Seemingly small changes in lifestyle can add up to have a huge impact at the societal level. According to a new study, choosing to bike rather than drive a car may reduce the average person's transportation-related carbon emissions by 67%.
These findings apply for choosing to bike over driving a car only once over the course of a day, meaning you don't have to substitute all car trips in order to make a huge dent in your carbon footprint. This also means you could reduce your transportation-related emissions by 95% if you choose to exclusively bike.
To put things into perspective, the researchers led by the University of Oxford's Christian Brand found that if just 10% of the population were to replace one single car trip each day with a bike trip, overall transport emission would also decrease by about 10%.
The conclusions were made after the researchers analyzed the mobility patterns of thousands of people in Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Rome, Vienna, Zurich, and Orebro (Sweden). Over 34,200 trips were logged in total by the study participants.
Not all cities generate the same carbon footprint from urban transit, which can depend a lot on geography, climate, income, road network, and so on. Nevertheless, the data suggest that across all cities, emissions from cars were nearly double those from public transport.
What's more, cycling was responsible for less than 5% of overall public transport emissions. Bikes do not require fuel in the same sense as cars and buses -- if you don't count the food you need to burn those calories while biking -- so the ride does not release any carbon emissions. However, manufacturing a bike produces, on average, 5 grams of CO2 per kilometer ridden.
According to the study published in the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, entertainment activities make up more than half of the transportation-related emissions. The full breakdown of the urban transit carbon footprint looks as follows: 37% work-related, 34% social and recreational, 18% shopping, 11% business.
"Active travel has attributes of social distancing that are likely to be desirable for some time. It could help to cut back transportation energy use, CO2 emissions and air pollution while improving population health as confinement is eased. Therefore, locking in, investing in and promoting active travel should be a cornerstone of sustainability strategies, policies and planning to meet our very challenging sustainable development goals that are unlikely to be met without significant mode shift to sustainable transport," the authors wrote in their study.
Currently, bikes and electric bikes make up only 6% of the miles traveled in the world's cities, says The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). So, there is a lot of room to cut transportation emissions. In order to facilitate bike transit and increase its usage, the ITDP recommends several policies including:
- 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