• Country

Does Better Cycling Infrastructure Equal Improved Public Health?

By Angie Ng

For some of us, cycling is a sport, a hobby or an eco-friendly mode of transportation, but cycling also has an important role to play in terms of public health. This includes obesity, which is now considered one of the biggest public health concerns in many countries. Dr. John Middleton, Vice-President of UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH), states that with “more and more people short on time to get their minimum 30-minute regular exercise five days a week, active travel is almost the ideal answer.”

According to Professor Mark Pereira of the University of Minnesota, “the more cycling people do — whether it’s recreational riding or commuting — the lower the danger of cardiovascular risk factors like obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol.” Pereira’s research suggests that although physical activity in general is good for one’s health, cycling is especially effective in reducing one’s risk of death and helping human beings live a healthier life.

A ten-year-long study in Sweden found that cyclists were 39 per cent less likely to be overweight than those who use passive forms of transportation. The study showed that cyclists were also “11 per cent less likely to develop high blood pressure, 20 per cent less likely to suffer high cholesterol, and 18 per cent less likely to show signs of diabetes.”


The cycling solution that most of us think of are cycle rental schemes, and indeed these are becoming more and more popular in major cities around the world. However, other infrastructure and policies are needed as well. The FPH calls for more cycle storage options in cities with improved security and states that more businesses should offer more storage facilities for bicycles. It also suggests that residential areas should have 20 mph or 30 km/h speed limits. It also highlights the importance of cycling lanes that are well-marked and well-designed, as well as advanced stop lines. That being said, painted bike lanes aren’t always enough to make people feel safe enough when cycling – physical separation from high-speed, high-volume traffic and better intersection designs are both important in order to avoid conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles.

To complement improvements in infrastructure, it is also important to promote cycling in other ways. FPH calls for more cycling training for residents and for schools to encourage children to learn to ride bicycles so that they become lifelong cyclists. It also states that employee cycle-to-work schemes should become the norm. As Dr. Middleton puts it, we want “everyone to be given the chance to see for themselves how easy, fun, and beneficial to health cycling really is. It’s not about spending more money on transport, but investing the existing money into our health…”