Driving to work is slow, stressful, expensive, bad for your health, and bad for the environment. Despite this, the latest National Travel Survey reveals that it’s still the most popular way to get to work, accounting for 64% of journeys.
That isn’t because it’s too far to cycle. The average person in the UK commutes nealry 1,300 miles per year. For a five-day, 48-week year, that’s 5.4 miles per day, or 2.7 miles each way – an easy trip by bike. Of course, you can slice data different ways. If you look only at those who drive, annual commuting mileage is more like 3,000. But even that’s an each-way daily commute of six miles, which is doable by bike.
Congestion slows rush-hour car travel to a crawl. You might get up to 30mph or more when you’re moving, but often you’ll be stationary, drumming your fingers on the steering wheel. The average driving speed in Central London last year fell to just 7.8mph.
Not everywhere is like London, and lots of towns and cities will be less congested. But London isn’t the most snarled up either. That’s Exeter, where the average driving speed in rush hour is 4.6mph.
In comparison, a commuter cyclist can cruise at 14-15mph on the flat. A cyclist can still make headway in the most congested of circumstances, and often they’ll be able to avoid congestion by taking a quieter route. Overall, in typical urban conditions, bikes are simpler faster than cars. When you consider door-to-door times rather than average travelling speeds, bikes are quicker still because they don’t have the same parking problems.
In a car, you’re often powerless to make progress. You can’t interact with other people except by pressing the horn or flicking your headlights; lacking any human contact, tempers flare. (What’s that idiot doing?!) You don’t know if you’ll get to work on time because of those temporary traffic lights, so you get anxious.
On top of this, driving is dead time. It’s time you can’t use for work or recreation, like you could on the train or bus, or for exercise, like you would on a bike or on foot. Dead time is easy to overlook when you’re moving forward. When you get stuck, nose to tail in traffic, there’s a crashing realisation that time and life are simply passing you by.
For all these reasons, driving causes anger and stress. Stress is bad for you, raising your blood pressure, spoiling your sleep, and making it more likely you’ll take time off work sick. By contrast, being on a bike lets you take back control. Journey times are predictable. The exercise itself reduces stress.
People might moan at petrol costs, but a car’s running costs aren’t huge. If you’re driving 2,500 miles per year in an efficient small car, running costs might be as low as £475 per year. That’s still hundreds of pounds more than the annual running costs of a bike used to commute that distance.
Driving is expensive because of a car’s huge, overlooked fixed costs. These easily add up £3,000 or more per year. If you cycle to work and leave your car on the driveway, you’ll save hundreds of pounds each year. If your commuter bike is a replacement for your (second?) car, you’ll save thousands.
And not just because it’s stress. It also denies you the exercise you would have had if you’d chosen active travel – walking or cycling – instead.
There’s no more time-efficient and money-efficient way of doing that than by incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Walking or cycling to work gives you your daily constitutional and gets you where you need to be.
Transport accounts for a quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re driving to work, you’re contributing to that. If you don’t need to drive there, then you’re needlessly creating extra greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s not just about global warming either. Car exhausts pump out carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrocarbons. Added to the particulate matter from brake pads and tyres, which even zero-emission vehicles produce, such pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the UK each year.
Less seriously, but more immediately annoying, there’s the noise that motor traffic produces – a constant background din that grates on everyone exposed to it.
A bicycle is the most energy efficient, most low-emission vehicle on the planet. It’s almost silent too. Every time you get on a bike instead of using any form of motorised transport, you’re making the world a little bit better.
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