Bicycles have been around since the early 1800’s but have seen something of a resurgence in recent years as society has looked to become healthier and the number of people living closer together has meant that travel distances have decreased. In many western countries the increase in the number of cyclists has also come from sporting success, with people like Bradley Wiggins and (the now disgraced) Lance Armstrong becoming icons of the sport in Britain and America. In London, for instance, in the year 2000 motorists on the roads outnumbered cyclists by more than 11 to 1. By 2014, the ratio was 1.7 to 1, and many main roads around the city today see more cyclists than motorists during the busiest times.
This increase in cycling numbers has seen many cities like Melbourne, San Francisco, Portland, and London invest heavily in cycling infrastructure, including segregated bike lanes, subsidies for companies to provide bikes, and public cycling safety initiatives. However, there has been a considerable push back from many on this issue. The Daily Mail in the UK, for instance, ran the headline ‘Cycle lanes lunacy! More and more are being built across Britain, causing gridlock and pollution.’ and Lord Lawson even claiming that the introduction of cycle lanes in London was ‘doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz’.
However, what kind of impact does cycling actually have on businesses in places where it is more readily adopted?
Firstly, rather than having a negative impact on retailers, cycling has been shown to be a net positive for companies. A study done on Valencia Street in San Francisco, which had traffic lanes slimmed down to include bike lanes, found that 40% of merchants reported an increase in sales after the changes had been made and 60% reported an increased number of customers on bikes.
The impact of cycling also goes beyond the number of people visiting shops, it also has a big impact on the amount of disposable income that people have, which has a huge impact on the wider economy. For instance, in London the average cost of commuting is £118 per month, which equates to £1,416 annually. There are currently around 155,000 people in London who commute to work by bike, which equates to around £220m more that is spent across the city than it would do if this money was going on travel alone.
Going further than this, cycling has the biggest impact on the economy and business through the improved health of those who ride to work. According to Sustrans, a sustainable transportation charity, the average commuter who cycles to work takes 2.4 sick days per year compared to 4.5 from those who use other forms of transport. In the UK alone this could equate to savings of around £13.7bn per year in fewer sick days.
One of the big arguments that many have against cycle lanes is that it decreases the space for motor vehicles, which need to make deliveries to businesses. It also takes away parking spaces outside of retail shops, meaning that people need to walk further to get to certain shops. There is also a widely held belief that cyclists and cycle lanes slow down traffic, making it more difficult to get between areas in large cities, which potentially damages businesses. This may be true to a degree, but equally if people start cycling instead of using other transport options, it takes these air pollutants off the road entirely. This can have a huge knock-on impact on public health, which has the potential to significantly improve the world. According to the World Health Organisation, poor air quality was linked to around 7 million deaths around the world in 2012. The worst air pollution takes place in urban areas, so cutting down on the harmful exhaust fumes from vehicles but getting more people cycling could have a major impact if enough people begin doing it.
Cities like Copenhagen in Denmark are a prime example of the benefits of cycling. They are currently rated 2nd in terms of air quality within the EU with 26% of all trips less than 5km made by bike and 49% of all children aged 11-15 using bikes to get to school. They have found that since the explosion in cycling began that they have 1.1 million fewer sick days and savings of approximately €215m. So maybe, despite the bicycle being over 200 years old, they are in fact the transport of the future.