Courtesy National Public Radio;
Zac Visco for NPR
National Geographic Society CEO John Fahey (left), pictured with Cole Ingraham, has a long-standing invitation for his employees to join him for a lunchtime bike ride.
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If you bike to work in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Chicago or San Francisco, you're part of a boom. Cycling has at least tripled over the past two decades in these — and other — big cities across the U.S.
"It's almost like a snowball effect," says researcher John Pucher of Rutgers University. "People see other people cycling and they say, 'Wow!' " As part of a three-year research project for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pucher has completed a preliminary report that documents the increase in biking in nine major North American cities.
"It's almost become a cultural phenomenon," Pucher says. "It's become the 'in' thing to do." For many city dwellers, it's a money saver, a time saver and a way to sneak in daily exercise.
Research shows that the extra physical activity that people get from walking and biking to work or school is not offset by less recreational activity.
"[Active commuters] actually double the amount of their total physical activity," says Pucher. And as a result, Pucher says cities with lots of "active" commuters tend to be healthier. The most recent evidence comes from a study Pucher and his colleagues published in the American Journal of Public Health.
They found that the U.S. cities with the highest rates of walking and cycling to work have obesity rates that are 20 percent lower and diabetes rates that are 23 percent lower — compared with U.S. cities with the lowest rates of walking and cycling.