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Bike Sharing Can Save Lives

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An interesting study just released by the British Medical Journal reveals that bike sharing in the city of Barcelona saves upwards of a dozen lives per year. Researchers followed Barcelona's Bicing initiative for four years and found that, from a public health standpoint, extra exercise among city dwellers and reduced traffic and carbon emissions more than compensated for the increased bicycle-related accidents that occurred as a result of having more bikes on the street.

Here's the exact sciencese:

Compared with car users the estimated annual change in mortality of the Barcelona residents using Bicing (n=181,982) was 0.03 deaths from road traffic incidents and 0.13 deaths from air pollution. As a result of physical activity, 12.46 deaths were avoided (benefit:risk ratio 77). The annual number of deaths avoided was 12.28. As a result of journeys by Bicing, annual carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 9,062,344 kg.

Nearly 11 percent of the entire city participates in the Bicing program. Cycling trips rose by 30 percent since bike sharing was implemented there. Barcelona has roughly one quarter the population of Los Angeles and is far more dense. And the average trip of the 68 percent of people who rode bikes to work or school was under 3 miles. So the two cities can't be compared exactly. I know maybe five people in all of Los Angeles who commute less than five miles to work. But, still. The study is encouraging. Just because it may be tough for Angelenos to ride the whole way to work, doesn't mean we can't use public transit and use bikes to bridge gaps in service.

I remember when I worked at the LA CityBeat my editor commuted on the Metrolink from Orange County. Every day it was a mad rush for him to catch the proper bus, and then the proper transfer, that would get him the 7 miles to Union Station in time to catch the last train. Sometimes the bus would come, sometimes it wouldn't. Sometimes it would come but get stuck in an hour of traffic. More often than not I just wound up giving him a ride to the station. With a bike plan, none of that would be necessary. Late bus? Get out and ride.

We have a bike plan here in Los Angeles. Our infrastructure is expanding. We have a decent public transit nexus extending from Downtown that could serve as a pilot site for the program. And we have money. This idea has Measure R written all over it.

For $6 million the city of Boston was able to install 61 bike kiosks and put 600 bikes on the road. On top of that, they were able to accomplish this feat without spending a single tax dollar. The program is sponsored by donations and corporate sponsorship. All upfront costs were taken care of. Surely, with the heft of Measure R behind us, we could do just as well or better.

The more info comes out on bike sharing, the better the idea looks for LA.

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The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the California Endowment.

The image used on this post is by Flickr user martin cruze. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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