Good news: Studies Show Bike Commuting is One of Best Ways to Stay Healthy

Josh Wilson
March 23, 2013

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults frequently about biking and other ways to improve our communities. This post was cross-posted from the People for Bikes blog

It’s always a pleasure when scientific studies confirm your own long-held opinions, especially when what you think flies in the face of all conventional wisdom.

For instance, who knew that chocolate éclairs and triple fudge caramel brownies actually contain fewer calories than a 12-ounce glass of skim milk? Or that every $1000 you spend on lavish vacations before the age of 65 will, over the long run, provide you with more retirement income than if you’d stashed that same $1000 in a savings account?

Well, to be honest, I made up the fact about the éclairs. And the one about vacations too.Business commuter

But here’s bona fide scholarly research that excites me in the same way: Biking for transportation appears more helpful in losing weight and promoting health than working out at the gym.

This means I can spend less time wearing a grimace as I endure mind-numbing exercise routines at the Y—and more time wearing a smile as I bike to work, shopping and social events. Just what I always thought.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. According to Australian epidemiologist Takemi Sugiyama, lead author of a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Commuting is a relevant health behavior even for those who are sufficiently active in their leisure time.”

Analyzing the research, The Health Behavior News Service notes, “It may be more realistic to accumulate physical activity through active transport than adding exercise to weekly leisure-time routines.”

The four-year study of 822 adults found that found that people commuting to work by car gained more weight on average, even if they engaged in regular exercise, than people who did not commute by car. The authors of the study recommend creating more opportunities for everyone to walk or bike to work.

An earlier study by researchers at the University of Sydney School of Public Health published in Obesity Reviews (the journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity) supports the thesis that leisure-time exercise alone is not enough to prevent obesity. Sixty to 90 minutes of daily physical activity is recommended to curb obesity, which is more time than most people can fit into their busy schedules. That’s why the study’s authors recommend “active transport” like biking and walking for commuting other common trips.

Beyond fighting fat, biking and walking for transportation also boosts overall health. A 2007 paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology concludes “Commuting physical activity, independent of leisure time physical activity, was associated with a healthier level of most of the cardiovascular risk factors.”

The key advantage of traveling by bike over working out at a fitness center is that most people find it easier to do. Instead of vying for scarce free time with many other fun and important things, exercise becomes something we do naturally as part of daily routine. As a study by Portland State University professor Jennifer Dill in the Journal of Public Health Policy shows, 60 percent of Portland cyclists ride for at least 150 minutes per week (the recommended exercise minimum for adults) and that “nearly all the bicycling was for utilitarian purposes, not exercise.”

She adds “a disproportionate share of the bicycling occurred on streets with bicycle lanes, separate paths, or bicycle boulevards”—confirming the importance of bike infrastructure improvements to public health.

In my opinion, all this research also suggests that if I bike a lot for everyday transportation I can sometimes ditch the skim milk in favor of the brownies, and may save enough on auto expenses to both take a cool vacation and fund my retirement account.

 

 

Women’s (Bike) History: 3 Days, 5 Women, 250 Miles

Josh Wilson
March 22, 2013

Guest post by Marya McQuirter Years ago while working on her dissertation on the social history of blacks in D.C. during the first half of the 20th century, McQuirter came upon an article about five black women who biked from New York City to Washington in 1928. She is trying to gather as many details [...]

Women’s (Bike) History: Ellen Fletcher

Josh Wilson
March 19, 2013

Even at age 83, even suffering from lung cancer, Ellen Fletcher rode her bike to City Hall for a hearing on bicycle improvements this past summer. That was the level of dedication that made Fletcher not just a local hero, but a national inspiration. As a Gold level Bicycle Friendly Community, Palo Alto remains a [...]

How to Bring Fire Up Your Feet to Your State or Region

Josh Wilson
March 18, 2013

Biking and walking advocates who want to strengthen their involvement with local schools have a shiny new tool in their toolbox: the new Fire Up Your Feet program.

Fire Up Your Feet — a partnership between the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Kaiser Permanente and the National PTA — is designed to encourage families, students and schools to work together and create active lifestyles which inspire our children to be healthy and physically active.

On Tuesday, March 12, Beth Richards, Development Director at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, joined advocates for a webinar with the Alliance for Biking & Walking to explain how advocacy organizations can bring the initiative to their state or region.

New Resources for Schools Across the Country

The Fire Up Your Feet site offers free resources on how to initiate healthy activities around the school day, like bike trains, walking school buses, fun runs and local walkability checklists.

A new healthy fundraising option is available to any school or PTA/school group in the country. Centered around collecting pledges for physical activity or a healthy event at your school, the Fire Up Your Feet fundraising tools enables students, teachers and parents to create personal fundraising pages to track physical activity, then collect pledges and sponsorships from family and community members. Schools receive 75% of the funds they raise — far more than a school would raise in a typical wrapping paper fundraiser.

Plus, Fire Up Your Feet helps groups invest these dollars back into school wellness efforts such as bike racks, pedestrian and bicycle safety programs, and other activities to promote healthy, active schools.

Activity Challenges and Challenge Awards

In certain sponsored regions and states, Activity Challenges further encourage physical activity before, during and after school.

Currently, schools California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Southwest Washington state, the Metro Atlanta region, North East Ohio, the Greater Baltimore region, and the Greater Washington DC area are eligible to join Activity Challenges. Parents in participating areas can register for the program and track their activities (such as walking or biking to school) to earn awards for their school or parent-teacher organization.

Schools that win Challenge Awards, up to $1,000 in most regions, will be able to use the funding as they see fit — such as for building bike racks or supporting Safe Routes to School education courses.

Advocates and organizations located outside of these states and regions can bring customized Fire Up Your Feet programs and Activity Challenges to their areas, too.

On the webinar, Beth discussed how advocates outside of Kaiser regions can work with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership to bring full programming to their areas. Beth outlined the following steps:

  1. Identify partners already working in the Safe Routes to School movement in your area, such as advocates, local health groups, and parent-teacher associations.
  2. Work with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership to determine the size of the local school market in your area. The structure and format of Challenge Grants will differ depending on a region’s size, student population, population density, etc.
  3. Work with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and local sponsors to find funders to underwrite Challenge Awards in your area.
  4. Form a memorandum of understanding with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership regarding brand standards, local charitable registration, and fundraising processing fees.
  5. Work with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership to determine local staff allocation.
  6. Roll out a customized web site, reporting system, webinar series, and award program for your area. As part of the partnership, advocates will receive marketing and communication templates as well as training and support from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

Learn more

To learn more about bringing Fire Up Your Feet to your state or region, register online for one of two upcoming webinars offered by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

As Youth Driver Licensing Dips Again, A Focus on the Millennials

Josh Wilson
March 18, 2013

Tony Dutzik is senior policy analyst with Frontier Group, a non-profit public policy think tank. In 2011, the percentage of 16-to-24 year olds with driver’s licenses dipped to another new low. Just over two-thirds of these young Americans (67 percent) were licensed to drive in 2011, based on the latest licensing data from the Federal Highway [...]

Bringing the Joy of Cycling to Brooklyn Schools

Josh Wilson
March 15, 2013

Few encounters are more memorable than those between children and new bikes. The magic was on full view at Wednesday’s launch of the CYCLE Kids program in Brooklyn at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School. Throughout the morning, students handled bicycle tools, spun wheels, peppering volunteers with [...]

The post Bringing the Joy of Cycling to Brooklyn Schools appeared first on velojoy.

How Bike Advocates Won the Super Bowl

Josh Wilson
March 14, 2013

Advocacy Advance, the collaborative advocacy team composed of staff from the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking & Walking, recently awarded a series of Rapid Response Grants. These quick-turnaround grants help state and local advocacy organizations take advantage of unexpected opportunities to win, increase, or preserve funding for biking and walking.

In this series of blog posts, we talk with recipients of the grants about their advocacy campaigns.

When asked who won Super Bowl XLVII, most people would answer that the Ravens bested the 49ers. It’s a lesser-known fact that New Orleans biking and walking advocates also scored a major victory as part of the year’s biggest football game.

Leading up to the 2013 Super Bowl, the New Orleans city government planned transportation investments in the downtown “Hospitality Zone” — the bustling French Quarter and Central Business District areas frequented by tourists and New Orleanians alike.

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The French Quarter is a bustling center for walkers and bicyclists. Photos: TMZPhotos/Flickr

Leaders at Bike Easy, a biking and walking advocacy organization based in New Orleans, knew that the changes should include improvements to make biking and walking safer and more convenient.

With help from a Rapid Response grant from Advocacy Advance, Bike Easy launched a campaign to ensure that downtown resurfacing implemented New Orleans’s new Complete Streets policy with bike lanes, bike parking, pedestrian islands and traffic calming along the renovated streets. 

Kicking Off a Complex Match

Bike Easy found broad support at the initial public meetings. “We met a lot of people who were speaking up for biking and walking infrastructure,” said Jamie Wine, Executive Director of Bike Easy.

The Department of Public Works’ original game plan reflected public sentiment. Plans that DPW officials discussed in the summer of 2012 featured sharrows on slow, narrow streets as well as a lane reduction and 8 blocks of new bike lanes along Decatur Street, a major downtown thoroughfare.

But in the fall, Jamie was surprised to hear from an ally inside DPW warning him that the city had reduced the number of bike lanes on Decatur without giving public notice.

Jamie was shocked at the quick turnover. “We expected the project would have 8 blocks of bike lanes in both directions, but the plan they unrolled involved about 2 ½ blocks on only one side.”

Installing the full bike lanes on both sides would have meant taking out a lane of auto traffic, and the sudden change of plans seemed quite a setback for biking & walking priorities originally outlined by the DPW and supported by the community.

Taking it to the Streets

After hearing about the alarming changes, and knowing there was less than a week to spare before the contractors laid the paint, Jamie reached out to the mayor’s office but received no response.

Finally, Bike Easy took a bold move, “I emailed the Mayor’s office and said, ‘if you don’t talk to us about this, we’re going to have a rally,’” Jamie recalled. “They reached out and said ‘don’t rally – let’s work this out.’ So we held off.”

Bike Easy rallied their members and advocates over the course of two weeks. During that time, the French Quarter Business Association, the elite Vieux Carre, the University of New Orleans Transportation Institute, and other advocates like Ride New Orleans and KidsWalk Coaliton all came to the table with letters of support. 

Moreover, the key support of Councilmember Kristen Palmer, who had championed biking issues in the past for the prime location in the French Quarter, came on board along with a new ally in Councilmember Stacy Head.

“Kristin’s office called in DPW into a meeting in chambers with Bike Easy,” recalled Jamie. “She said, ‘These are our constituents, and they’re saying that a lane reduction will not be controversial. Go ahead with it, and we will field any political blowback.’”

Still, though, DPW would not budge. “They said no way,” Jamie recalled.

imageA temporary bike lane at the Decatur rally. Photo: Bike Easy/Facebook

With negotiations falling short and the clock running down, Bike Easy went on the offensive and rekindled the rally.

“On Tuesday, November 20, we rallied in the core of the French Quarter,” Jamie said. “They had the lane closed because they had just laid the pavement and steamrolled it, but hadn’t painted it yet. We worked with Neighborland to put down fake bike lanes. Hundreds of residents showed up, garnering signs and we had a blast demonstrating how bike lanes make it easier and safer for all road users along Decatur Street.  We got a lot of honks for bike lanes from cars and the horse buggies too!”

The rally proved a smart play: with the large crowd Bike Easy earned coverage on local television stations and blogs and really created a buzz around the issue.

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A woman broadcasts her support for Decatur Street bike lanes during Bike Easy’s rally. Photo: Bike Easy/Facebook

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A mom and son rallying for bike lanes on Decatur Street. Photo: Bike Easy/Facebook

Surprise Touchdown

A week later, when the City painted the resurfaced roads, Jamie was pleasantly surprised to discover 6 blocks of two way bicycle lanes — more than double the 2 ½ blocks of lanes that DPW had promised.

“We didn’t know that we’d get the additional blocks of bike lanes until they were actually down on the ground,” recalled Jamie. “Advocates from other cities like Seattle and Portland were surprised that we were able to influence the design so late in the project timeline.”

Overall, the campaign was a big win for Bike Easy. By the time the Super Bowl rolled into New Orleans, downtown boasted 6 new blocks of bicycle lanes, 4 pedestrian islands with high-visibility crosswalks, lane reductions on 4 blocks and 2 miles of shared lane markings and signage.

“I’m really pleased with it. I’m surprised at how much traction we got,” Jamie said. 

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Photos courtesy Bike Easy

Thanks to the Rapid Response grant, the organization also won new allies.

“The profile that we gained has been even greater than our gains from the actual infrastructure,” said Jamie. “We won new and more committed partners from this process. We’re going to have more insight and more say and relationships going forward.”

The Next Season

So what’s next for Bike Easy?

Going forward, New Orleans advocates hope to encourage greater transparency at the public works department. DPW has pledged to work with Bike Easy on plans to implement complete streets.

Jamie said that the city is planning 12 new miles of bike lanes, and public officials are more engaged than ever. “The personal assistant to the mayor has called me several times to talk about bike share and involving the mayor in bike to work day again,” Jamie said.

Related links

Bike Law University: Share the Road License Plates

Josh Wilson
March 14, 2013

Last week, more than 750 bicyclists from all 50 states gathered for the 2013 National Bike Summit — and several advocates were able to attend specifically because of their state’s Share the Road license plate. As a beneficiary of the specialty plates, Georgia Bikes used some of it funding to provide scholarships for three key [...]

How Bike Shops Can Get More Women on Two Wheels

Josh Wilson
March 12, 2013

A group ride hosted by WE Bike, a New York City women’s bicycling community that rides together regardless of speed, skill and riding style. | Photo: We Bike NYC

Women represent a crucial majority for the future of biking. According to the 2012 American Bicyclist Survey, 60 percent of bicycle owners aged 18-27 are [...]

Engaging Businesses in Open Streets: Lessons from an Alliance Mutual Aid Call

Josh Wilson
March 12, 2013

It should come as little surprise to advocates that Open Streets initiatives can be a great boost for local businesses. With thousands of potential customers traveling at a people-powered pace along streets normally filled with cars, local storefronts serve as giant advertisements and testing grounds for their own businesses.

On the flip side, organizers of Open Streets initiatives have lots to gain from the support of local businesses located on or near the route. Support from local businesses can garner in-kind donations, publicity, increased participation and even funding.

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A local restaurant’s customer base spills into the streets during a Berkeley Sunday Streets event. Photo: North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto/Flickr

As part of our Open Streets Project, the Alliance held a Mutual Aid Call on engaging businesses for Open Streets featuring successes from Atlanta, Berkeley and Minneapolis.

The first step is to pick a route that features a variety of businesses.

“It may seem like common sense,” said panelist Matt Garbett of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, who organizes Atlanta Streets Alive, “but we’ve found that if there weren’t businesses there to engage, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Panelists emphasized that organizers should reach out early and often to businesses along the route. In Berkeley, Sunday Streets organizer Emunah Hauser learned that it was helpful to distinguish Open Streets from a traditional street fair by letting business owners know that they would have full access to the street.

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People gather to watch a breakdancer in front of businesses during Berkeley Sunday Streets. Photo: Downtown Berkeley Association/Flickr
“As soon as you say ‘your storefront will not be blocked,’ it changes the perception,” she said.

Businesses can be fantastic partners in promoting Open Streets, but panelists cautioned advocates not to assume that all business owners would be savvy marketers.

Joni Bonnell, Executive Director of the Lowry Corridor Business Association in North Minneapolis, learned this lesson while working to engage businesses in her association in preparation for Open Streets Minneapolis’ initiative last fall.

“Many smaller businesses don’t have Facebook pages, and a few business owners didn’t even have an email address,” she said.

Instead, Joni reached out to local media outlets.

“We brought in a local newspaper that delivers to all residents, and created an insert with articles, coupons from merchants, and a map of the entire street,” Joni explained. “The newspaper distributed the insert with the paper and also gave us 3,000 [advance] copies to distribute as advertising in bike shops around the city. We also used the insert on the day of the event as a map. The insert allowed our business owners to advertise at a very reasonable price.”

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The local business association worked with a local newspaper to develop this leaflet for Open Streets Minneapolis. Image via Open Streets MPLS

Some businesses may not be sure how to best take advantage of an Open Streets initiative. In Atlanta, Matt found it helpful to brainstorm with businesses about activities they could have in front of their stores.

“Boutiques and furniture places often say there’s no way for them to get involved, so we send a creative person from our staff to scheme up ideas about how they can participate,” Matt explained. “Even if they don’t adopt our zany ideas (like a pillow fight in front of a furniture store), the excitement of brainstorming is engaging.” 

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A street full of potential customers during an Atlanta Open Streets event. Photo: Kevin Ward for Atlanta Streets Alive

Organizers agreed that developing relationships with local businesspeople is key for an initiative’s long-term success.  Forming strong relationships with owners of businesses along past routes has proved essential in Atlanta.

“You can offer other businesses as referrals [to businesses along new routes], so keep track of your contacts at businesses that get involved,” said Matt.

In Minneapolis, Joni found it useful to debrief with business owners after the Open Streets event.

“We asked each business about positives and negatives,” explained Joni. “I learned that we should have used more signage to show attendees on one end of the avenue that there were more events down the street. We found out that one restaurant had their busiest day ever.”

Key to all advice shared on the call was the need to develop strong relationships and be sensitive to the needs of local businesses.

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Open Streets participants in Berkeley dance in front of local storefronts. Photo: Downtown Berkeley Association/Flickr

Want to learn more? Members of the Alliance can find a call recording and full tip sheet from the call online here.

You can learn more about all things Open Streets at our Open Streets Project site. Alliance Mutual Aid Calls are free and open to anyone interested in learning about best practices, innovations and challenges in biking and walking advocacy. To sign up for future Mutual Aid Calls by the Alliance, check out our events page.

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