Bike-sharing programs may have lifesaving benefits

By Deborah Kotz
Globe Staff / August 9, 2011

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Less than two weeks after Boston rolled out its Hubway bike-sharing program, a new study finds that such programs result in more lives saved from the extra exercise than lives lost due to bike accidents and exposure to air pollution.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, examined a four-year-old bike-sharing program in Barcelona. Using statistical models, the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona calculated that shifting from driving to biking for commuting to work and leisure activities has prevented about 12 deaths a year among the more than 180,000 people in the program.

“I certainly think the positive health benefits of this study can be related to Boston,’’ said Anne Lusk, a research associate at Harvard School of Public Health who studies the use of cycle tracks and dedicated bike lanes in cities worldwide.

But Lusk, who wasn’t involved in the study, said the accident rate may be higher in Boston because the city doesn’t have Barcelona’s extensive network of bike lanes and cycle tracks, which allow bikers to avoid weaving into and out of traffic.

The researchers found that the bike program helped the entire population by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, presumably because there were fewer drivers. It didn’t take a lot of biking to see the measured health effects: The average biker traveled a total of 2 miles, or 14 minutes, to and from work, and 2.6 miles, or 18 minutes, on weekends.