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July 22, 2022

Exploring Climate Action Solutions With Electric Bicycles

By: Ash Lovell, Ph.D., PeopleForBikes’ electric bicycle policy and campaign director

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Attendees at the Electric Bicycle Summit discussed ideas on how to improve the connection between riding an electric bicycle and fighting climate change.

Electric bicycles are often praised as a great way to get more people riding and riding for longer distances, and researchers are beginning to explore the potential climate benefits electric bicycles can offer. Electric Bicycles are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decongesting urban centers as more folks ride their e-bikes to commute, run errands and explore their communities. However, much of the existing research focuses on individual riding behavior instead of the systemic relationship between infrastructure, policy and rider participation. 

During PeopleForBikes’ Electric Bicycle Summit in Asheville, North Carolina, attendees explored how infrastructure, policy and rider participation can all work together to promote electric bicycles as a scalable climate solution. One of the biggest takeaways from the conversation was that without safe and connected places to ride, the appeal of riding an electric bicycle is muted. We need to plan, build and maintain safe and protected infrastructure that supports cyclists, pedestrians and other human-powered commuters if we want to promote the widespread adoption of electric bicycles. 

PeopleForBikes works closely with city leaders across the country to support safer and more connected infrastructure. Our Final Mile program worked with five U.S. cities to accelerate the construction of connected bike networks. Check out Providence, Rhode Island, and Austin, Texas, to learn how these cities created safe, connected and accessible routes across their communities. With more folks riding electric bicycles than ever before, PeopleForBikes is also working with local and state governments to clearly identify what an electric bicycle is and expand access for electric bicycles on paths, trails and roads.

Participants at the Electric Bicycle Summit also discussed ideas on how to improve the connection between riding your electric bicycle and fighting climate change. The group explored the idea of a certified-used electric bicycle market, as high-quality electric bicycles can be repaired and maintained multiple times. To promote this used market, suppliers can make sure that long-term replacement parts are available, which should lengthen the lifespan of these bicycles. 

In another adaptation from the automobile industry, participants suggested that the industry could support leasing options and explore a new tracking system for individual electric bicycles. This tracking system could record mileage and usage data for resale purposes. Electric bicycles become carbon neutral once they are ridden an average of 508 miles, and this tracking system could improve our ability to communicate with riders when they reach this milestone. An effective tracking system may also improve accident reporting by clearly identifying what kind of bicycle is involved in a reported crash.

On the policy front, participants at the summit honed in on the need for a coordinated and inclusive advocacy approach. The bicycle industry can strengthen relationships with environmental advocates to create a united voice that clearly defines the benefits of electric bicycles as a climate action tool. Together, we can bring the power of the outdoor industry along with the expertise of environmental advocates to conversations with policymakers and land managers. 

Internally, PeopleForBikes launched its industry Sustainability Working Group as a collective effort on behalf of the bike industry to fight climate change and lessen our products’ impact on the environment. With more than 70 members across 30 different brands, this group focuses on four main issue areas:

  • - Reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals used in manufacturing and finished products
  • - Measure companies’ carbon footprints and set reduction targets
  • - Create a sustainable packaging guide for the industry
  • - Advance social and environmental responsibility in bike companies’ supply chains

Solving the climate crisis will involve much more than the solutions that electric bicycles alone can provide. However, by positioning electric bicycles as a tool in the climate action toolbox, building relationships with key advocacy partners and promoting safe and connected bicycling infrastructure, the bicycle industry can lay the groundwork for scalable climate action.

Related Topics:

Electric BikesSustainable Transportation
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