Chart of the Day: Bicycling Health Benefits at Different Pollution Levels

This chart from the Financial Times is impossible to pass up, showing the health benefits of urban bicycling at different levels of particulate pollution. The article includes a helpful cycling benefits chart generator, where you plug in the current Twin Cities’ PM2.5 air quality measurement and it gives you a cool chart showing the relationship between exercise and particulate pollution.

Here it is (today in the Twin Cities’ is the black line):


It turns out you can ride a bike in Minneapolis for a looooooooong time right now before you’re going to be harming your health and lungs by inhaling too many fumes.

Of course, these exact relationships depend on the specifics and the context — for example, in rush hour it might look a little bit differently. And on a bad air day, for example when a forest fire is burning up North, Minneapolis might more closely resemble Beijing or 1980s Los Angeles.

pollution-world-largeThe article includes some comparisons of the bicycling health dynamics from cities around the world, some of which have terrible smog.

Here’s the conclusion of the study, from the Financial Times’ staff:

As a cyclist, the stink of petrol fumes as you sit in traffic behind a lorry can be deeply off-putting, but it’s worth putting the issue in perspective. A recent study by Cambridge University found that the health benefits of cycling – as well as walking – outweigh the risks caused by air pollution in 99 per cent of cities.

To make a long story short, riding a bike is very good for you, even if you’re surrounded by stinky cars.

5 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Bicycling Health Benefits at Different Pollution Levels

  1. Jeremy

    The point about when and where one rides is exactly why I’ve been increasingly taking the off-street bike paths along both River Roads, the North Cedar Lake Trail, and, of course, the Midtown Greenway whenever practicable. Additionally, and while I’m very glad that it’s been executed (though in a very watered-down fashion), the fumes from all the cars on 3rd Ave S make its new PBL wayyyy less appealing than the limited-access lanes on Marquette & 2nd. Waiting at red lights in those lanes on 3rd is appallingly stinky.

    1. Aaron

      That’s just what I was thinking of as I was biking down Portland yesterday. Unfortunately air pollution still dissipates by diffusion, so if you’re biking where the air pollution is being generated you’re going to be breathing in a lot more than the average for the whole Twin Cities.

  2. David MarkleDavid Markle

    As a dweller of the inner city, this is good to know, although long-time breathing of polluted air has been blamed as a likely factor in all kinds of disease including (lately) Alzheimer’s dementia. Short-term, both pedestrians and cyclists hate the pollution. I feel it all the more, having just returned from the wilderness.

    Which reminds me that the two non-environmentally minded Utah senators have introduced a bill to allow cycling in wilderness areas. The International Mountain Biking Association has very responsibly opposed the measure. But the Colorado-based Sustainable Trails Coalition has acted insensitively like the self-important, narcissistic cyclist stereotype in the Pearls Before Swine cartoon and supported it. Not enough for them that cyclists can use trails in the vast majority of BLM and National Forest lands that are not designated as wilderness.

    1. Alina

      I’m not really sure how your second paragraph pertains to the article at all. This is a separate conversation.

  3. Phil

    Sometimes I worry about what I’m doing to my body when I pedicab for hours on end in Downtown Minneapolis during peak event/bar traffic hours. 🙁

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