The advantages of biking are manifold: bikes don't pollute, they keep you in shape and during rush hour traffic, they often go faster than cars. Now, researchers in Portland say that the city's bike paths will cut its population's health costs.
Portland has spent an estimated $57 million on its biking infrastructure so far, and the city has one of the country's highest biking rates (a little more than 6 percent of the city's residents commute by bike).
The study published last week in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health has found that during the next 30 years, Portland's residents could save as much as $594 million in health care costs because of an investment into biking culture. Essentially, the money that is spent on biking infrastructure, is money that is eventually saved on health care costs, the study says.
Swiss epidemiologist Thomas Gotschi, who, led the study, put together the cost/benefit analysis on biking in a U.S. city by adding Portland's past and planned expenditures on biking, and comparing it with health care cost savings. The savings are based on the amount of health care dollars that would be spared if Portland’s citizens got more regular exercise from biking, and thus incurring fewer chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
The study is also timely since the city recently approved a plan to spend another $600 million more dollars to improve bike infrastructure over the next 20 years. Of course, Gotschi's study is slightly flawed, because there is no guaranteed proof that if more bike lanes are built, bikers will necessarily come.
Also, there's no way to know if the same correlation will be found in other cities, but the study definitely proves that health care costs go down, if people bike.
Carolyn Voorhees, professor in behavioral and community health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told the Portland Tribune that heart disease costs the country about $351 billion a year, and obesity about $117 billion a year.
Imagine if some of those costs cuts were achievable just by buying a bike.