● Is cycling the litmus test on how serious we are about reducing greenhouse gases?

Now that the Paris Accord on climate change is a done deal, there’s a lot of talk about “now the real work begins”, and how people are going to have to change their driving habits, buy more electric cars, better insulate their houses, and even use less electricity in their homes.

Largely absent from this mix is the need to get more people on their bicycles. This is particularly odd because in most jurisdictions, the largest, or second largest, source of greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector, the bulk of which comes from motor vehicles on our roads. At the same time, we know that one of the most inexpensive and effective ways to lower carbon emissions in this sector is to get more people to use bicycles for basic transportation needs, especially for relatively short distances in urban areas.

A 2011 European study estimated that a person traveling one kilometre in a car emits 250 grams more carbon dioxide than someone riding the same distance on a bicycle. According to this study, the EU could meet 50% of is target for reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector if people in all parts of Europe cycled five kilometres a day instead of using their cars. There was another study floating around the Paris conference by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and the University of California, Davis, that came to similar conclusions.

The cost effectiveness of using cycling to combat climate change can be found in Portland’s experience in investing in bicycle infrastructure. In a little over 17 years, Portland, Oregon, went from nowhere to become the premier cycling city in the States. It has one of the highest rates of bicycle commuters of any of the large urban centers in North America. Portland’s mayor said they did all of this for the “cost of a single mile of freeway”. To many, this seemed to be an outlandish statement, but it was investigated by a journalist and found to be basically true.

With this in mind, you would think that the politicians would race home from the Paris conference touting cycling as one of the more important tools for dealing with climate change. Up to now, hardly a peep about cycling, except for a passing reference in one or two articles in the media.

If they are serious about climate change, politicians are going to have to realize that well meaning provincial or municipal ‘cycling strategies’ that are funded with a little pocket change just won’t cut it anymore. Governments are going to have to set aside significant resources for bicycle infrastructure, and be ready to add a whole new transportation network in our cities in the form of separate bike lanes and related parking facilities. They’re also going to have to change legislation to make roads less car-centric, and to set ambitious targets for getting more people to bicycle to work.

In other words, there is going to have to be a subtle but important transformation in how governments perceive cycling. Instead of viewing it as a ‘nice activity’ that just happens to be healthy, environment friendly, and helpful in reducing road congestion, they are going to have to recognize cycling as one of the more important tools in their arsenal for fighting climate change. Needless to say, cycling will have to be funded accordingly.

This is going to require a bit of money, maybe a twentyfold or even a thirtyfold increase in small amount of funding currently devoted to cycling. If this sounds like a lot, consider that in Ontario, for example, the Auditor-General found that due to a number of bad political decisions, people will be paying $7.8 billion extra for electricity every year for the next 17 years. Think of what could be accomplished if only a small faction of this was spent on bicycle infrastructure projects.

Given the need to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, and the cost effectiveness of cycling for doing so, it seems we have the perfect litmus test to see how serious governments, and the population in general, are about reducing greenhouse gases. If we are serious about this, expect to see cycling take on a whole new importance as a means of transportation in the coming years.


3 Comments on ● Is cycling the litmus test on how serious we are about reducing greenhouse gases?

  1. Well, it seems that people are still having a difficult time seeing cycling for what it is; a highly cost-effective way of fighting climate change.

    For example, on January 20, 2016, an independent think tank (CIGI) held a public panel in Ottawa on what Canada could be doing about climate change. Needless to say, there was a panel of experts, and lots of talk about meeting targets, the need for more mass transportation, and relying on innovation to provide solutions (e.g. electric cars, fuel cells, etc).

    But there wasn’t a peep about cycling. Strange, when you stop to think that cycling is an existing option that is relatively inexpensive to implement and highly effective at reducing carbon emissions.

  2. thus, I’ve given up on the ecological movement… let people sit in their own sht… people won’t change until they have to change. Till that time they will party until their own misfortunes are right under their rear end. Until that time, politicians will keep bailing out the weak and those that complain endlessly about their laziness. Those that try will be up against a big brick wall for the fools are dancing the night away.

    thus, sit back and enjoy the show.

  3. ah but Portland OR refused/redirected “big build” cash in the 70s… that was the key that changed the land!

    the big build handed out millions upon millions to cities to build more highways, Portland took that money and invested it into bike paths and railway transit. Thus, to this day they are known for their “bike friendly” city and exporting of railway transit.

    with the coming of cheap oil, don’t expect any changes any time soon. When times are easy, people get lazy. Things don’t change. People only evolve and change when change is required. Thus, no fire under butt, don’t expect people to change. People love to btch about things though, the more they btch the lazier we get. Politicians are about saving face, not being good managers. A good manager would shut the door to cheap middle east oil to avoid further conflict and utilize our more expensive oil for the time being until we can convert to some alternative means or change our bad habits/ways… Until that time, don’t expect many to change.

    But, once the oil reserves in the middle east dry up… expect more terrorism (deviation between rich and poor grows tremendously) and higher prices as oil will skyrocket again. 7 billion people on the planet who all want to live like americans (2-3 big cars, cheap fuel, 2400 sqft homes etc…). It ain’t gonna last – cheap oil.

    Until that time, don’t expect much.

    we’re lucky in ottawa, that some fight for the massive bike paths, bike lanes etc… cause a good portion of ottawa are lazy and much prefer hauling around their carcass in an extra 3000lbs of skeleton. We are now much much larger than any dinosaur was. For we house ourselves in 2400sqft homes with 3000lb cars… that’s a huge huge skeleton that we need to keep warm. Requires huge energy with a huge footprint of burning potential energy (oil for example)… with this comes side effects… can’t escape the physical/biological/chemical properties/laws of the planet no matter what the media/politicians/big oil says…

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