The 5 Transformative Impacts of Urban Cycling

Many cities around the world are working to increase the number of cyclists. Ask them why and you will get a mixed bag of responses – we are overcrowded with cars, our air quality is bad, we saw someone else do it… The message is unclear, the plan uncertain, the future vision for the city undefined, and thus, progress gets stuck. But there is an incredible opportunity to transform our cities through cycling – unlocking vast social, economic, and environmental benefits for everyone – if we can get the message right. Here, Adam Stones explains all.

In Amsterdam, bikes outnumber people. But when you come here, you might not see a single ‘cyclist,’ just thousands of people getting about on bikes: going to school, to work, to the shops, to meet friends. No lycra or high-visibility spandex, as if dressed for a battle. You’ll find big open spaces; once streets and car parks, now public parks and playgrounds as the space has been reclaimed for the community. It is enviable for many places and in our work, we are helping more global cities to adopt the ‘Dutch model.’ Why is this important? Well, here as many as 75% of secondary school children cycle every day and it is no coincidence that UNICEF says that Dutch teens are amongst the healthiest and happiest in the world with amongst the lowest rates of depression and obesity.

But that’s just one measurement – there’s so much more to it than that. Looking beyond our own streets, we wanted to understand how far these benefits went globally, so we started to distill the best of what we are seeing around the world. The results provide the language for how everyone needs to talk about cycling. Here are BYCS’ Five transformative impacts of cycling.

1. Health

Cycling is often referenced for its health benefits, but in softer terms that don’t give the issue the weight it deserves. If you cycle regularly, you can reduce your chance of heart disease by as much as 52% and some cancers by as much as 40%. It also reduces the risk of type two diabetes and stroke. And it has remarkable benefits for mental health, helping to manage stress and anxiety, and helping to prevent depression. This is hugely significant given that one in six of us are experiencing mental health challenges right now.

2. Mobility

A lot of conversations on cycling get stuck here. Bikes get us from point A to point B efficiently and in good health. Done. But crucially, they also get us from point A to E, where ‘E’ stands for education, employment, and essential services. This is taken for granted by many of us but is out of reach for many millions of people around the world. Thanks to the simplicity and affordability of the bike, most people of most ages, incomes and abilities can get access to a better life through cycling.


3. Community

By giving everyone this access, we can build stronger communities. Everyone is equal on a bike and by opening up you connect more with the people around you. It helps us to create inclusive and safe places with more engaged, integrated citizens at their heart. That’s why we need to ensure everyone can cycle safely and confidently, whether they are 5 or 85 years of age.

4. Environment

Cycling connects us to the world around us and makes us sensitive to the changes we can affect. We know that climate change – or rather climate breakdown – will reach all of us and addressing it can feel overwhelming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has some simple advice: we all need to cycle more. And then there’s air pollution, responsible for nine million deaths a year. Our clean, green bicycles help tackle this.


5. Economy

Businesses that encourage their employees to cycle to work tend to perform better – they attract the best talent, and those people become more present, creative, and productive; they drive greater success. Scale that up and towns and cities that embrace cycling are also stronger economically. One study in the UK showed that non-motorists spend 40% more money each month in neighborhood shops, compared to motorists. Even more exciting, is the way that a city’s philosophy – it’s DNA – shifts when it prioritises cycling. It inspires and informs a more sustainable and circular economy to be established.

Putting all of this together, we see that cycling helps every city to address a broad range of its most pressing challenges. And yet no place on earth has so far realised the full potential of what the bicycle can do because they are failing to connect all these points. Cities that are serious about being fit for the future will stop talking about cycling as a mobility issue alone. They will stop trying to determine if autonomous car taxis should be given as much backing as bicycle infrastructure and cycling behavioural change campaigns. They will call cycling transformation, not transportation and they will set their future vision around it. Ideas for cycling progress will then come from all corners of the community, investment in cycling will flow more freely from a broader range of budget holders and the people currently blocking its progress will become its champions. And when this happens, we all benefit.

BYCS is on a mission called 50by30: we want 50% of all city trips to be by bike by 2030. It is a big challenge and only by reframing the opportunity can we set the course to get there. So join us in transforming your city.

You can hear more about these impacts and the ways to bring them to life in Adam’s TED talk.
To find out more about how BYCS is driving impact across these 5 areas – through our client work and non-profit programs – head here.