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.

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.