I recently wrote an article for BBC Travel about the remarkable cycling culture in the Colombian capital city of Bogota, where every Sunday roads close and up to two million people ride their bikes in a brilliant event called Ciclovia. The hero of the article, at least in my eyes, was former city mayor Enrique Penalosa who, when taking office, took millions of dollars slated for highways and poured it into the creation of bike paths instead.
Last weekend Penalosa was the centrepiece around which The Guardian newspaper framed a story about the secrets of the world’s happiest cities, suggesting that his policies helped tame and brighten a once-frightening city.
The article went on to collate a series of research and findings into the factors that determine the happiness of city dwellers. Unsurprisingly, opportunities for cycling and walking figured highly, and cars did not. Some stats and assertions leapt out at me. The following are parroted from Charles Montgomery’s article (which can be read here) but I think of them as positive reinforcements, worth repeating any number of times:
* Research from University of Zurich economists found that a person with a one-hour commute had to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walked to the office.
* Hewlett-Packard once had commuters wear electrode caps and found that peak-hour travellers (in cars or on trains) suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters.
* In the same trial, the only commuters who reported enjoying themselves were those who walked, ran or cycled.
* A study from Sweden found that people who commute for more than a 45 minutes were 40% more likely to divorce.
* For an unmarried person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work had the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.
They say money can’t buy happiness, but maybe a bike and some decent walking shoes can?