Pollutionwatch: why cycling is better for you in 99% of world's cities

Gary Fuller
Photograph: Joe Dunckley/Alamy Stock Photo

New York has reported a surge in cycling as people try to avoid public transport during the coronavirus epidemic. In New York City, Mexico City, and Bogotá city authorities are planning “emergency” cycleways.

London has made its bike hire scheme free to health workers, and bicycle shops have been listed as essential businesses to remain open while other shops are closed.

But many people are reluctant to take to their bikes because they think it is more dangerous than other ways of travelling. Setting aside Covid-19, studies done during more normal times show that the health benefits from cycling outweigh the downsides – namely breathing polluted air (cyclists breath faster than those in cars or walking) and accidents, but this varies from place to place.

The tipping point, when the harm from breathing extra pollution outweighs the benefits from exercise, is reached in just 1% of the world’s cites.

None of these are in Europe or the Americas. Future investment in cycle infrastructure could decrease accidents and improve the benefits ratio even further.