How healthy is your bicycle commute in Dublin?

Switching from driving to a cycling commute helps Dublin city dwellers improve their physical health and mental wellbeing. However, the overall positive health benefits of cycling to the local population may mask some potential negative health impacts to individual cyclists, according to a new study involving researchers from Trinity College Dublin and UCD.

The study of more than 50,000 Dublin city commuters, just published in the Journal of Transport and Health, investigated whether or not the benefits to an individual taking up cycling in Dublin outweighed the risks for all ages, genders and trip lengths. Data came from the Central Statistics Office, from the 2011 census.

Among the key results were that a shift to cycling had an overall positive effect on the health of the population — it is associated with a 10-20% reduction in conditions like cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, dementia, depression and type II diabetes among individuals.

But the study also highlighted that men aged 20 – 29 who make the switch have a particularly high risk of collisions with other vehicles on the road. This risk was also shown to increase with every extra kilometre they travel, so that some individuals within this category experience a net negative health impact of switching to a cycling commute.

Senior author on the paper, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at Trinity College Dublin, Bidisha Ghosh, said: “Commuting to work by bicycle generally brings about considerable physical and mental health benefits for the cyclists, as well as benefiting the rest of the local population through avoidance of toxic emissions and other negative impacts of motorised transport. However, individuals who cycle are also exposed to increased air pollution doses and an increased risk of traffic collision and injury.”

“The results of this work show that cities promoting a shift from driving to cycling should focus on providing safer cycling infrastructure and cleaner air to keep cycling as the healthiest choice of city commute.”

Co-author, Ronan Doorley, from Trinity, added: “To ensure that the improved health of the local population due to switching from driving to cycling does not come at the expense of beginner young male cyclists, the risk of traffic collisions for cyclists in the Dublin network must be reduced through provision of adequate infrastructure and also by improving driver awareness and perception of cyclists.”

With this in mind, the study makes several recommendations for increasing cycling safety including improving cycle lanes, introducing traffic calming measures in residential areas and encouraging awareness of cyclists among drivers.

Co-author, Professor Vikram Pakrashi, UCD, said: “In light of the positive impacts for the local population and for the majority of cyclists, it remains important to promote economic incentives like the Bike to Work scheme.”

The journal article (DOI: 10.1016/j.jth.2017.03.014) can be read here

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