How Much Can Bicycling Help Fight Climate Change? A Lot, If Cities Try. Bicycling could help cut carbon emissions from urban transportation by 11 percent

By Angie Schmitt, Streetsblog, USA, Nov 18, 2015,  31

A new study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy attempts to measure the potential of bikes and e-bikes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Buenos Aires has been ambitiously building out a network of well designed, separated bike infrastructure. If this kind of commitment were employed worldwide, the environmental and financial repercussions would be enormous. Photo: ITDP
Buenos Aires has been building out a network of protected bike infrastructure. If this kind of commitment were employed in cities worldwide, the climate benefits would be huge. Photo: ITDP

ITDP’s conclusion, in short: Bicycling could help cut carbon emissions from urban transportation 11 percent.

The authors calculated the carbon emissions reduction that could result if cities around the world make a strong, sustained commitment to promoting bicycle travel.

In a scenario where 14 percent of travel in the world’s cities is by bike or e-bike in 2050, carbon emissions from urban transportation would be 11 percent lower than a scenario where efforts to promote sustainable transportation sidestep bicycling.

The ITDP scenario calls for 11 percent of urban mileage by bike by 2030 before hitting 14 percent in 2050. For many big American cities where bicycling accounts for a small share of total travel, that may sound like a high bar — and that was part of the point. The ITDP targets will require a significant public policy commitment. But the goals are achievable and aren’t as daunting as they might seem, the authors say.

Already, ITDP estimates about 6 percent of miles traveled in world cities are by bike or e-bike. More than half of those bicycling miles, however, come from just a few countries, including Japan, China, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

In general, bicycling’s share of travel is flat or falling in developing countries. And in the U.S. and Canada, bicycling only accounts for about 1 percent of non-recreational trips.

Baseline world cycling rates. Graph: ITDP
Current bicycle mode share in selected countries. Chart: ITDP

Under the scenario described by ITDP, bicycling would rise to about 11 percent of miles traveled in American and Canadian cities by 2050. In countries like China where the rate is already above that level, it would be as high as 25 percent.

In order to achieve that level of cycling, cities around the world would need to make substantial changes to their policies and infrastructure, ITDP says, including:

  • Rapidly developing large-scale networks of bike infrastructure.
  • Implementing bike-share, with an emphasis on connections to transit.
  • Revising laws to protect cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Investing in walking and transit.
  • Coordinating regional land use planning with transportation investments.
  • Ending subsidies for driving, like parking minimums and fuel subsidies.
  • Instituting congestion pricing.
  • Dedicating driving fees to sustainable transportation.

The report builds on previous research from ITDP measuring the potential impact of dramatically expanding the use of sustainable transportation in U.S. cities. That study found shifting reliance from cars to bikes, buses and walking, could reduce emissions from transport in cities by 40 percent. The new report was undertaken after bike advocates in Europe and elsewhere responded that the previous study may have underestimated the share of trips that could be shifted to bicycling.

Factoring in the greater potential for mode shift to bikes, ITDP estimates that the total reduction in urban transportation emissions by 2050 could reach 50 percent if cities aggressively pursue policies to promote sustainable modes. The upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris “provides an excellent opportunity to move global policy toward supporting this scenario,” ITDP concludes.


November 12, 2015

A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario

The Potential for Dramatically Increasing Bicycle and E-bike Use in Cities Around the World, with Estimated Energy, CO2, and Cost Impacts

Cycling plays a major role in personal mobility around the world, but it could play a much bigger role. Given the convenience, health benefits, and affordability of bicycles, they could provide a far greater proportion of urban passenger transportation, helping reduce energy use and CO2 emissions worldwide.

This report presents a new look at the future of cycling for urban transportation (rather than recreation), and the potential contribution it could make to mobility as well as sustainability. 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.

The report builds on the 2014 study A Global High Shift Scenario: Impacts and Potential for More Public Transport, Walking, and Cycling with Lower Car Use. That report provided a global assessment of the potential for increasing travel on sustainable, efficient modes while concurrently developing cities that are far less car-dependent. However, the role of cycling in the previous study could be considered relatively minor, with the global average urban mode share increasing by three percentage points in 2030 (from 3 to 6 percent of total travel). This report explores just how much is possible if we study cycling in more detail using the same approach. The result is the most comprehensive picture ever of global urban cycling activity.


Sustainable Transportation Could Save the World (and Save $100 Trillion)

A protesters gathered in New York City to demand action on climate, a new report shows exactly what that action could offer us. Photo: South Bend Voice via Flickr
As protesters gathered in New York City to demand action on climate change, a new report shows how smart transportation policy can play a major role in reducing carbon emissions. Photo: South Bend Voice/Flickr

Dramatically expanding transit and active transportation over the next few decades could reduce carbon emissions from urban transport 40 percent more than following a car-centric trajectory. And it could also save the world economy $100 trillion.

That’s according to a new report presented recently to the United Nations by researchers at UC Davis and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [PDF]. The team modeled the cost and greenhouse gas impacts of two scenarios for the future of world transportation up to the year 2050.

The baseline scenario assumes a business-as-usual approach to transportation. Following this path, transit systems across the globe would grow modestly over the next few decades, while driving would grow considerably, especially in developing nations.

Urban transportation produced about 2.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2010, or about a quarter of total transportation emissions. This is expected to double under a business-as-usual approach by 2050.

Following a different path — which the authors call the “high shift” scenario — by 2050, countries around the world develop high-quality transit systems and bikeable, walkable street networks on par with today’s leading cities.

In the “high shift” future of 2050, most countries will have doubled or tripled their total rapid transit capacity. The authors modeled a dramatic increase in urban rail systems and even bigger growth in bus rapid transit systems. In the model, most major cities in the world would have BRT systems as extensive as Bogota’s TransMilenio.

This scenario also assumes more compact walkable development and increases in cycling — particularly e-bikes in developing nations. “Most cities could achieve something approaching average European cycling levels,” according to the authors, but still below global leaders like the Netherlands. The “high-shift” scenario also projects the effect of widespread road pricing or other financial incentives that favor sustainable modes. As a result, urban vehicle traffic would only reach half the level projected in the business-as-usual scenario.

Authors Michael Replogle and Lewis M. Fulton evaluated the environmental, social, and economic outcomes of both approaches. They found that the baseline scenario would impose about $500 trillion in direct costs, including both public and private spending on infrastructure, vehicles, operations, and fuel. The “high shift” scenario would cost $100 trillion less than that. To economize on construction costs, the “high-shift” scenario relies heavily on bus rapid transit, which researchers estimate building at about $4.5 million to $9 million per mile. In addition, the cost of constructing transit systems is dwarfed by the expense involved with building and maintaining roads and parking, the authors note. “This is because vastly more kilometers of roads (and square kilometers of parking) are built than are any type of transit system.”

“This suggests one of the more affordable ways to cut global warming pollution is to design cities to give people clean options for using public transportation, walking and cycling,” Replogle and Fulton write. 

The business-as-usual approach would also produce about 40 percent more emissions, or spew an additional 1.7 gigatons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

A rapid shift to transit and active transportation (high shift) would help promote greater income equality. (OECD stands for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with 34 countries.) Image: UC Davis and ITDP
A rapid shift to transit and active transportation (high shift) would help promote greater income equality. (OECD stands for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with 34 countries.) Image: UC Davis and ITDP. Click to enlarge

However, because the world population will be increasingly urban in 2050 and thus have greater exposure to air pollution, air pollution-related mortality is expected to nearly triple in either scenario. Additional vehicle and fuel standards are needed to save 1.36 million lives, Replogle and Fulton found.

Another finding was that a future with significantly more sustainable transportation would be more equitable as well. Researchers concluded that the “high-shift” scenario would disproportionately benefit lower-income individuals, while business-as-usual would disproportionately benefit the rich. An approach with greater transit options would also help reduce inequality of mobility when comparing nations, they concluded. Currently, people living in wealthy countries — like the U.S. — travel much more than those living in poorer regions in Africa and parts of Asia. But the “high shift scenario” would all but eliminate that disparity.