World Leaders Shouldn't Underestimate the Climate-Saving Potential of Bicycles

Writing in The Guardian's Bike Blog, Peter Walker has an important message for the 40,000 delegates from 195 nations gathered in Paris for the COP21 talks: Don't discount the carbon-reducing, planet-saving potential of the bicycle.

2 minute read

December 4, 2015, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


As the delegates at COP21 begin work on a new world climate treaty to keep temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, "it’s time to consider what role the humble bike can play in combating global warming," writes Peter Walker in The Guardian's bike blog.

One of the most exhaustive studies was carried out by the European Cycling Federation (ECF) in 2011. [See two earlier Planetizen posts on the study in 'related' below.] This began by trying to compare the average emissions for bikes and e-bikes with other forms of transport, calculating both the environmental cost of manufacture and of use, which for ordinary bikes included extra calories consumed.

The findings showed that "if all the EU’s nations achieved Danish levels of cycling this alone would account for between 5% and 11% of the emissions reductions needed to reach the EU’s official 2020 emissions targets," writes Walker.

similar study came out last week, from the New York-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the University of California, Davis. This found that even e-bikes can often prove more energy efficient per passenger-kilometre than many rail systems.

It concluded that a not-too-outrageous upshift in global cycling use – from a current 6% or so of all urban passenger miles to 11% in 2030 and 14% in 2050 – would cut overall emissions by 7% (in 2030) and then 11% (in 2050).

Writing for a British paper, Walker takes aim at his Britain's low funding of bicycling investments per compita compared to Dutch cycling investments and to British road investments. But he doesn't stop there.

Walker also takes aim at electric motor vehicles (EVs), particularly timely in light of the December 3 announcement by the California Environmental Protection Agency of a new goal of "13 North American and European governments to make all new passenger vehicles sold in their jurisdictions zero-emission by 2050." The announcement was also published by The International Council on Clean Transportation.

It’s worth noting that even if everyone suddenly switched to electric cars overnight – unlikely, given they currently make up just over 20,000 of the 2.2m UK new car sales a year – the emissions involved in making them, and their extra weight, would still make them greatly less efficient than bikes.

Walker's concludes that "(i)t’s one of the curious paradoxes of bikes in the modern world, that this largely low-tech device that is so beautifully suited as a solution to the very modern problem of global warming" receives such little attention.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 in The Guardian

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

Ice fishing tents surrounded by fence in Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused people in parking lot in Denver, Colorado.

An Affordable Housing Model for Indigenous Americans

Indigenous people make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unhoused population, but many programs designed to assist them don’t reach those most in need.

March 1 - High Country News

An electric bicycle is shown with the legs of a human who is riding the e-bike.

Oregon Bill Would Ban E-Bikes for Riders Under 16

State lawmakers seek to change Oregon e-bike laws following the death of a 15-year old last summer.

March 1 - Oregon Capital Chronical

Aerial view of canal cut into beach in Charlestow, Rhode Island with boats parked in sand.

Northeastern Waterways More Polluted After Wet Year

Intense rains washed more runoff into local bodies of water, while warmer temperatures contributed to the growth of an invasive bloom.

March 1 - University of Rhode Island

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.