Every year, bicycle use in Belgium avoids 1 294 premature deaths. At the same time, 137 717 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided because motorized traffic is replaced by bicycle trips. This is shown by a new study by road safety institute Vias. Moreover, also not insignificant when looking at the whole mobility cost picture: cyclists save the state almost 8,5 billion euros.
Every year, some 80 cyclists die on Belgian roads. As a vulnerable road user in Belgium, a cyclist is also 3,5 times more likely to die per kilometer traveled than a car driver.
Yet, cycling is clearly on the rise in Belgium, although it is still not taking on the proportions as in the Netherlands, which is still the world champion of cycling as it has the highest number of cyclists per country worldwide.
Annual social cost
For example, the Federal Planning Bureau predicts another 17,5% increase in the distance traveled by bicycle for Belgium by 2030. This includes not only people who already cycle regularly and will, therefore, cover even more kilometers by bike but also new cyclists.
Vias calculated that this increase will result in 89 fewer people dying prematurely each year between 2019 and 2030 than in 2019. An annual social cost of 584 million euros will thus be saved.
That teleworking has a positive effect on the climate, congestion, and traffic safety was already proven by a mobility survey by Federal Public Service for Mobility (FPS) based on figures from Vias.
Imagine if even more commuting would be done by bike, or more employees would opt for the bike-train combination, that, too, has only positive effects: 55 premature deaths per year would be avoided for short commutes (10 km or less) and 52 for long commutes (more than 10 km). It would also result in over 6 000 tons less CO2 emissions and almost 700 million euros less in social costs.
Good for the government’s wallet
That cycling is not only healthy but also good for the wallet of the government and the various regions in Belgium is also evident from the figures. If one Belgian in five were to cycle ten minutes more daily, this would also have beneficial health and environmental effects. For instance, there would be 210 fewer premature deaths and 24 816 fewer tons of CO2 emissions per year.
The resulting social benefits – cheaper healthcare and higher productivity – are mainly borne by the high bicycle use in Flanders, the most populous Belgium region. But with Good Move and Vision FAST 2030, Brussels and Wallonia are also increasingly committed to cycling-promoting policies.
Still, the average number of cycled kilometers per person per day in Brussels and Wallonia would have to more than triple to reach that of Flanders. If that happened, it would mean avoiding 248 premature deaths a year, as well as 30 652 tons of CO2 emissions.
This would save the government 3,5 billion euros. “The investments in cycling infrastructure, among others, required for this must be balanced against these savings,” says Vias.
Furthermore, Vias also states that women, in particular, experience specific barriers to using bicycles for short trips. Getting more women on bikes, however, pays off. If as many women as men cycled, 466 premature deaths could be avoided yearly. In addition, the emission of 53 484 tons of CO2 per year would also be avoided. Good for a social saving of 3, 04 billion euros.
Positive impact on the economy
Cycling has an impact on the economy. Although sales of non-electric bikes have been in a slight decline for several years, sales of electric bicycles and speed pedelecs are on the rise, probably due to the corona health crisis.
E-bikes, for example, already had a market share of almost 40% in bicycle sales in 2021, and speed pedelecs even registered an increase of 26,2% in July, compared to the same period last year.
Vias also estimates that there are 5 175 full-time jobs in the bicycle market (sales, production, infrastructure, and tourism) in Belgium. This may not seem like much, but the job intensity, i.e., the number of jobs per million euros of turnover, is higher in the cycling sector than in other transport sectors.
Moreover, studies also show that cycling customers spend less per visit but return more often and spend more monthly than customers who come by car. Cyclists are also found to shop and visit restaurants locally more often than motorists.
“Every cycled kilometer thus also yields gains for those who do not cycle,” says Mobility Minister Gilkinet (Ecolo) in a short statement about the study in Het Nieuwsblad. “So with more investment in cycling policy, we help every resident move forward.”