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June 13, 2024

Advancing Bike Infrastructure Through Climate Legislation

By: By: Ashley Seaward, director of state + local policy, sustainability lead; and Maddie Godby, policy + communications coordinator

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With more state-level support behind the construction of bike infrastructure, more people can replace car trips with bike rides and reduce transportation-related emissions.

PeopleForBikes’ Legislative Guide for Safe and Connected Bike Infrastructure, a component of our Great Bike Infrastructure Project, is a valuable resource for elected officials and local advocates, showcasing the most effective ways to advance bike infrastructure through state and local legislation. To help build more bikeable communities across the U.S., we’ve already explored the how and why behind funding bike infrastructure and mandating Complete Streets policies. In the latest edition of our blog series, we’re reviewing the third legislative strategy to create great places to ride — advancing bike infrastructure through climate legislation. 

The construction of bike infrastructure can play a powerful role in states’ climate policy agendas. With more state-level support behind the construction of bike infrastructure, more people will replace car trips with bike rides, reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the process. 

In the U.S., transportation is the highest emitter of GHGs at 29%, with most of those emissions (57%) coming from passenger cars and light-duty trucks (pickups and SUVs). More bike infrastructure can not only drastically reduce dependence on using vehicles for transportation by making bicycling a safe and attractive choice for people, but it also carries a host of economic, equity, health, and safety-related benefits that support thriving communities. 

Why should states include bike infrastructure in their plans to address climate change?

  • Bike infrastructure reduces greenhouse gas emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled. Fifty-three percent of car trips made in the U.S. are three miles or less, and 28% are one mile or less. Transitioning close-to-home trips from cars to bicycles is possible and can significantly reduce the number of miles driven in personal vehicles.
  • Electrifying vehicles is essential, but it’s not enough. Reports from California, Hawaii, and Minnesota show that states must reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to meet GHG reduction goals. Even with the most optimistic assumptions about electric vehicle adoption, GHG emissions from cars remain too high without reductions in use. 
  • Active transportation infrastructure expands equitable access to low-cost, sustainable forms of transportation. Studies show that it is six times more expensive to travel by car than by bicycle.

How are states prioritizing bike infrastructure within their climate agendas?

There is a growing policy movement among states (including California, Colorado, and Minnesota) that not only sets GHG reduction targets but also makes requirements to evaluate large-scale transportation projects based on their potential GHG emissions. If a project does not fit within the states’ GHG reduction goals, they either have to modify the project, cancel it, or integrate low-polluting projects such as infrastructure for bikes or transit. 

This policy framework is already successfully shifting money away from high-polluting transportation projects and saving states’ money in the long run. 

Thanks to Colorado’s GHG rule, the state has already shifted $1.5 billion from road expansions to multimodal projects, with $900 million dedicated to expanding bike, walk, and transit networks. 

In 2024, three states (Illinois, New York, and Maryland) proposed similar legislation, and this trend is not expected to slow down. This useful policy tool allows states to meet their GHG reduction goals and helps them re-envision their transportation systems to ones that are safe, equitable, and convenient for all road users. 

What should states consider when prioritizing bike infrastructure within climate legislation?

  • Include specific VMT reduction targets. Communities cannot meet GHG reduction targets solely through electric vehicles without also reducing the miles those vehicles travel. 
  • Prioritize expenditures — like bike infrastructure — that provide co-benefits. Replacing short, gas-powered car trips with electric car trips may reduce GHG emissions, but it won’t provide the health, economic, safety, and happiness benefits that replacing those trips with bicycles will. 
  • Prioritize investments in traditionally disinvested and marginalized communities to help redress past inequities. 
  • Establish strict requirements for accurate reporting to measure and track the impact of various strategies relative to goals. 
  • Include transparent accountability measures that allow the public to ensure compliance.
  • Include electric bicycle (e-bike) incentive programs. Several U.S. states and cities have passed e-bike incentive programs to lower transportation-related GHG emissions. To learn more about e-bike incentive programs, check out our E-Bike Incentive Toolkit.

If you are a bicycle advocate, policymaker, or a community leader, PeopleForBikes wants to help make it easy to champion the inclusion of bike infrastructure in your state’s climate plan. To learn more about the best talking points and access resources and policy examples to advance bike infrastructure through climate legislation, check out our resources below:

Related Topics:

Sustainable TransportationBicycling BenefitsBike Networks
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