Want to Fight Climate Change? Swap Out Your Car for a Bike
A NEW REPORT WARNS THAT WE NEED TO REDUCE OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. HERE’S HOW BIKE COMMUTING CAN HELP.
BY DANIELLE ZICKL Oct 11, 2018
Side view of people cycling on street against sky
You’re probably well aware of cycling’s numerous health benefits. But its impact on the planet can make life better and safer for all people, not just individuals aiming for a healthier lifestyle.
That’s according to a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The panel’s scientists determined that if the global temperature rises by 1.5°C or more by 2030, the worldwide risk of events like extreme droughts, wildfires, and floods will increase exponentially.
The bad news: If no changes are made, the global temperature could rise by as much as 3°C—double the rate that scientists agree would already be catastrophic. But everyone from governments and large corporations to private citizens can take steps to fight the effects of climate change. The IPCC suggested ways to reduce our carbon footprint—and cycling for transportation is one of them.
There’s a lot of existing evidence that replacing car trips with bike trips would benefit the environment. A 2015 study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy concluded that a dramatic increase (about 20 percent) in cycling worldwide could “cut carbon dioxide emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 percent in 2050.”
Tour of Flanders
Scientists Use Bike Race to Study Climate Change
We have local examples as well. A 2010 study found that if 20 percent of people used bikes instead of cars for short trips in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, 57,405 fewer tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted. Meanwhile, a 2011 study found that Barcelona’s bike-share program reduces carbon dioxide emissions in the Spanish city by about 9,000 metric tons each year.
But getting more people to switch from cars to bikes isn’t as easy as the statistics make it seem. Riders must feel safe getting from point A to point B on two wheels, no matter the distance—and many don’t, according to Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations for the League of American Bicyclists.
“One thing that can be done is cities planning and implementing complete street policies—things like funding infrastructures, building protected bike lanes, and talking to citizens about what would make them feel safe,” Whitaker told Bicycling. By using bike lanes and other infrastructure to better connect neighborhoods with schools, offices, and shopping centers, she said, cities and towns could encourage more people to ditch their cars and bike instead.
Looking Down From Up
Bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Jose Antonio MacielGetty Images
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States can also play a role, not just by funding bike lanes and bike parking but also by allowing cities and towns to make rule changes, like lowering speed limits, to make the roads safer for cyclists.
Why Seattle Is the Best Bike City in America
Beyond safety, distance is a major reason why people don’t commute by bike. Studies have shown that most commuters can’t or won’t bike to work if they have to travel more than 15 miles each way. But there’s no rule that says you have to bike your entire commute. Cities can offer more multimodal options—that is, combining your bike trip with train, bus, or ferry trips—to make potential riders more comfortable.
“Here in D.C., almost the entire city is within three miles of a Metro station,” Whitaker said. “If your commute is too far to bike, you can ride to a Metro station and then take the train the rest of the way to your destination.”
As for individual cyclists who want to get more of their fellow commuters on bikes, Whitaker advised being vocal about your needs. If your city or town doesn’t have a good bike lane network, bike education programs, or bike-share programs in place, demand them.
Finally, if you’re comfortable on the bike but know someone who isn’t, make plans to ride with them. If cycling can help the earth, its most enthusiastic supporters should do all they can to share it with others.