Study Shows Bicycle-Friendly City Infrastructure in U.S. Significantly Increases Cycling to Work by Residents, Which Can Improve Health of Locals

Minneapolis Greenway Tied to Increase in Active Commuting for Residents Living in Neighboring Communities

Nov 04, 2014, 10:00 ET from The Obesity Society

BOSTON, Nov. 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- New research ties bike-friendly infrastructure changes in United States cities to increases in "active commuting" by bike-riding residents, which can improve and sustain weight[i] and reduce cardiac risk[ii]. The research comes as many of the largest U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, add hundreds of miles of bike lanes and launch bike-sharing programs, which Bicycling magazine editor calls "an indicator of an urban area's vibrancy and livability." The findings will be presented during a poster session on Tuesday, Nov. 4 at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting at ObesityWeek 2014 in Boston, Mass.

"Recently released Census Bureau data show that the number of people commuting by bike has increased by 60% over the past decade - but until now, the increase has not been closely tied to a supportive city infrastructure," said senior study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, TOS Vice President and Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina. "Our goal was to evaluate how the development of the Minneapolis Greenway affected the commute of residents over a ten-year period. We found that bicycle commuting increased most significantly in communities along the Greenway. These data are supportive, but not proof, that a commitment to urban cycling infrastructure can increase active commuting by bicycle."  

Research led by the University of North Carolina team used previously collected data from Minneapolis, where increases in commuting by bicycle have significantly exceeded the national average over the past decade. During the same period, the city made major bicycle infrastructure changes, including the Greenway - a trans-city, off-road trail system linking major residential and employment centers. Results show greater increases in commuting by bicycle among residents living near the Greenway. For example, the percentage of workers commuting by bike increased by 89%, from 1.8% (95% CI: 1.2, 2.4) in 2000 to 3.4% (2.9, 4.0) among those living three miles of the Greenway, while those living six miles from the greenway increased by 33%, from 1.2% (0.1, 2.4) to 1.8% (0.7, 2.9).

"While it's well known that bicycling and walking are effective physical activities to promote healthy weight and reduce cardiac risk, this type of active transportation remains more common in European cities than in North America," said Dr. Gordon-Larsen. "Some of this difference between Europe and North America can be attributed back to safety concerns associated with cycling in most North American cities, which provides even greater emphasis for infrastructure changes for North American decision-makers to provide safe active commuting routes."

TOS agrees that a population approach is one of the key pieces to combatting the obesity epidemic.

"This study reinforces the idea that the way our environment is constructed has the potential to positively impact community health," said John M. Jakicic, PhD, FTOS, of the University of Pittsburgh speaking on behalf of TOS. "As proposals are designed for new developments or the renovation of existing infrastructure, we call on architects, engineers, and city planners - among others involved in the process - to consider designs that make physical activity safe and accessible for the community. We've seen encouraging momentum during the past decade, and hope to see even more infrastructure changes that broadly encompass all communities to encourage active and healthy lifestyles across the U.S. and all of North America."

The full abstract is included below.

Increased Municipal Investment in Bicycle Commuting and Increased Tract-Level Commuting in Minneapolis over a 10 Year-Period
Katie Meyer Carrboro North Carolina, Le Zhang Chapel Hill NC, Daniel Rodriguez Chapel Hill NC, Marc Peterson Chapel Hill NC, Penny Gordon-Larsen Chapel Hill NC
Background: Walking or biking to work is inversely associated with weight gain. Municipalities have invested in major infrastructure changes (e.g., greenways) to promote commuting by bicycle. The extent to which infrastructure changes influence commuting behavior is not known. 
Methods: We used data from Minneapolis, where past-decade increases in commuting by bicycle have significantly exceeded the national average. Over the same period, Minneapolis has made major bicycle infrastructure changes, including a trans-city, off-road trail system (greenway) linking major residential and employment centers. Using decennial Census (1990, 2000) and American Community Survey (pooled 2007-2011) data, we quantified tract-level changes in commuting by bicycle with respect to greenway development. We controlled for tract-level covariates, such as sociodemographic indicators and street connectivity. 
Results: In multivariable-adjusted random-effects tobit regression, among tracts 3 miles from the greenway the percentage of workers commuting by bike increased from 1.8% (95% CI: 1.2, 2.4) in 2000 to 3.4% (2.9, 4.0) in 2007-2011, while in tracts 6 miles from the greenway bike commuting (%) changed from 1.2 (0.1, 2.4) to 1.8 (0.7, 2.9).
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that municipal infrastructure influences bicycle commuting, which has been inversely associated with weight gain and cardiometabolic risk. (Grant support: R01HL114091)

About The Obesity Society
The Obesity Society (TOS) is the leading professional society dedicated to better understanding, preventing and treating obesity. Through research, education and advocacy, TOS is committed to improving the lives of those affected by the disease. For more information visit: Find TOS disclosures here.

About ObesityWeek
ObesityWeek is the premier, international event focused on the basic science, clinical application, prevention and treatment of obesity. TOS and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) host the world's pre-eminent conference on obesity, ObesityWeek 2014, Nov. 2-7, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in Boston, Mass. For the second year, both organizations hold their respective annual scientific meetings under one roof to unveil exciting new research, discuss emerging treatment and prevention options, and network and present. 

[i] L Ming Wen, C Rissel - Preventive medicine, 2008 – Elsevier,

[ii] M Hamer, Y Chida - Preventive medicine, 2008 – Elsevier,


SOURCE The Obesity Society