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PHOTO CAPTION: Nearly 70 percent of Americans' car trips are less than two miles long.

Study Sees Health, Economic Benefits of City Cycling

University of Wisconsin Madison study of north central US region found that short trips on bicycles could save approximately four trillion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 1,100 lives and $7 billion in mortality and health care costs.

Published: 22-Sep-2012

Like a growing number of Americans, Jonathan Patz rides his bike to work. He even drags a wheeled blue bin behind his bike for trips to the grocery store. Sure, this environmental scientist naturally wants to do his part to preserve the planet's future, but his motivation is also personal: He knows his wallet, waistline, heart, lungs and neighbors will benefit today.

"If we were to think about reducing greenhouse gases to solve the global warming problem, we could have some immediate major health benefits," says Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and lead author of a new study highlighting the "four-way win" that comes with swapping cars for bikes: reduced greenhouse emissions and gains in air quality, fitness and the economy. Patz is also a professor in Madison's Nelson Institute and Department of Population Health Sciences.

In the study, published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, Patz and his colleagues looked to the more than 30 million people residing in urban and suburban areas of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. They asked: What if during the nicest six months of the year, those residents left their cars at home for round-trips of five miles or less? And what if they chose to replace half of those short car trips, which account for about 20 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, with cycling? According to their calculations, making those short trips on bicycles could save approximately four trillion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 1,100 lives and $7 billion in mortality and health care costs for the region every year.

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