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Drop in U.S. air pollution linked to longer lifespans2009-01-21
Americans are living longer because the air they breathe is getting cleaner, a new study suggests. The average drop in pollution seen across 51 metropolitan areas between 1980 and 2000 appears to have added nearly five more months to people's lives, according to a study published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Fine particulate air pollution is inhaled deeply into the lungs and can cause a host of health problems.
Fine particulate air pollution is inhaled deeply into the lungs and can cause a host of health problems.
Residents of cities that did the best job cleaning up air pollution showed the biggest jump in life span; for example, Pittsburgh's clearer air meant people there could expect to live nearly 10 months longer.
"Here's a situation where we say, 'We think that improving our air quality should improve health and life expectancy,' and so we did it, in many cities more so than others," says lead researcher C. Arden Pope III, Ph.D., of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. "We wait a couple of decades and see if it really helps, and the answer is that it did, and that's good news."
Long-term exposure to dirty air -- specifically, the tiny specks known as fine-particulate air pollution -- shortens lives and contributes to cardiovascular and lung disease. Particulate matter is inhaled almost like a gas and is thought to hike blood pressure, heart attack risk, and the chance of heart disease-related death.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommends that heart patients avoid driving for two to three weeks after leaving the hospital to avoid pollution (and stress). Other research has suggested that a nonsmoker living in a polluted city has about the same risk of dying of heart disease as a former smoker. Health.com: 5 ways to keep pollution from harming your heart
Gas and diesel engines, coal-fired plants, steel mills, smelters, refineries, and other industrial processes involving burning at high temperatures produce these particles, which are no bigger than 2.5 microns across -- or about one-fortieth the diameter of a human hair. "Those are the ones that can penetrate deeply into the lungs and cause most of the health problems," says Pope.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 set nationwide air quality standards and motor-vehicle emissions standards for the first time, and the federal government and some states have continued to take steps to tackle air pollution. Health.com: Both indoor and outdoor pollutants linked to heart problems
Thanks to these efforts, U.S. air quality has improved. Pope and his team decided to use U.S. data on fine-particulate matter concentrations and life expectancy from the late 1970s and the late 1990s as a "natural experiment" to determine whether cleaner air had any effect on health.
They plotted pollution data for 1979-1983 against 1978-1982 life expectancies for 217 counties within 51 metropolitan areas around the country. Then they compared 1999-2000 pollution data with 1997-2001 life expectancies. Finally, they looked at how changes in life expectancy related to changes in air pollution for both time periods. Health.com: 10 risk factors for heart disease
Many other factors can boost life expectancy, such as increases in income and education and reductions in smoking prevalence, so the researchers used statistical techniques to control for these and other relevant factors. After this adjustment, they found that the effect of air pollution reduction remained; for every 10 microgram per cubic meter decrease in fine-particulate air pollution, life expectancies rose by about seven months. Pollution levels averaged about 21 micrograms per cubic meter in 1979-1983 and had fallen to an average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter by 1999-2000.
Life expectancy for the corresponding time periods rose from 74 years to 77 years. Pope and his team calculate that reductions in air pollution accounted for as much as 15 percent of the increase in life expectancy.
While there is plenty of research linking air pollution to increased mortality and worse health, noted Daniel Krewski, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Ottawa, the current study is among the first to show how cleaning up pollution affects health. "It's a very important contribution," said Krewski, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
Bert Brunekreef, Ph.D. , director of the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, said the current study could help encourage government and industry to address air pollution in parts of the world where it is a serious threat to health. "Showing public health benefits of changes in pollution is a strong message, comparable to studies documenting health benefits of smoking bans," he said via email.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, particulate matter 2.5 microns in size declined in the United States by an average of 11 percent between 2000 and 2007.
Article by Anne Harding
New York Times Review on Bicycle Sales2009-01-13
A Surge in Bicyclists Appears to Be Waiting
By JAN ELLEN SPIEGEL
Published: December 31, 2008
After a summer of their dreams, bicycle store owners are facing a grim reality this winter.
Big increases in business this year led some shop owners to think that they were largely insulated from a slowing economy. But the economy has continued to spiral downward, taking bicycle sales and much else with it.
The question now is whether all the bicyclists who appeared last summer will be back next summer.
“This is not like the rest of the recessions we’ve been through,” said Jay Graves, who owns six Bike Gallery stores in Portland, Ore., the first of which his father started in 1974.
Business skyrocketed last summer along with gasoline prices, Mr. Graves said, especially sales of hybrid bikes that can be used for recreation and transportation. So Mr. Graves ordered plenty of cold weather gear for what he believed would be legions of new bike commuters.
“We wished we hadn’t gone in quite as heavy,” Mr. Graves said. “Business is not growing at the rate it was earlier in the year.”
Summer is high season anyway for bicycle store sales; Christmas sales are minuscule comparatively. And double-digit increases in revenue for the stores last summer only underscored the unpredictability of the business.
Industry analysts like Jay Townley, a partner with the Gluskin Townley Group, bicycle industry consultants in Wisconsin, were skeptical even last summer that small bike stores would sustain their surge in the off-season.
They said even then that bicycle store owners and managers who had made the same inventory decision as Mr. Graves were misreading the indicators. What owners perceived to be a commuter trend was probably not. The analysts argued that bicycle commuters were generally a fixed group. These riders account for less than 1 percent of commuters in the United States; in isolated pockets like Portland, they might account for about 6 percent.
Mr. Townley is even more skeptical now, predicting a flat to slightly down year for small bicycle stores. Declining gas prices are one reason. He also cited major price increases in bicycles and accessories resulting from the rising cost of materials and shipping — 98 percent of bicycles are manufactured overseas — which cut into profits. He said data showed that wholesale sales of new bicycles to shops for the first nine months of the year were down more than 4 percent.
“More people riding bikes has not translated into any improvement in bike business,” he said.
He said data going back to the 1960s showed that the bicycle industry did suffer during recessions. “Is a consumer going to buy bikes or do anything the way they did in 2008 in the summer of 2009?” Mr. Townley asked. “I don’t know.”
Since 1999, sales of bicycles in the United States have held steady at about 18 million a year, including bicycles for children, according to data compiled by Gluskin Townley. Counting sales of related parts and accessories, that adds up to about $6 billion a year.
In those same years, the number of small specialty bicycle stores dropped to about 4.300 now from a little more than 6,000 in 2000. While those small stores account for only 17 percent of the bicycles sold (the rest are sold by chain stores, mass merchants or on the Internet), they represent about 50 percent of the revenue.
The number of bicycles sold may surpass sales of motor vehicle this year, mainly because of the big drop in demand for cars and trucks. The last time bicycle sales were stronger than motor vehicle sales was in the early 1970s, in the midst of another recession, which was set off by the Arab oil embargo.
Surveys by Bikes Belong, a group in Boulder, Colo., that advocates more bicycle riding, and Gluskin Townley echoed observations of bicycle store owners and managers that the most pervasive, and possibly the biggest, contributor to the summer bicycle business boom was in repairs. People were dragging long-forgotten bikes out of basements and garages and fixing them up for recreation because they were staying home instead of traveling.
Many stores said that they had to hire more mechanics. The most curious development was an influx of bicycles so old that they caused a run on 27-inch tires, once an industry standard but largely out of use since the early 1980s.
Peter Clark, 38, of Branford, Conn., brought his 1993 Trek, complete with duct-taped seat, to Zane’s Cycles, a nationally known store among serious cyclists, and grabbed his not-quite-trim midsection when asked why he was getting his bike fixed. “I could go out and buy a new bike,” he said, but added, “I don’t want to commit to a bike and then not ride it.”
In interviews, store owners said they had trouble last summer keeping up their stock of accessories, especially bike bags, car racks, tires and tubes. That told industry observers that people were actually using the bikes they had fixed up.
“The question is,” Mr. Townley said, “will they take the bike out of the basement, inflate the tires and ride it again? My gut says no.”
Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, disagreed. “I believe that last summer’s spike in gas prices and the reaction of Americans was different from any previous spike and any previous reaction,” he said. “It wasn’t just about sticker shock at the pumps. When people ride bikes, lots of good things happen.”
At Zane’s, Tom Girard said that in his 15 years as general manager, he could not remember a comparable summer, with business up 30 percent over the previous year. Three months later, he said that business has stayed strong and that his gamble to increase cold weather gear inventory 25 percent was paying off, though at the low end of what he had hoped. An employee he hired in the fall — an unusual time to add a worker in a seasonal business like biking — is still on staff.
“It’s like package stores,” he said. “When the economy’s bad, people drink. When the economy is good, people drink. When the economy’s bad, people still need to do something. So they ride their bikes.”
But Mr. Girard hastened to add that no one is recession-proof. “If you’re a good store and have a good business plan,” he said, “I think that makes you more recession-proof than what you’re selling.”
The experts say surviving in this economic climate means small bicycle stores must choose products carefully to keep inventory low and cash flow high. Mike Hamannwright, a 20-year veteran of the business and co-owner of four Revolution Cycles stores in the Washington area, said he had cut back on cold weather gear even though he saw plenty of stay-at-home people, especially couples, buying bicycles last summer.
“Some bike shops are going to go out of business,” he said he had told his staff. “Not every bike shop is going to go out of business, and if we don’t want to be one, we’ve got to be great.
“Anybody who was a little weak, this is going to be the crushing blow,” he added.
One view contends that the sluggish coda to the summer bicycling boom is not the end of the refrain.
“I don’t think any of us are fools that $1.89-a-gallon gasoline is really going to be the way it will be from here on out,” said Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. “I don’t want to appear to be too bullish, but some of the longer term trends — how we get out of an economic recession like this — don’t necessarily put bicycles in a bad spot. Bicycles are part of a solution to the problem.”
Follow us on Twitter2009-01-12
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Bike production outstripping cars by record levels2009-01-09
By Richard Peace
A rash of recent statistics suggests that bikes are doing better than ever as compared to cars - both in terms of manufacture and use.
Bike production and sales are forecast to rise steeply across most areas of bike sales in 2009, from racers to commuters, meaning that the number of bikes produced annually may, for the first time, be triple the number of cars produced - or more.
Figures from the US-based Earth Policy Institute show global 2007 bike production at around 130 million units and car production at around 52 million. However, a recession-inspired downturn in car production and an increasingly sharp rise in bike sales mean the three-to-one ratio could easily be reached in 2009. For example, August 2008 saw record revenues for bike giant Giant, totaling some US$42.19 million.
Figures recently released by Australia's Cycling Promotion Fund confirm the trend; although bikes have outsold cars there for nine consecutive years, 2008 saw the bike sales lead over cars hit an a high of 38 percent.
CPF's Policy Advisor Elliot Fishman stressed it wasn't just bike sales but bike usage that was increasing; 'Census figures (based on state capital cities) show a 28-percent increase in cycling to work, with Melbourne's growth soaring to 48 percent.'
Of course, the 'bike-car' gap that threatens to turn into a chasm is also fuelled by a crisis in the automobile industry - figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed new car sales towards the end of 2008 were down 23 percent from the same time a year ago. Major US and Japanese car manufacturers have all had very well-publicised and drastic drops in turnover and profit in 2008, with 2009 not holding out much hope of an upturn.
US News & World Report Suggests Cycling2009-01-06
According to U.S. News & World Report's Special Year-End Issue cover story "50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2009," the #1 suggestion for improving your body is to ride a bike to work.
Ride Your Bike to Work: You can save money on gas and get some extra exercise
By Marc Silver
Posted December 18, 2008
On a freezing november morning in Chicago, Megan Mason puts on leggings, several polyester tops and a fleece, a windbreaker, four pairs of gloves, and silk sock liners. She ties a bandana over her head, dons earmuffs, snaps on a helmet, safety-pins a scarf into a cocoon around her head, and gets on her bright green Schwinn for a 6½-mile ride to work.
Surely anyone who braves Windy City cold must be a hardcore biker. But Mason, a 27-year-old curriculum analyst at the Northwestern University School of Law, is new to the ranks of cycle commuters—one of thousands of Americans who this year have switched to pedal power. It's too soon for national numbers, but many cities and counties are reporting a surge. In Chicago, 3,500 people rode in a spring Bike to Work day, up from 2,800 last year. Bikestation, a nonprofit that has six indoor parking facilities for cyclists on the West Coast, mainly in downtown neighborhoods, has seen a 30 percent increase in usage in the past year.
The price of gas is a factor, but not the only one. Rookie riders love the exercise and they enjoy the ride. "I explore areas I don't usually see," says Mason, who stays within bike lanes for much of her commute. "I hop off and do errands."
The thought of urban cycling can pose a minicrisis for a newcomer. Mason had to overcome her fear of city streets and dark winter nights. How do you make the leap from wannabe to bike commuter? Cycling gurus are happy to offer advice. First, find out if it's practical. You'll need to come up with a route suitable for a bike. Highways ban cyclists for good reason. Even a 40-mph suburban road can be a daunting experience unless there's a bike lane. You can also look into a split trip—using a bus with a bike rack (or the subway) part way then getting off and pedaling.
Next, do a dry run. Try the commute on a weekend to see how it goes and get a sense of time. That time should stay fairly constant. Cyclists are generally immune from traffic jams—they can simply dismount and walk through them. Next, invest in a carrier. You'll need a place to stash work clothes, lunch, papers. The options are a backpack, a messenger bag, or satchels.
Expect an adjustment period. "It's easy to hop in a car," says Gus Juffer, a manager at Willy Bikes in Madison, Wis. It's not quite as easy to hop on a bike. "Leave plenty of time in the morning," he advises. And obey traffic laws. Some cyclists whiz through stop signs and red lights or head the wrong way on one-way streets. Motorists don't expect the unexpected.
Finally, don't overexert yourself. Nonbikers think that if you bike to work, you must bike home. Not true. A midstream change in plans is fine, too. "I was riding one day and the wind was so strong," recalls Elizabeth Kiker, vice president of the League of American Bicyclists. "I saw my bus, flagged it down, put my bike on the rack, and off I went."
A cash bonus could await if you do join the ranks of bike commuters. The Bicycle Commuter Act, which takes effect in 2009, lets companies offer regular bike commuters a "fringe benefit" of $20 a month for cycling expenses, either in cash or through a pretax salary allocation. The amount may be small change, but it's a big sign that car-crazy America now recognizes that commuting is also about the bike.