Living in LA has made me stay at home more than any other city I have lived in. Just the thought of getting in the car only to battle traffic, and then having to look for parking at my destination is often enough to make me stay at home. So after doing the driving thing for years, I decided to try a different approach - cycling. Since I started cycling to work and running errands by bike, my quality of life has improved. Here is why:
A bike is easier to maneuver in traffic
Typical situation as a driver: I am approaching an intersection with a traffic light. The light turns green and there are half a dozen cars in front of me waiting to go. Depending on the intersection, if I’m lucky I’ll able to make it through the intersection on this light. But someone in front of me is on their phone, not paying attention, not moving. Despite angry honks from drivers behind him, the distracted driver is too slow to react before the light turns yellow, and then red. The distracted driver and everyone behind him have to wait for the next green light to cross the intersection. Time wasted.
As a cyclist, provided that I have a little bit of space, I will pass the cars and wait for the green light at the front of the line, maximizing my chances of making it through the intersection before the light turns red again.
On the occasion when traffic on the perpendicular road blocks the intersection for the entire duration of the green light, on my bike I can easily pass between the cars while the drivers are stuck waiting for the intersection to clear.
Another scenario where riding a bike has an advantage is when there are road closures. As long as the sidewalk is open I will jump on the sidewalk, carefully looking out for pedestrians and cars exiting driveways, before returning to the main road after passing the road closure. Some cities require cyclists to dismount before entering the sidewalk, so check your local laws.
Once I arrive at my destination I have never failed to find a convenient parking spot for my bike. Unlike for cars, parking is free, easy, and plentiful for bikes in most urban areas.
Less traffic congestion and pollution, more savings
If the ease of getting around the city isn’t enough, reducing pollution is an even more important reason to take the bike instead of the car. Reducing motor vehicle traffic minimizes the time cars spend idling due to traffic congestion.
According to data from 2009, almost 40% of car trips in LA County are less than three miles.(1) This means that if everyone who is able to would take their bike for shorter trips traffic could potentially be reduced by almost 40%. It is also worth noting that bicycle parking takes up significantly less space than car parking - 10 bikes can park in one car parking spot. In crowded LA where space comes at a premium some of the street parking space could instead be used for public spaces for people to enjoy. Here is an example of converted street parking from Chicago:
Driving less reduces wear on your car, and you will also save on gas. A typical American household spends about $14 000 on car ownership each year.(2) Costs associated with cycling are far less. A household with two bikes can expect to spend no more than $975 per year on their bikes.(3) When something goes wrong, bikes are much more affordable to fix, or replace.
Cycling burns way more calories, and can improve fitness and health
The calorie expenditure of driving for 15 minutes is negligible. Cycling for 15 minutes, depending on body weight, can easily burn 150 calories. If you happen to live in in an urban area with slow city traffic (like LA) the distance you will cover in that time will be approximately the same by bike as by car. In some areas a bike will be faster than a car during rush hour.
Let’s say you burn 150 calories each way on your commute to work. Do this five days per week and you will have burned 1500 calories per week, just by getting to work! Depending on distance and intensity you may even reach or exceed the weekly recommended cardiovascular exercise recommendations just by cycling to school, work or errands.
If you are part of the 30% of Americans with elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL), doing cardiovascular exercise such as cycling may help bring your numbers down to a healthy range.(4)(5) While driving can be just a continuation of a sedentary lifestyle, cycling will help you maintain or improve your cardiovascular fitness and make you healthier.
Sunshine to boost your mood and bones
In Southern California we are lucky to have sunny days in abundance most of the year. Biking is a great way to catch some rays.
Sunshine is vital for well-being. Exposure to sunlight triggers the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter with several important functions, one of which is to maintain mood balance.(6) Sunlight is also well-known for its role in vitamin D production when our skin is exposed to UV rays. Not only does Vitamin D help strengthen bones, but research has shown that vitamin D may also have cancer-preventing properties.(7)
Keep in mind excessive sun exposure can be harmful, so if you are outside for a long time or during midday, wearing sunscreen and sunglasses is a good idea.
Cycling can improve quality of life
Cardiovascular exercise such as cycling has so many benefits that it deserves a separate post, but one benefit of cycling especially worth mentioning here is that it can improve one’s quality of life through improved fitness and health, lower stress levels associated with traffic, and a reduction in total car traffic in neighborhoods.(8)(9)
There is no doubt that having access to a car is useful for hauling heavy loads, covering long distances, or for going on road trips. But in cities traffic can be a source of stress. Someone living in a densely populated area is likely to encounter heavy traffic daily. Being able to achieve more control of travel time, parking, and transportation expenses, may relieve some of the stress of big city living. Riding your bike can make you more fit and less stressed.
Do something good for yourself and the environment - ride your bike and leave the car at home.
1. McGuckin, N. (2009). Analysis Brief Travel in LA County. Retrieved from https://saferoutescalifornia.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/travel-in-la-county_nhts2009.pdf
2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Composition of Consumer Unit: Average Annual Expenditures and Characteristics, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2011. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/cex/2011/Standard/cucomp.pdf
3. Motavalli, J. (2009, March 18). The Costs of Owning a Car. New York Times. New York. Retrieved from http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/the-costs-of-owning-a-car/
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, March 17). High Cholesterol Facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm
5. Mann, S., Beedie, C., & Jimenez, A. (2014). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3906547/pdf/40279_2013_Article_110.pdf
6. Nall, R. (2015, November 9). What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#Benefits3
7. National Cancer Institute. Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/vitamin-d-fact-sheet
8. Crane, M., Rissel, C., Standen, C., & Greaves, S. (2014, December). Associations Between the Frequency of Cycling and Domains of Quality of Life. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/28635057/Associations_between_the_frequency_of_cycling_and_domains_of_quality_of_life
9. Spencer, P., Watts, R., Vivanco, L., Kaza, S., & Farley, J. (2014). Bicycles, Transportation Sustainability, and Quality of Life (14-001). Retrieved from University of Vermont Transportation Research Center: http://www.uvm.edu/~transctr/research/trc_reports/UVM-TRC-14-001.pdf