Quantifying the “Net Social Benefit” of Cycling

The League of American Bicyclists points to the “Bike Account” published biannually by the cycling paradise that is Copenhagen. One fascinating statistic that jumps out is the conclusion of the Bike Account study that every kilometer of cycling creates a “net social benefit” (as compared to driving, which creates a net social loss). Converting from kilometers to miles, and Danish Kroner to dollars, these numbers come out to $.41 “net social benefit” per mile traveled by bicycle.


(photo by Lucia Coma)

That’s a pretty awesome little statistic. However, as Samuel Clemens famously said, there are three kinds of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics. And while cycling “feels” like it should be beneficial to society on balance, I wouldn’t be surprised – at all – if there’s a fair bit of goal-seeking behind these numbers. The Bike Account is prepared by the City of Copenhagen, which has a stated goal that 50% of its residents bike to work or school by 2015. Plus, there’s the inherent problem of trying to model complex systems. Whether you’re valuing a fast-growing business, predicting climate change or trying to quantify the benefit of a societal activity, the more dynamic the variables the greater the risk of your output being unreliable. Garbage in, garbage out.

While the Bike Account doesn’t provide a lot of detail behind the benefit model, it does indicate that it is based on a combination of factors including health, transport costs, security, comfort, branding/tourism and transport times. Those are all great things to include. They also include some fairly “soft” factors and elements that could be shaded significantly to obtain the desired outcome. I’d love to be able to dig into the model itself.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer that cycling is beneficial to society, and absolutely beneficial to those who ride regularly. But color me skeptical when it comes down to turning that belief into cold, hard numbers.

Still Cold

I was commiserating with a bike commuting friend yesterday about the sorry state of Seattle’s roads in the winter – between the potholes and road grit, it’s a dirty, bumpy ride.

And it’s also been a COLD one. 28 degrees this morning, and we had snow over the weekend. In what’s getting into late March. Sheesh.

Still, beats driving any day of the week.

Marc Randazza on Rush Limbaugh

OK, this has nothing to do with cycling, single speed or otherwise.  But you’ll have to indulge me for a digression into something that covers two of my other favorite topics: politics and free speech.

As anyone who follows politics knows, pompous gasbag Rich Limbaugh made some disgusting comments last week.  Advertisers have flown, and he’s been justifiably called out for the things he said.  But . . . many I know have called for more, whether in the form of a defamation lawsuit or the FCC pulling the licenses of the stations that carry him.  

My friend and noted first amendment attorney Marc Randazza has a great piece in CNN this week on why this kind of thinking is censorious and wrong.  As Marc points out, the answer to speech you don’t like isn’t censorship – it’s more speech.  

Read the whole thing – it’s that good.  “It’s Un-American to Silence Limbaugh“, by Marc Randazza. 

I Love Riding in the Rain

It’s a myth that it rains that much in Seattle.  Most cities in the NE (including New York, Philly and Boston) get more annual rainfall than Seattle.  So do most cities in the SE, including Memphis, Orlando and Miami.  Hell, even Houston gets more rain than Seattle.  (source)

The issue here is that it rarely rains very hard.  Instead of the torrents that fall nearly every evening in Miami, our rain is more of a persistent mist, spread out over 9 or 10 months of the year.   This means rainy weather commuting isn’t the obstacle some would think of when they think of Seattle – particularly if, like me, your commute is short.

But sometimes we get days like today, when it buckets rain during commute time.  Maybe it’s bringing out the child in me, but there’s no small delight in riding in heavy rain.  The drops streaming down my face, stinging as I race downhill, mud and street grit flying up everywhere . . . it almost makes the sweatsock-gray winters around here bearable.

(sweet Seattle tan, huh?)

All-City Pedals

I know that I’m hard on pedals. I ride single speed, uphill. I’m usually standing in my pedals. And at 200 pounds, I put more strain on those platforms than the average rider.

With that out of the way, I’ve still got to say to All-City: what the hell? I’ve had these Cecil Pro pedals for less than a year. Blown out bearings. I may try to rebuild it, but I expected more out of a pedal that is ostensibly built for fixed gear riding.  But I sure liked the pedals while they worked . . .


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