Beneficial for Health and the Environment
In addition to the need for an efficient transport system to promote a functional national economy and inclusive society, another key aspect of sustainable mobility is the reduction of harmful emissions that are detrimental to our health and the environment. Sustainable mobility can help to counteract global climate change and reduce air and noise pollution, as well as wasteful land use. In the context of the sustainability paradigm, the aim is to limit the growth of unsustainable mobility and diminish its environmental impacts. (1)
In the following section, we will briefly discuss the environmental impacts of local traffic in terms of noise and air pollution. Excessive noise can create stress, reduce quality of life and lead to health problems. Noise levels of 65dB(A) during the day and 55dB(A) at night are considered to be hazardous to one’s health. Motorized traffic has long been the dominant source of noise pollution in Germany. More than half the German population is bothered by noise in the places where they work and live (2). Air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter, which are particularly dangerous for humans, are mainly caused by tire abrasions and the generation of dust by motor vehicles. Since practically all major German cities regularly exceed the threshold for pollution laid down by EU agreements several years ago, not only do health and environmental hazards exist, but so too do prospective sanctions on the political level. Perhaps most importantly, people across Europe are suffering from deteriorating health or dying on account of traffic-induced air pollution (the annual death toll is in the hundreds of thousands).
€ 0.90 is generated in the health sector for every kilometer traveled by bike.*
* Meschik, M. (2012): Reshaping City Traffic Towards Sustainability Why Transport Policy should Favor the Bicycle Instead of Car Traffic. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 48. S. 495-504.
In order to minimize the negative environmental impacts of transport in the future, three successive actions must be taken: avoidance, displacement and improvement of traffic.
Through the increased volume of traffic (km travelled) and the steady growth in market share of oversized SUVs, individual mobility achieved by unsustainable means has become ingrained in our society. Unfortunately, even the increased efficiency of modern combustion engines have been negatively impacted by so-called ‘rebound effects’, not to mention scandals like ‘dieselgate’. The improvement of automotive technology is important, but it must not be the only action taken to advance sustainable transport. In order to achieve holistic change and attain more environmentally friendly and healthier urban mobility, policies must aim to avoid and refine traffic. This can only be done by creating the prerequisites for reducing the travel requirements of everyday activities. Such changes require the improvement of urban amenities, whether that be strengthening retail infrastructure or improving recreational possibilities.
10 times more people in Europe die on account of air pollution than from car accidents.* Globally, air pollution causes 7 million people to die prematurely each year**
*European Environment Agency (EEA) (2015): Air quality in Europe — 2015 report. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
European Commission (2015): Road safety in the European Union.Trends, statistics and main challenges. European Commission, Mobility and Transport DG, Brussels.
**WHO (2014): 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health (PHE). http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/
Bicycles are the fastest means of transport ‘from door to door’ for distances of up to 5 kilometers, so the opportunities for improving transport are numerous. (For distances of up to 9 kilometers, e-bikes are the fastest means of transport.)
Examples from other large European cities show: A significant shift in urban mobility from car-based transport to emission-free options, such as bikes and intermodal movement (foot, public transport), is addressing many of the major urban environmental problems and accordingly increasing the quality of urban life.
Cycling as a form of everyday exercise additionally benefits personal health. It improves breathing, increases one’s metabolism, enhances cardiovascular health, builds muscle and improves joint flexibility. Moreover, it can lead to a reduced risk of cancer, increased physical and mental well-being and consequently increases life expectancy (4).
3-14 months is the added life expectancy gained by people who make a long-term switch from cars to bikes and thereby increase their physical activity.*
* de Hartog, J.J. et al. (2010): Do the Health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks? Environmental Health Perspectives 118. S. 1109–1116.
**(1)** Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987): Our
Common Future. http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf
**(2) **Umweltbundesamt (2017): Straßenverkehrslärm. Umweltbundesamt, Dessau.
**(3)** European Environment Agency (EEA) (2015): Air quality in Europe — 2015 report.
Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
**(4)** WHO (2006): Physical activity and health in Europe: evidence for action. WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen.