Because of its affordability, health benefits, and convenience, bicycling has the potential to take on a big role in reducing the negative effects of climate change. A recent study done by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and University of California Davis calculated the potential impact that bicycles and electric bicycles (e-bikes) could have on reducing greenhouse gases. The study found that bicycling has the potential to reduce emissions from urban transportation by 11%.[1] However, this will depend on the commitment of cities to encourage bicycling through both policy and infrastructure. To achieve the 11% reduction goal, the study proposed that cities increase the percentage of trips taken by bicycle to 11% by 2030 and to 14% by 2050. This is no easy task for the United States, where only 1% of bicycling is for non-recreational trips compared to, for example, 27% in Denmark. Electric bicycles are also important for the reduction of carbon emissions. E-bikes are able to go faster speeds than a typical bicycle. However, safety, cost, and infrastructure play a critical role in why e-bikes currently are not a mass mode of transit in many countries. Therefore, according to the study, governments should encourage and subsidize low-powered, speed-limited e-bike usage while placing direct restrictions on high-polluting gasoline motorbikes.

Bicyclists at the New Brunswick Ciclovia

Bicycling at a young age can lead to a life-long bicycling habit.

If changes are not made to the car-centric way of life, carbon dioxide emissions from urban transportation could jump from its current 2.3 gigatons to 4.3 gigatons in 2050. Additionally, the world could save $24 trillion between 2015 and 2050 by increasing the number of people who bicycle.[2] Cities are the center of change for this particular issue because of the higher densities of people, jobs, and services than in less populated areas.[3] Therefore, sustainable modes of transportation will have the greatest impact in cities.

Overall, the authors of the study believe because of the imminent threat of climate change on a global scale that action must be taken at the municipal, national, and global level. Below are some the recommendations:[4]

  • Rapidly develop cycling and e-bike infrastructure on a large scale;
  • Implement bike share programs in large and medium-size cities, prioritizing connections to transit;
  • Revise laws and enforcement practices to better protect people bicycling and walking;
  • Coordinate metropolitan transport and land-use plans, so that all new investments result in more bicycling, walking, and public transport trips and fewer trips by motorized vehicles;
  • Dedicate fuel taxes, driving fees, and other transport-system revenues toward investment in sustainable transport.

Changing from car-centric travel modes is quite doable considering that half of trips in the United States are 3 miles or less[5] and therefore can be traveled by bicycle or e-bike. Copenhagen can be used as inspiration since just as recently as the 1960s the city was not the bicycle haven it is today. The city implemented bicycle infrastructure in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, resulting in 40% of trips being made by bicycle today.[6] If other cities in the United States and abroad follow Copenhagen’s lead along with implementing sustainable measures into governmental policy, there could be a chance to reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

Biking in Ocean City

Bicycling in Ocean City.

Several New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) initiatives promote sustainable forms of transportation. NJDOT ensures that all roadway projects comply with environmental policies, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and its sustained commitment can be seen in the state’s Long Rang Transportation Plan (Transportation Choices 2030). Part of NJDOT’s commitment is to implement more sustainable means of transportation through funding bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs. For example, the state funds bike and pedestrian planning through grants such as Transportation Alternatives grants, awarding cities such as Hoboken and Lambertville for bicycling projects and network implementation. NJDOT’s commitment to expanding active transportation networks in the state are one step toward mitigating the effects of climate change.

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[1] How Much Can Bicycling Help Fight Climate Change? A Lot, If Cities Try

[2] Shifting Gears to Cycling Would be Big Climate Boost

[3] A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario

[4] A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario

[5] Climate Change and Bicycling

[6] Shifting Gears to Cycling Would be Big Climate Boost