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Systematic analysis of Health risks and physical Activity associated with cycling Policies (SHAPES)

Research project SD/HE/03A (Research action SD)

Persons :

  • Dr.  INT PANIS LUC - Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (VITO)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2006-31/1/2009
  • Mme  THOMAS Isabelle - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2006-31/1/2009
  • Dr.  MEEUSEN Romain - Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 15/12/2006-31/1/2009

Description :


Commuter cycling can enhance the long-term physical health in the general population. But it is not well understood whether cyclists are exposed to higher risks due to air pollution and accidents. A non-marginal shift to cycling helps to realize a better general air quality, a better overall physical condition of the population, and an increased general traffic safety. Quantifying these effects in costs will assist policy makers in their decisions. The SHAPES project will assess all health risks and benefits of commuter cycling in cities, compared to commuting by car. SHAPES is at the crossroads of transport and health research and uses advanced GIS techniques to integrate the results of basic studies and experiments in each expertise (air pollution, physical health and accidents) in order to support future transport and public health policies.

Project description


The main objective is to analyze the risks and benefits of a modal shift from passenger cars to cycling. In this way SHAPES will enable policy makers to make clear and science-based choices related to commuter cycling and transport modal shift in cities.

Therefore SHAPES has defined a number of specific objectives:
- To evaluate the exposure to air pollution for cyclists compared to car users
- To evaluate the physical condition of cyclists compared to car users
- To implement an on-line injury registration system for minor injuries in commuter cyclists
- To develop a spatial analysis for accident risks
- To integrate these risks into a common framework, to evaluate costs and benefits
- To develop a spatial analysis of trajectory choice and methodology for infrastructure development in the three Belgian regions
- To propose policy options that contribute to safer and healthier cycling and to lower emissions and social security costs in the long term


To achieve these goals a project in two phases is proposed:

In Phase 1 we perform a statistical and geographical analysis of accident data to identify the causes of accidents with cyclists and the correlated spatial attributes. This knowledge will be used to choose urban and suburban commuter trajectories. A set of relationships between exercise and improved health will be derived for different groups in the population and applied to the car drivers and cyclists in each of the case studies. Spatial attributes such as slope will be included to build a model predicting the exposure to air pollution for each of the transport modes. Phase 1 is also devoted to the preparation of measurement campaigns and the collection of new injury data using an on-line registration system.

Phase 2 is largely devoted to the measurement campaigns that will determine the links between activity level, exposure and physical health. Breathing rate, exercise and exposure to Nox, PM and CO will be measured simultaneously for both drivers and cyclists. Special attention is paid to spatial variations in behavior and links with infrastructure.
The models developed in Phase 1 will be calibrated and validated using the results from these measurements and complemented with the new injury data. It will then be used to extrapolate the likely impacts of promoting commuter cycling through the provision of specifically targeted infrastructure in each region.
All health impacts from each risk category will be associated with a cost for medical care that can be worked out based on data provided by the national public health insurance. These costs are then used to develop a cost-benefit framework for decision support.

Interaction between the different partners

SHAPES is not a continuation of any SPSDI or II project, but there is a clear logic in the succession of research topics covered and their relevance to policy makers at different levels. SHAPES builds further on the conclusions of quite a number of transport-related projects under the SPSD I and SPSD II programs but is founded on expertise obtained by the VUB outside of the federal science policy program (e.g. the Flemish Commuter Cycling project) and the European ETOUR project (Electric Two wheelers on Urban roads).

VITO participated in the SPSDI project “External costs of transport” which translated the European ExternE methodology to the Belgian context. This provided policy makers with information on the environmental differences between technologies and transport modes. This resulted in two SPSDII projects on new technologies (SUSATRANS) and promising transport modes (MOPSEA) increasing the understanding of national and European policy instruments. Under SPSDII, “Mobilee” looked at local environmental impacts and contributed to the integration of mobility and environmental policy at the local level.

UCL also participated in SPSDI and II for developing new tools in terms of spatial analysis of road accidents in Belgium as well as in understanding trip distribution and modal choices (Samba project). Moreover, the UCL team conducts other researches financed by FNRS on spatial econometrics and health problems.

SHAPES acknowledges that
- all major technological innovations have entered the mainstream car market.
- the remaining “relaxed” targets for CO2 prove very hard to comply with
- exposure to traffic related air pollution is most important on the road
- results cannot be extrapolated to other sites unless spatial factors are taken into account

Building on that experience it was decided to include an expert GIS team in this proposal (UCL) to ensure that results from SHAPES can be used throughout the country while taking into account the need to include local spatial constraints. The Department of Geography of the UCL is well known for its expertise in GIS especially in the domain of modal split (SPSDII, SAMBA) and road accident analysis.

SHAPES is therefore an integration of three lines of research and focuses on a specific transport mode that has the potential to contribute to several environmental targets while fulfilling a number of other policy targets as well.

Expected results and/or products

SHAPES will build an integrated framework to evaluate the costs and benefits of commuter cycling. The outcome of the project will be a distinct set of policy options that can be used to promote a modal shift to cycling and substantially improve public health in a cost-efficient manner while taking in account the physical capabilities of different groups and spatial constraints in different regions.

The results will be useful:

1. for individuals considering to give up sedentary transport in favor of cycling by providing clear insights in the individual health benefits such as a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, a better overall physical condition and risks encountered.
2. for policy makers promoting cycling to prevent chronic diseases in an aging population, to reduce air pollution by cars and to reduce CO2 emissions by highlighting non-marginal changes (e.g. infrastructure)



VITO (Integrated Environmental studies) is the coordinator and responsible for traffic emissions and air quality calculations, exposure measurements and the integration of all the results into a suitable form for policy support.

VUB will study the health outcomes of sedentary lifestyles and expected improvements from commuter cycling for public health. VITO and VUB will collectively devise a methodology to convert these impacts to monetary values.

UCL is responsible for the analysis of traffic accident data and the study of the spatial variables that correlate with accident risks, air quality and cycling intensity.

Contact Information


Luc Int Panis
Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO)
Integrated Environmental Studies (IMS)
Boeretang 200
B-2400 Mol
Tel: +32 (0)14 33.58.87
Fax: +32 (0)14 32.11.85


Romain Meeusen
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
Faculty of Physical Education and Physical Therapy / Dept. Human Physiology & Sports Medicine
Pleinlaan 2
B-1050 Etterbeek
Tel: +32 (0)2 629.27.32
Fax: +32 (0)2 629.28.76

Isabelle Thomas
Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
Département de Géographie et de Géologie / Centre d’Analyse Spatiale et Urbaine
3, Place Louis Pasteur
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve
Tel: +32 (0)10 47.21.36
Fax: +32 (0)10 47.28.77

Follow-up Committee

J. Pelckmans (Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap)
B. Van Bruwaene (VUB)
L. Vermoere (SPF)
P-J. Bertrand (Ministère de la Région Bruxelles-Capitale)
P. Hanocq (ULg)
P. Degand (UCL)
A. Houdmont (IBSR)
Y. Navez (SPF santé publique)
V. Xhonneux (Interenvironnement Wallonie)
M. El Kalhoun (Era_Envhealth)
R. Reuter (Provélo)
R. Torfs (VITO)
M. Destrée (Région wallonne)

Documentation :

Systematic analysis of Health risks and physical Activity associated with cycling Policies : final report (phase I)    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2009 (SP2067)
[To download

Fysieke activiteit en gezondheidsrisico's van fietsen in verschillende geografische omstandigheden : samenvatting    Brussel : Federale Wetenschapsbeleid, 2009 (SP2068)
[To download

Activité physique et risque en matière de santé de la pratique du vélo pour différents milieux géographiques : résumé (phase I)    Bruxelles : Politique Scientifique fédérale, 2009 (SP2069)
[To download

Systematic analysis of Health risks and physical Activity associated with cycling Policies : summary (phase I)    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2009 (SP2070)
[To download

Systematic analysis of Health risks and physical Activity associated with cycling PoliciES : final report  Panis, Luc - Meeusen, Romain - Thomas, Isabelle ... et al  Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2011 (SP2362)
[To download]  [To order

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