. Thanks for the encouragement that I should do it more often.

A friend who lives in Ainslie and works in Civic says that it takes her 9 minutes to ride to work, and more than double that to drive – now there’s inspiration if I’ve ever heard it. Good luck getting some cycling commutes in soon!

Mark Parton MLA 1:09 pm 01 May 17

The more positive noise in this space the better. I would encourage every Canberran to move a bit more in their regular daily lives. You will benefit and ultimately everyone else will too. I understand that commuting on the bike is impractical for many and I tend only to do it 3 or 4 times a month, but it makes me feel so much better.

Paul Costigan 12:32 pm 01 May 17

Good to encourage cycling – but

You said: A study published recently in the British Medical Journal showed that people who ride a bike to work have better health outcomes over any other method of commuting – including walking.

I think you have over emphasized the negatives on walking

Whereas the original report says:
Commuting undertaken totally or partially by bicycle was associated with a lower risk of a range of adverse health outcomes. Commuting by walking was associated with a lower risk of adverse CVD outcomes. The findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling, such as the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport.

And goes on to say number of things including:

What this study adds:
Commuting by cycling was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality and adverse CVD and cancer outcomes, and walking commuting was associated with lower risk of CVD incidence and mortality, in a dose dependent manner and independent of a range of confounding factors.

So you are right on the fundamentals– but I read the report as giving fairly equal benefits to walking.

My comment – walking is great especially at this time of the year (autumn) – but can be hazardous if one walks on bike paths or shared paths. Human nature.

Elias Hallaj (aka CB 12:12 pm 01 May 17

Nice article. I know I’m always happier when I cycle. That’s probably mostly from endorphins but probably also at least partially from that smug sense of superiority I get from passing traffic jams using only pedal power as well as knowing that I’m doing the right thing for the whole community by cycling when it is sometimes easier to drive.

Probably also worth mentioning the huge cost benefit for the community from reducing the demand for car parking in the city. When I ride to the shops or the city it frees up a parking space for someone who doesn’t have that option. Parking is a huge expense on everyone who pays rates, especially when you consider the potential leased value of that space that the city is forgoing, just so someone can leave an empty vehicle sitting on it while they are at work or visiting the shops.

Serina Bird Huang (a 11:47 am 01 May 17

Thank you for sharing this. I moved to the inner north recently with the aim of cycling to work – but so far have only done it once. Thanks for the encouragement that I should do it more often.

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