University of Auckland: Get just 5% of NZ cycling – save 117 lives / year

The University of Auckland, back in 2010, researched the health benefits from shifting just 5% of NZ’s vehicle kilometres currently travelled by car onto bikes (an eminently achievable goal which is being exceeded in much of the first world, especially Europe and Asia).

As noted, that research is from 2010, but the use of the statistics by a group of health professionals advocating for more cycling funding for Auckland made me look it up again, and the health benefits are, to say it bluntly, staggering.

116 deaths avoided annually in New Zealand among those people who now cycle, or cycle more. 6 deaths avoided annually from reduced air pollution. On the downside, 5 more deaths through cyclist fatalities. However this number already incorporates the effect that extra cyclists increase the “per person” safety of all cyclists – so this is not a “trade-off”, but actually also represents a safety as well as a health improvement.

This research is not, as such, ground-breaking. It follows in the footsteps of well-documented research and statistics from all over the world. The key is that it documents, right here and now, what this would mean for Auckland and New Zealand. The economic benefits of the 117 combined deaths avoided alone is $200 million, and that does not yet include all the other benefits, tangible and intangible, such as reduced congestion, and less need for costly transport infrastructure.

Moving urban trips from cars to bicycles: impact on health and emissions

Graeme Lindsay, Alexandra Macmillan, Alistair Woodward

School of Population Health, University of Auckland, New Zealand


Objective: To estimate the effects on health, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions if short trips (?7 km) were undertaken by bicycle rather than motor car.

Method: Existing data sources were used to model effects, in the urban setting in New Zealand, of varying the proportion of vehicle kilometres travelled by bicycle instead of light motor vehicle.

Results: Shifting 5% of vehicle kilometres to cycling would reduce vehicle travel by approximately 223 million kilometres each year, save about 22 million litres of fuel and reduce transport-related greenhouse emissions by 0.4%. The health effects would include about 116 deaths avoided annually as a result of increased physical activity, six fewer deaths due to local air pollution from vehicle emissions, and an additional five cyclist fatalities from road crashes. In economic terms, including only fatalities and using the NZ Ministry of Transport Value of a Statistical Life, the health effects of a 5% shift represent net savings of about $200 million per year.

Conclusion: The health benefits of moving from cars to bikes heavily outweigh the costs of injury from road crashes.

Implications: Transport policies that encourage bicycle use will help to reduce air pollution and greenhouse emissions and improve public health.

Key words: Air pollution, bicycles, climate change, environmental health, greenhouse gases, injury, mortality, physical activity, transport.

Aust NZ J Public Health. 2010; 54-60 doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00621.x

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