Riding a bike won’t solve the climate crisis alone, but its potential to reduce carbon emissions, improve public health and foster sustainable communities are all big steps towards a cleaner future.
In recent years, the stark realities of climate change have become more evident, more intense and more desperate for a solution. Thankfully, one simple, low-cost solution is right before our eyes. A solution that has been gaining momentum for years but exploded in popularity over the last 16 months. A solution for governments, industries and individuals alike. A mobility, sustainability, equity and public health solution all in one: the humble bicycle.
At PeopleForBikes, we are focused on championing the bike as a tool that individuals can use and policymakers can prioritize to tackle this daunting challenge one step and one solution at a time. Of course, riding a bike can’t solve the climate crisis alone, but its potential to reduce carbon emissions, improve public health and foster sustainable communities are all big steps towards a cleaner future.
According to a recent study by Portland State University, if we convert just 15% of car trips to trips made by electric bicycle, we could reduce transportation-related carbon emissions by 12%. We don’t need everyone to ride a bike — just a small portion can achieve huge carbon reduction goals.
Thankfully, more people are already turning to bikes: in 2020, 10% of American adults rode a bike for the first time in a year or more, or for the first time ever. Bike sales surged with 10% of American adults buying a bike and another 13% saying they would buy one in the next twelve months. A large majority are still riding and plan to keep riding in the future, with safer streets, more protected bike lanes and better connected bike networks being a major motivator to stay pedaling.
During the height of the pandemic, more than 200 U.S. cities made changes to their transportation networks to support this massive increase in bicycling, and not surprisingly, cleaner air and decreased traffic congestion followed. City leaders are now rethinking how their citizens move around their communities with climate goals top of mind, setting bold goals to build hundreds of miles of mobility networks. Austin and Denver are each set to complete 100 miles of new bikeways by the end of 2021.
International cities, including Paris, Sevilla and Copenhagen, that adopted bicycling as a key component of their transportation networks are far outpacing those that have not in terms of air quality and emissions reductions. No other competitive transportation option can rival the climate benefits of bikes.
Not only does riding a bike help combat climate change, it also offers measurable health benefits; provides affordable access to jobs, education and other essential services; reduces pressure and congestion on transportation networks; increases livability in cities and boosts local economies.
Unlike many other proposed climate solutions, a broad adoption of bicycles does not come with an enormous price tag. Bike infrastructure (lanes, paths, trails, etc.) costs a fraction of most major road infrastructure improvements and is often much quicker to implement. The average selling price of a new electric bicycle, the most likely replacement for car trips, was less than $2,000 in March 2021 — more affordable than a car with less costly repairs and no need for gas.
When you ride your bike instead of driving, you’re helping fight climate change. But the simplicity of this strategy should not overshadow the power of bikes to reduce carbon emissions and more. Individuals that turn to bikes to get to work, school or run errands help reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Communities that invest in connected active transportation infrastructure lead the way on climate action and play a major role in defining the future of sustainable development. By committing to riding more as individuals and including bikes in our local, state and federal policy priorities, our collective efforts can create a brighter, cleaner and healthier tomorrow.