It is strange when you commute by bike in Madrid, you feel two things. The first one is fear (and not only in Madrid), fear that you are going to be killed by a car; I am not joking. If any of your friends live in Madrid, ask them what it’s like to ride a bike in the Spanish Capital. This fear prevents many from even contemplating the option of switching to two wheels. The second feeling is that you are some kind of leper. On the road, vehicles of all shapes and sizes force you towards the kerb and you can see the contempt in drivers’ eyes as you ride past them. And yet, if you switch onto the sidewalk, pedestrians shout at you, even when you are 50 meters away or pass them by a more than safe distance; but it doesn’t matter. They act like you have almost run them over.
In fact, the funny thing is that I have been stopped by the police whilst cycling, more than once, for no reason at all. They just tell me that I have to be careful when I am riding my bike; all around you, motorbikes are using the sidewalk and cars are skipping traffic lights. But the policeman doesn’t care; they are more worried about stopping people on bikes. It is so ridiculous, you have to laugh. I just imagine that I am like Reek (from Game of Thrones), it is silly I know, but at least it means I manage to smile.
We, the cyclists of Madrid, still prefer to get around the city by bike: it is the most fun, cheap and environmentally friendly transport available, plus we have the perfect weather for it.
The other day I stumbled upon this report: “Protected Bicycle Lanes in NYC”. And I started reading in earnest. I continued reading and realised that “PROTECTED BIKE LANES ARE GOOD FOR ALL”; and with all, I mean ALL!
A few reasons:
- It is vastly cheaper than driving. Due to rising fuel costs and tire upkeep, the cost of owning a car increased nearly 2 percent in 2012 to $8,946, according to AAA. It costs just $308 per year to keep bikes in shape––nearly 30 times less than cars, according to the Sierra Club: “If American drivers were to make just one four-mile round trip each week with a bicycle instead of a car, they would save nearly 2 billion gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon, total savings would be $7.3 billion a year.”
- It’s a free gym on wheels. When I started cycling two years ago, I started shedding pounds almost instantly –– without all the hassle of paying for and finding time to hit the gym. On average, bicycle commuters lose 13 pounds in their first year of cycling alone.
- “[Bike commuting] can be a very effective cardiovascular benefit,” says Lisa Callahan, MD, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “If you’re overweight and start an exercise program, sometimes it’s harder on your joints because you are overweight … so something like swimming or cycling, which is kinder on the joints can be a great option.”
- You won’t miss morning traffic jams. Europeans spend more than 38 minutes driving to work each day, according to the latest U.S. Census data, and trips can take nearly twice as long in populous. Cycling could mean you get there faster.
- You don’t even have to own a bike. There’s been a wave of new bike share programs in major which typically allow riders 30 to 45 minutes of free transportation for a small annual fee. For example, the annual bill of the bike sharing program of Madrid is 25€/ per year.
- We could save hundreds of millions in healthcare expenses. The most important socio-economic impact of cycling lies in the area of health care. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that “over the next 30 years, Portland’s residents could save as much as $594 million in health care costs because by investing in the biking culture” and achieve “fuel savings of $143 to $218 million.”
- Businesses will save millions in lost productivity. A recent study by the Dutch economic think tank TNO found that people who commute to work by bike are less likely to call in sick. “Commuting to work by bicycle by just 1 percent could save [Denmark’s] employers approximately $34 million in lost productivity from absenteeism,” Oregon state rep. Earl Blumenauer writes in American Bicyclist. “That’s assuming a workforce of 7.1 million people. The U.S. has more than 154 million people in its workforce.”
- It would make cycling safer for everyone. Much unlike cars, the more bicycles on the road, the safer it becomes for cyclists, research shows. “It’s a virtuous cycle,” Dr. Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from UNSW, says. “The likelihood of an individual cyclist being struck down by a motorist falls as the rate of cycling increases in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people will be prepared to cycle.”
- You inhale more harmful exhaust in your car than on a bike. While fuel emissions are bad news for any set of lungs, drivers are actually more susceptible to harmful air than cyclists. “Studies show that you get the biggest hit of the nasties when you’re inside a car,” notes the Grist’s Umbra Frisk. “Sure, a personal Mobile Emissions Source [ie: cars] appears hermetic, but it’s an illusion: MES occupants are very close to sucking on the tailpipe of the MES just ahead of them. On the bus, riders’ lungs are a bit further away from these sources. And bikers and pedestrians are on the outskirts.”
- Our economy could use a boost. Cyclists in cities like Copenhagen have become the poster children for the benefits of cycling, both at the micro- and macroeconomic level. In its 2012 Bicycle Account, the city says bike commuters generated savings ($0.42 for each mile biked) in just about every way imaginable: lowered transportation costs, security, branding/tourism, traffic infrastructure and public health.