Cycling’s Value to Society


I spotted an interesting blog post by Dr Andy Cope on the Sustrans site several days ago and have been meaning since to say something about it.

In his item, Dr Cope explained how Sustrans had calculated the gain to society for every mile that is cycled instead of driven, concentrating on the commute, rather than leisure cycling.

There is a 67p benefit to society for every mile cycled rather than driven.

The means of calculating this are part of a model developed by Sustrans, building on work originally developed for the Copenhagen Bicycle Account. They utilised a set of values that estimate both the benefits and costs for each of cycling and driving, and used these across the different “Cycling Cities” (or Bike Life partner cities). At some point, Sustrans will have refined their modelling to have different values for different cities. In the meantime, it would be great to have that information so at least some form of calculations could be carried out for other towns and cities around the UK.

The costs are in two categories: firstly “internalised costs” which include time costs, operating costs and personal health impacts; and “externalised costs” which cover such items as congestion, noise, air quality and emissions, along with wider public health and collisions.

The 67 pence difference between the cost of cycling and driving is because of a calculated cost per mile cycled of 28p compared with the 95p cost of driving a mile, more than three times the cost of a mile that is cycled.

All we need now is the number of cyclists who commute to work in any given town or city and the average length of their bike commute to be able to work out the value to the population of that town for the number of miles cycled rather than driven.

Sustrans calculated the value to Belfast as £9.9 million per year; Newcastle, Cardiff and Edinburgh came in at £13.5, £13.7 and £13.9m respectively, whereas the larger urban areas of Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester reached the stunning annual values of £26.1, £30.4 and £98.5 million respectively.

Using the approximate and rounded population figures given on, the annual benefit per head of population ranges between a low of £30.65 for Birmingham and a high of £68.68 for Bristol. Bear in mind that these are values per YEAR.

That really puts into context the call from the different cycling bodies for an investment of £10 per person per year in cycling infrastructure!

  Cities   Cycling Benefit   Population   £/person p.a.
  Belfast £9,900,000 280,000 £35.36
  Birmingham £30,400,000 992,000 £30.65
  Bristol £26,100,000 380,000 £68.68
  Cardiff £13,700,000 310,000 £44.19
  Edinburgh £13,900,000 450,000 £30.89
  Grtr Manchester £98,500,000 2,240,000 £43.97
  Newcastle £13,500,000 259,000 £52.12


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