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This is only mildly related to transportation, but my love of alternative transportation is strongest in non-motorized modes like biking and walking.  Getting people up and moving instead of driving everywhere solves so man issues it’s amazing.  Of course there is the transportation aspect: less congestion, easier maintained roads, etc.  And there is the environmental impact of less pollution and fossil fuel use.  But what really moves me is how much  healthier we could be if we added more self-powered transportation to the mix.

The health benefits are obvious: more movement, more exercise, more healthy lifestyle.  It’s hard to argue with that.  But thinking in terms of the healthcare debate currently raging in Washington, what can we say about the broader impacts of a more active transportation culture?  I’m going to revert to some Danish information here since I am familiar with it and cycling is a strong part of the Danish culture.

The City of Copenhagen developed a cost-benefit analysis methodology to assess the relative value of its many cycling projects.  As part of this methodology a model was used to calculate the health-related benefits of cycling.  According to the Bicycle Account 2010, biking in Copenhagen creates major economic improvements through increased health and reduced costs of transportation-related accidents.  Taking into account factors such as transport costs, security, comfort, branding/tourism, transport times, and health, biking results in a net social gain of $0.33/mi (DKK 1.22/km) whereas driving results in a net social loss of about $0.18/mi (DKK 0.69/km).

The health benefits themselves were found to be much greater.  The added trip times, convenience, etc. distracts from the amazing health benefits which, alone, are much higher.  The total health benefit of a mile of cycling is estimated at around  $1.27 (DKK 4.72).

Perhaps reforming healthcare is not the best first step in addressing soaring healthcare costs.  Like limiting medical practice, patients’ health insurance plans, or lack thereof, might not be the main source of our nation’s ridiculously high medical expenses.  Getting people off the couch and out of the driver’s seat is a daunting task, especially in the remote regions of our nation.  But no doubt with the right support and proper planning and implementation a new take on American transportation might just levy some of the strain on our healthcare system.

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