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Cycling for All
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Cycling for All

UCI co-funded research quantifies potential savings of a worldwide cycling culture

Copenhagen, a bike-friendly city
Copenhagen, a bike-friendly city

The huge potential for cycling as a form of transport has been revealed thanks to research funded by the UCI. Getting more people cycling rather than driving could save up to 10% of global urban transport emissions of carbon dioxide and up to $25 trillion in the cost of infrastructure by 2050, the report found.

UCI joined the European Cyclists’ Federation and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association in commissioning the project, written by the University of California, Davis and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

"Cycling is a crucial means of transport for millions of people around the world,” said UCI President Brian Cookson. “We are delighted to have co-funded this report which demonstrates that, if more governments followed good examples like the Netherlands and Denmark to make their cities better for cycling, we’d see huge increases in the quality of life in those cities, lower carbon emissions and reduced costs of transport.”

A shift to cycling would require substantial changes to the way that cities were run and the way new cities were constructed: better bike infrastructure, laws to give priority to cyclists and greater restraint on private motor traffic would be necessary to obtain the benefits of cycling. 

A shift to cycling

The study analysed almost 1000 cities around the world to establish, for the first time, existing levels of cycling around the world. The authors found that on average 6% of all travel was made by bike, ranging from around 1% in North America and Australia to around 25% in many cities in the Netherlands, China and Japan. By 2030, given stronger policy measures, cycling could reach 11% of global travel demand, and 14% by 2050, saving billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the process. 

These findings will prove crucial in making the case that cycling should be given greater consideration in future investments in climate and development policies, and will be presented by the European Cyclists’ Federation and the authors of the report at the global conference on climate change in Paris in December.  

Modelling future scenarios of cycle use

Using scenarios from the International Energy Agency, the study outlined the expected increase in urban transport likely to arise as the world’s population swells to at least 9 billion by the middle of the century, of which 70% will live in cities. This ‘Business as Usual’ scenario shows energy demand from transport soaring, as many people currently living in cities in the developing world shift from foot- and bike-based transport based to cars.

This pessimistic vision of the future – in which cycling loses ground to driving in many cities around the world – need not necessarily become reality. For this, investment would need to be made in: better conditions for cycling, integration of cycling with public transport, stronger land use planning and restraint of private car use.

To test what effect such an alternative future might hold, a second, ‘High Shift to Cycling’ scenario was developed by the authors, based on cities in each region reaching levels of cycling comparable to that already achieved in many cities. In the USA, for instance, this would mean around 9% of trips being made by bike by 2030, of which almost half would come from an increase in electric bike usage alone.

The effect of a ‘High Shift to Cycling’ scenario would be to cut carbon dioxide emissions worldwide from urban transport by 46% by 2050, with cycling alone contributing 10% - over a fifth of the total savings on carbon dioxide emissions. The remainder comes from changes to engine efficiency and a shift to public transport. Savings of around $25 trillion could be achieved through obviating the need for new major highways, parking facilities and the maintenance of existing infrastructure to accommodate forecast growth in road traffic.

Protected bike lane in Seattle, USA

Besides the environmental benefits, bikes present other advantages:

  • They are efficient, requiring little infrastructure: a car typically requires 7 times more space than a bike;
  • They travel at lower speeds, increasing safety for other road users;
  • They confer huge benefits on their users, who become more physically active.

The report takes particular note of the importance of electric bikes in future mobility patterns. Electric bikes already form a very significant part of the market in countries with high cycle use, such as the Netherlands, Germany and China. They are often used to make longer trips, thereby competing with the car or public transport options. Already, 50% of all urban trips made are under 10kms, an achievable distance for most people, particularly with an electrically assisted bike.

How to achieve a ‘High Shift to Cycling’

As part of the report the authors set out the following recommendations to achieve a global shift to cycling: 

  • Rapidly develop cycling and e-bike infrastructure on a large scale;
  • Implement bike share schemes in large and medium-size cities, prioritising connections to transit;
  • Revise laws and enforcement practices to better protect people cycling and walking;
  • Invest in walking facilities and public transport to create a menu of non-motorised transport options that can be combined to accommodate a wide variety of trips;
  • Coordinate metropolitan transport and land-use plans, so that all new investments result in more cycling, walking, and public transit trips and fewer trips by motorized vehicles;
  • Repeal policies that subsidize additional motor vehicle use, such as minimum parking requirements, free on-street parking, and fuel subsidies;
  • Encourage cycling and active transport via pricing policies and information campaigns;
  • Adopt policies such as congestion pricing, other fees to charge a price for driving that accounts for negative externalities; and
  • Dedicate fuel taxes, driving fees and other transport-system revenues towards investment in sustainable transport.

Full study

Executive summary + infographics

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