Benefits of Bicycling -- Climate Change and Beyond by fdg13708


									        7400 Sand Point Way NE Bldg 138
        Seattle, WA 98102

Benefits of Bicycling
Climate Change and Beyond
The humble bicycle is making a 21st century comeback as a clean, fashionable, and inexpensive
transportation solution that can help you reduce your city’s carbon emissions.

The renewal of interest in this remarkable transportation mode could not come at a better time
for American cities and the planet. We are faced with a growing population, increased
automobile congestion, and a climate crisis. The good news is that bicycling investments are
cheap to implement and yield significant side benefits. While bicycles alone cannot solve the
problem of climate disruption, cities around the world are demonstrating that investments in
bicycle infrastructure and education can help keep local dollars in the community while
improving safety and cutting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the leading greenhouse gas.

In this paper, we will examine the potential of bicycling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and
look at some of its social benefits. We will also show how bicycling rates can be influenced
through public policies and programs.

Transportation and global warming
Human-caused climate disruption is upon us, and accelerating at a pace that is alarming the
experts. Climate scientists agree that dramatic cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions are needed
if we are to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption. Defining
“dangerous” climate disruption as a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius or more,
most climate scientists and a growing number of governments are calling for carbon reductions
to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. That figure based is on the assessments published by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world’s preeminent scientific body tasked
with evaluating the risk of climate change caused by human activity.

As a sector, transportation is a major contributor to the United States’ total emissions. Global
warming emissions from cars and trucks in the U.S. accounted for about 22% of this country’s
greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 (1). We have a larger-than-average responsibility to reduce
our automobile emissions: U.S. drivers release 45% of the world’s automotive carbon despite
hosting only 5% of the world’s population (2). If we are to reach our goal of an 80% reduction
by 2050, we must include transportation reforms as part of our climate protection strategy.

New technology alone will not solve the problem

Unfortunately, we cannot rely completely on biofuels or plug-in hybrids to eliminate our
transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. That is because, in addition to vehicle efficiency
and fuel type, emissions from America’s vehicle fleet are influenced by a third factor: the total
amount of driving (also known as vehicle miles traveled or VMT). Together, these three factors
are sometimes referred to as the “three-legged stool” of transportation carbon emissions. Clean
cars shore up the first two legs (efficiency and, potentially, fuel type), but our stool collapses for
weakness in the third; until every car on the road is 100% non-polluting, our collective rate of
driving will influence the amount of carbon we emit.

                                                                       And Americans are driving
                                                                       more each year. Even if the
                                                                       United States immediately
                                                                       mandates aggressive fuel
                                                                       efficiency standards for the
                                                                       automobile industry,
                                                                       projected increases in VMT
                                                                       will likely overwhelm any
                                                                       resulting emissions
                                                                       reductions. This is the
                                                                       finding of Growing Cooler
                                                                       (3), an Urban Land Institute-
                                                                       published review of recent
                                                                       transportation, development,
Figure 1. Vehicle efficiency alone will not be enough to reduce carbon and energy trends. The
emissions (Source: Urban Land Institute)                               authors of Growing Cooler
                                                                       note that with decisive
Congressional action the efficiency of the United States’ vehicle fleet could rise 12% by 2030,
but that vehicle miles traveled are predicted to increase by 59% over the same period. If nothing
is done to curb driving rates, CO2 from transportation sources will jump dramatically by 2030 –
even with a cleaner vehicle fleet (see Figure 1).

An effective solution must address all three legs of the stool. We need to embrace new
technology but also look past it to plan for a reduction in the number of miles we drive. To do
that, we will have to explore new approaches for how we plan for population growth and manage
our transportation infrastructure. A successful response to global warming will involve the
cultivation of compact neighborhoods and an empowerment of residents to choose transportation
modes beyond the private automobile.

Fortunately, there is a readily-available transportation mode that is well suited to the compact
neighborhoods of the future. It is affordable and takes up little space. It addresses all three
“legs” of the “stool,” emitting no pollution whatsoever and cutting driving rates. Parking is a

It is the bicycle.

Benefits of Bicycling
Climate protection

Along with walking, bicycling is the climate protection champion of the transportation world.
While a solo driver in an average car releases about 1.1 pounds of CO2 per mile, a bicyclist
releases none (beyond the negligible amount of carbon in her breath). Thus every trip shifted to
bicycle results in an effectively 100% reduction in direct greenhouse gas emissions. Even a
Toyota Prius releases about .6 pounds of CO2 per mile (see Figure 2). In the Puget Sound region

there were about 81,534,000 vehicle
miles traveled per day in 2006 (4). If
just 5% of those trip-miles were shifted
to bicycle, we would prevent the
release of 4,484,370 pounds of CO2
every day. Over the course of a year,
that’s like taking 160,000 cars off the
road (1).

Improved safety

Increasing the number of cyclists on
your streets can save lives. That is
what Peter Jacobsen found in his 2003
report “Safety in Numbers”, in which
he noted that “motorists adjust their
behavior in the presence of people          Figure 2. (Source: Sightline Institute)
walking and bicycling,” leading to a
reduction in the rate of collisions between motorists and bicyclists and walkers (5).

Recent data from the Portland Office of Transportation reinforced Jacobsen’s finding: cycling
                                                               rates soared since the early 1990s
                                                               while the crash risk per rider
                                                               dropped by about 70% (see
                                                               Figure 3).

                                                                   Economic prosperity

                                                                   Small increases in the cycling
                                                                   rate can mean big money for
                                                                   your city. Why? Because cars
                                                                   are an extraordinarily expensive
                                                                   form of travel when compared to
                                                                   bikes, even when one only
                                                                   considers the costs that the
Figure 3. (Source: Portland Department of Transportation)          drivers themselves bear. An
                                                                   average midsize car driven
10,000 miles in a year costs its driver about $.76 per mile, or $7,574 for the year. The estimate
includes gasoline, oil, maintenance, tires, insurance, license, registration, taxes, depreciation, and
finance charges (6).

Unfortunately, the $.76 figure only tells part of the story. Automobiles incur many costs that are
not covered directly by the driver, including time lost to congestion, health expenses from air

pollution-caused illnesses, road construction, and crashes. Called “externalities,” they boost the
true cost of driving a car to about $1.20 per mile, according to one estimate (7).

Replacing driving with bicycling saves money for the public. Gary Barnes at the University of
Minnesota tallied the economic benefits of cycling to his state. In a state of about 5 million
people, his conservative estimate found that Minnesota’s modest rate of bicycling – about 1.5%
of adult trips and 5% of trips by children – led to fiscal benefits in excess of $300 million per
year (8).

Todd Litman and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) in British Columbia calculate
that for every mile of travel shifted from automobile to bicycle, society saves an average of 24
cents (7). Using VTPI’s methodology, we find that if 5% of car trips in the greater Seattle area
were shifted to bicycle, the public would save an average of $970,000 per day in automobile-
related costs, not counting the substantial savings to drivers from reduced spending on fuel and

Boosting bicycling in your city
Cycling rates vary widely amongst cities in the developed world, even in areas with similar
wealth, populations, and climate. What does it take to create a culture of cycling?

Governments and citizen groups seeking to promote bicycle transportation in the United States
traditionally have employed what are known as the “Five E’s”: engineering (bike lanes, parking),
education (cycling classes, motorist awareness programs), enforcement (holding motorists and
cyclists accountable to the law), evaluation and planning (benchmarking, goal-setting), and
encouragement (events, promotion campaigns). The Five E’s frame bicycle promotion as a
comprehensive endeavor, requiring a combination of approaches to realize lasting gains in

In the following sections we will review evidence supporting a few of E’s, including
engineering, education and encouragement, and also an important variable that is not currently
counted among the Five E’s: land use.


When cities build multiuse paths and bicycle lanes, people use them. That is the finding of a
series of studies in recent years, beginning with Nelson and Allen’s aptly-name study If You
Build Them, Commuters Will Use Them (9). The authors found that every new mile of bikeway
per 100,000 people is associated with a .069 percent increase in bicycle commuting, though they
stopped short of interpreting the correlation as a cause-effect relationship.

More recent
investigations by Dill
and Carr (10) and
Barnes (11) strengthen
the case that bike lanes
lead to more people
riding more often.
Both studies found
significant increases in
bicycle traffic where
facilities were installed.
In fact, bikeways have
been found to stimulate
riding beyond the
facilities themselves;
Krizek and Barnes found Figure 4. Portland saw a dramatic increase in cycling as they built their bikeway
increased bike trips up to network (Source: Portland Department of Transportation)
1.5 miles from the ends
of recently installed bikeways (12). Conversely, it appears that the installation of new
automobile capacity can depress walking, biking, and transit rates (13).

Bicycle lanes have benefits beyond merely stimulating riding. They contribute to more traffic
flow (14), are liked by cyclists (15), and create a safer riding environment (16).

Education and Encouragement

While new bikeways can make bicycling easier and safer, a major increase in cycling rates must
involve education and encouragement. Education and encouragement programs give travelers
support as they explore new transportation options and offer them the skills they need to do so

That is why education is a major component of Cascade Bicycle Club’s work. We offer bicycle
education programs for all ages, including, free and low-cost community helmet sales, riding
classes, and Bicycle Ambassadors at community events who provide maps, fit helmets, and offer
advice and tips.

While Cascade Bicycle Club does not have a statistical measurement of how our programs affect
cycling rates across our service area, anecdotal evidence suggests that our classes and outreach
activities are encouraging people to ride more safely and more often.

The State of Washington’s Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) program is another example of
education and encouragement, and its success is quantified. Mandated by the state legislature in
1991, CTR requires large employers to develop and implement a program to encourage
employees to choose modes of travel other than the single-occupant motor vehicle, with the goal
of reducing traffic congestion, air pollution, and energy use. In workplaces with over 100 full-
time employees , one person is designated as an “employee transportation coordinator,” and he

or she distributes informational material about transportation options and company-led incentives
for non-single occupant vehicle commuting.

CTR appears to work. Since the CTR program began in Washington State in 1993, bicycling
rates at program sites increased 51% while the percentage of people driving alone dropped from
71% to 65% (17). Over the same time frame, Washington State’s overall drive alone rate
remained roughly unchanged at around 74% and national rates increased significantly.

On a municipal level, the Portland Office of Transportation SmartTrips program (based on the
pioneering TravelSmart in Perth, Australia) has also been successful in increasing bicycling and
reducing driving. Under SmartTrips, each year the Office of Transportation selects a Portland
neighborhood. In spring, residents in that neighborhood receive a door hanger (delivered by
bicycle) with an offer of more information about non-driving travel options. If they send in the
attached postcard, they are delivered customized bus schedules, walking and biking maps, and an
incentive gift of a tote bag. Interested participants can also receive one-on-one consultations
with Portland Transportation Department staffers and other transportation freebies.

SmartTrips has significantly increased bicycling and reduced single-occupant driving in Portland
neighborhoods where it was conducted (18). After the program’s most recent deployment to the
city’s Northeast corner (March through November 2006), the Portland Department of
Transportation found that the percentage of all trips made by single drivers dropped by 8.2%.
Among program participants that figure was 12.8%. The share of all trips in the area taken by
bicycle increased 1.5% -- a dramatic increase for a mode that accounted for between 2 and 4% of
trips before the program began. In follow up evaluations of deployments in other parts of the
city, Transportation Department officials have found that SmartTrips’ results tend to hold over

Land Use

                                                                        A growing body of evidence
                                                                suggests that land use features can
                                                                significantly influence the rates of driving,
                                                                bicycling and walking in a city.

                                                                        Density – or the number of people
                                                                or jobs in a given area – is a key
                                                                determinant of driving and bicycling rates.
                                                                Numerous studies have documented that
                                                                fact that the denser a city, the less its
                                                                residents tend to drive and the more they
                                                                tend to walk, bike, or use transit (19) (20)
                                                                (21). Part of this phenomenon is due to the
                                                                variability in distances between origins
                                                                (homes) and destinations (employment,
Figure 5. As residential density increases, driving decreases
(Source: Environmental Building News)                           commerce, or recreation). In a typical
                                                                suburban environment, the distances

between one’s home and a series of errand stops can make a bicycle ride impractically long. In a
dense, mixed urban neighborhood, common destinations are more likely to be located within a
convenient walking or bicycling distance.

Other land use factors that can influence bicycling rates include the interconnectedness of the
street grid, diversity (mixed uses), building orientation, and parking management.

How much change is possible?

Obviously, not all automobile trips can be replaced by bicycle rides. Some trips are too long;
others involve large amounts of cargo or a number of passengers. Not everyone is physically
capable of riding a bicycle. But considering the dramatic advantages of the bicycle in terms of
energy efficiency, space efficiency, economic savings, and health impacts, even modest
increases in bicycling can result in significant benefits.

So what percentage of automobile trips can we reasonably expect to serve with nonmotorized

Cycling rates vary widely across the globe. As one might expect, nations where automobile
ownership is out of reach for much of the population have high rates of bicycling and walking.
In 2000, 90% of trips in Tianjin, China – a city of eight million people – were taken on foot or by
some sort of nonmotorized conveyance (bicycle, rickshaw, etc) (22). In Dhaka, Bangladesh
(pop. 11 million), that figure is 60%.

By contrast,                                       Car      Transit        Cycling     Walking          Other
                                  Austria          39%           13%            9%          31%             8%
wealthy nations
                                  Canada           74%           14%            1%          10%             1%
tend to have                    Denmark            42%           14%           20%          21%             3%
higher rates of                   France           54%           12%            4%          30%             0%
private                         Germany            52%           11%           10%          27%             0%
automobile                   Netherlands           44%            8%           27%          19%             1%
ownership and                    Sweden            36%           11%           10%          39%             4%
lower rates of               Switzerland           38%           20%           10%          29%             3%
bicycling and                        UK            62%           14%            8%          12%             4%
walking. Nations                    USA           84%             3%            1%           9%             2%
where the bulk of
                                   Figure 6. Bicycling and walking rates have room to grow in the United States
development                                                                 (Source: Pucher and Lefevre 1996)
occurred after the
emergence of the automobile, including the United States and Canada, have the lowest walking
and bicycling rates of all (see Figure 6). Still, we see that among the industrialized nations the
popularity of the bicycle as a transportation mode varies considerably, from in the low single
digits in the U.S. to about a third of all trips in the Netherlands; prosperity and bicycling are not
mutually exclusive. Indeed, as traffic congestion’s toll on our economy and quality of life
grows, bicycling may become indispensible.

Fortunately, nonmotorized transportation rates in industrialized nations are responsive to
programs and public policy reforms. In a 2001 report, Roger Mackett of the U.K.’s Centre for

Transport Studies found that in the urban areas he studied in England, about 7% of automobile
trips could be shifted to walking or biking through infrastructure improvements and social
marketing (22). Litman and VTPI found that even more change is possible. They estimate that
percentage of trips taken by bike or on foot could be increased to 10-35% if infrastructure
improvements and social marketing is combined with market reforms such as accurate pricing
parking for cars (23). There are numerous examples of cities and countries around the world
which have achieved bicycling and walking rates within this range or higher.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that bicycle planning came into its own over the past fifteen years
-- the same time period during which the unfolding climate crisis began to capture the public’s
attention. Propelled by the need for inexpensive transportation solutions and popular exhaustion
with automobile congestion, researchers have given American planners and elected officials a
wealth of new bicycle transportation data. We learned that few transportation modes can match
the bicycle for carbon emission reductions and multiple social benefits. Engineers refined the
standards for bicycle transportation infrastructure elements like bike lanes and trails. A growing
nationwide advocacy community grew up around the idea that we have the technology we need
to achieve our climate goals.

All the pieces are in place for a widespread reinvention of transportation and community in the
United States. Together with transit, walking, compact neighborhood design, and better
management of existing roads, bicycling has the potential to make us happier and healthier while
we do the necessary work of cutting our carbon emissions.

This paper is only a brief introduction into the benefits of developing bicycling as a mainstream
transportation mode. For more information about any of the information in this document,
please contact the author:

Patrick McGrath
Cascade Bicycle Club
PO Box 15165
Seattle, WA 98102


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