A small shift to cycling could make a big difference in CO2

bikes in copenhagen
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ bikes in Copenhagen

In London, Lord Lawson claims that bike lanes have done “more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz.” In Toronto, Mayor Tory is fine with bike lanes as long as “whatever we do, we are not putting additional obstruction in the way of people getting around in this city.” In New York, the local community killed a crosstown bike lane because it would “cause congestion.” All three are cities that have made big pledges to fight climate change and reduce their carbon footprints.

But a new study from ITDP, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, shows that in fact promoting bikes and bike infrastructure could be one of the best things that can be done to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change. It is another look at a previous study, A Global High Shift Scenario: Impacts and Potential for More Public Transport, Walking, and Cycling with Lower Car Use, but with more emphasis on cycling. And the difference is huge.

The results show that a world with a dramatic increase in cycling could save society US$24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050, and cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 percent in 2050 compared to a High Shift scenario without a strong cycling emphasis.

top of infographic© ITDP

A “strong cycling emphasis” is not very extreme, it’s not even near what they do in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. They are looking at just 11 percent of trips by 2030 and 23 percent by 2050. Nor are they looking at really long trips, noting that even in the USA, half of all car trips are less than five miles. Yet it would make such a huge difference. It would affect urban design: “In the long run, a shift in travel modes toward more cycling has broader dynamics—supporting denser cities with transportation systems more oriented to walking, cycling, and public transport, as opposed to sprawling car-dominated cities.”

But the truly remarkable thing is what a huge difference it makes in carbon emissions.

In summary, the increase in cycling/e-biking around the world by 2030 in the HSC scenario cuts both energy use and CO2 emissions from the entirety of urban transport by about 7 per- cent compared to a High Shift scenario without a strong cycling component, rising to a near 11 percent reduction by 2050. Under current trends CO2 from urban transport will soar from 2.3 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2015 to 4.3 gigatonnes by 2050.

Getting there isn’t so hard either. It’s not like it needs a vast investment in new technology. We don't even have to ban cars. It all comes down to essentially doing things that encourage cycling and walking:

  • Rapidly develop cycling and e-bike infrastructure on a large scale;
  • Implement bike share programs in large- and medium-size cities, prioritizing con- sections to transit;
  • Revise laws and enforcement practices to better protect people cycling and walking;
  • Invest in walking facilities and public transport to create a menu of non-motorized transport options that can be combined to accommodate a wide variety of trips;
  • Coordinate metropolitan transport and land-use plans, so that all new investments result in more cycling, walking, and public transport trips and fewer trips by motorized vehicles.

And doing a few things to make driving a little less attractive:

  • Repeal policies that subsidize additional motor vehicle use, such as minimum park- ing requirements, free on-street parking, and fuel subsidies;
  • Encourage cycling and active transport via pricing policies and information campaigns;
  • Adopt policies such as congestion pricing, vehicle kilometres traveled (VKT) fees, and development impact fees to charge a price for driving that accounts for negative externalities;
  • Dedicate fuel taxes, driving fees, and other transport-system revenues toward invest- meant in sustainable transport.

The gains that can be made by thinking of cycling and walking as transportation instead of recreation are extraordinary, and they are cheap. And it’s not like everybody has to get on a bike and commute twenty miles on it either.

London’s Crossrail tunnel is costing UD$28 billion; New York’s 2nd Ave. subway is costing US$ 17 billion; Toronto’s Rob Ford Memorial subway, just three stops serving a couple of streetcar loads of people, is close to $US 3 billion. Imagine if just a fraction of that was spent on bike infrastructure. It wouldn't take years to do, either. The fact is, the quickest, cheapest and most effective thing we can do to reduce carbon emissions, pollution and congestion is to make it easy for people to get on bikes.

ITDP infographic© ITDP

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | Bike Sharing | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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