Health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks, according to a scientific paper

From a societal point of view, a modal shift from car to bicycle may have beneficial health effects due to decreased air pollution emissions, decreased greenhouse gas emissions and increased levels of physical activity. However, individuals might as a consequence experience adverse health effects such as higher exposure to air pollution and risk of a traffic accident. A Dutch study quantified the impact both on society and for individuals when 500,000 people would make a transition from car to bicycle for short trips on a daily basis in the Netherlands.

Results show that on average beneficial effects on individuals of increased physical activity are substantially larger than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution and traffic crashes. While benefits from active transport ranged from 3 to 14 months gained, potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses lead to 0.8 to 40 days lost and the increase in traffic accidents to 5 to 9 days lost. A possible protective “safety in numbers” effect from more cyclists on the roads was not taken into account. Calculated societal benefits were even larger due to a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents.

This scenario analysis adds important information to the ongoing work on the quantification of health benefits from cycling and walking and on the economic valuation of transport-related health effects.