Shifting 10% Of Urban Trips To Cycling Could Save $24 Trillion By 2050

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One key component in the struggle to keep greenhouse gas emissions down is low-carbon transportation, and while there are many high-tech solutions at play in the search for solutions, there is at least one that requires little more than a willingness to change our habits. Well, that and a set of wheels and some physical effort. That climate solution is a decidedly old-school one, and is as simple as riding a bike.

Boosting cycling in cities has been linked to better quality of life, lower costs (both to the individual and to the community), increased local economic activity, reduced CO2 emissions, and better personal and economic health. And that’s not even taking into consideration the amount of urban space that can be reclaimed by shifting to a more bike-centric model. But just how much of a shift to cycling would it take to make a sizable difference.? As it turns out, not much.

According to a new report out from The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), by adopting bicycles and electric bikes for just 10% of urban trips, it would save some $24 trillion between now and 2050, as well as reducing GHG emissions from motor vehicles by about 11%.


That’s a significant percentage, considering that about 6% of urban trips are already being taken by bicycles, and that a much larger percentage could be achieved through a mix of investments and policies. The report, A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario, suggests that bikes and e-bikes can cover up to 14% of urban miles by 2050 with “the right mix” of policies and investments, with some countries, such as the Netherlands and China, being able to shift up to 25% of their “urban kilometers” to pedal-powered transportation.

“This is the first report that quantifies the potential CO2 and cost savings associated with a world-wide shift toward much greater use of cycling in urban areas. The estimated impacts surprised me because they are so large. The costs saved in lower energy use and reducing the need for car travel, new roads, and parking lots through 2050 are substantial.” – Lew Fulton, report co-author and co-director of the STEPS Program within the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis

According to Climate Central, while “other scientists unaffiliated with the report said its methods are solid and shows what role bicycles can play in a warming world,” at least one stressed that while the report itself was valuable, its conclusions should be taken “with a grain of salt” because its calculations of emissions reduction may be “overly aggressive,” and that differing cultural considerations about biking were not included in it.

“Going down the path of the high-shift cycling scenario beckons a larger call toward culture, funding and societal characteristics. Bicycling has widely varying social connotations in some cultures and painting it as a silver bullet that is irrespective of these cultures leaves a lot of distance to cover there.” – Kevin Krizek, director of UC-Boulder’s Environmental Design Building program

Get the full scoop, and download the report, from ITDP: How Cycling Can Save Cities Money and Emissions

Image: ITDP

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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

Derek Markham has 469 posts and counting. See all posts by Derek Markham

25 thoughts on “Shifting 10% Of Urban Trips To Cycling Could Save $24 Trillion By 2050

  • Whilst being laudable in its aims, its pollution savings must be based on something other than electric/renewably powered propulsion which should be well established by then. Why?

  • Not just the Netherlands have good success with bicycling but the city of Vancouver, Canada as well, it is also good for business, increased business in bike friendly areas. Something that has been known in Europe for a long time.

  • EVs trade tailpipes for smoke stacks, this is pedal power. Even an electric bike uses MUCH less energy than an EV. The savings is cost shifting, the money goes into savings or is used elsewhere. The car, oil, tire and repair businesses will feel the shift.

    • “EVs trade tailpipes for smoke stacks,”

      More FUD from you. Perhaps you need to go to the “Fossil Fuels Are Our Friends” website.

      • He makes a valid point though, in this instance.
        A big, heavy car still requires a lot of energy to move it around. Whilst an EV might well have a significantly lower CO2 output than an ICE, especially on a greener grid, you cannot escape the fact that an EV on average, still has a significant carbon footprint.
        Sure, this is likely to improve steadily as grids get greener, and perhaps in 30 years the transformation may be almost complete. Maybe.
        But you could make a HUGE difference right NOW, by simply getting out of the 4-wheeled armchair and onto a bike.
        The carbon footprint of a bike mile is clearly orders of magnitude less than that of ANY car mile. As is the general environmental footprint associated with manufacturing, rubber pollution, disposal, etc etc.
        Despite the fancy new tech and the hoopla surrounding BEVs, the trusty old bicycle wins hands down in any argument about real efficiency.

        We know that a significant proportion of trips can be converted to bikes, with the right urban planning and incentive structures. We know that people would be healthier and happier if they got off their butts occasionally. We know that the quality of life in cities is significantly improved, in all sorts of ways by getting cars off the streets. The only thing lacking is the political will.
        And it doesn’t mean that we can’t simultaneously transition all ICEs to EVs. It’s not an either/or situation. One can cycle AND drive an EV. In fact, you might well discover that cyclists would be some of the most ardent supporters of emission-free vehicles, because they spend a lot of time breathing dirty exhaust fumes.
        But a mile cycled is always going to better (for the planet and everyone on it) than a mile driven, even in a Tesla.

        I don’t quite understand the animosity, to be honest. Why do so many EV proponents seem to disparage cycling as an option? Is it perhaps because cyclists have a rightful claim to the moral high ground that many EV proponents want to reserve for themselves?

  • How about an article on ebike kits or affordable ebikes? All the articles I see on here regarding ebikes are $1k+, but you can retrofit an existing bike for $200-300!

    • They guy behind me used to convert bikes to electric, but the police got him.

      • Why was that?

        • Back in those days there was a 50 watt limit, or whatever it was, on electric bicycles. Anything more and it was technically a motorcycle. And he motorcycled when he should have biked.

          That and the fact that he used to carry a knife around where ever he went for “fixing things”. In retrospect, I’m not actually sure just what it was they got him for. But three police did turn up at my place by accident. Two of them hiding to the side of the door in case I decided to drive a souped up electric bicycle through it instead of just opening it, and a third one waiting where I would have ended up if I’d decided to do a runner off the veranda.

          • The limit now is 750 watts so converting bikes can be done. It is a service not a product to convert bikes anyway.

          • I just looked it up and in Australia we were limited to 200 watts, but now it’s been raised all the way up to a heart stopping 250 watts. But how we will survive the raids of the raids of the rampaging e-bike gangs in the wastelands once they get their hands on such power, I don’t know. I just pray that he’s out there, somewhere in the wastelands – Mad Maxwell.

      • You were on a tandem bicycle?

  • In 35 years we had better be 100% converted to RE anyway, or all the bicycling you do isn’t going to mean squat. Going full RE is an urgent business – and talking about bicycling being an effective anti-pollution device in that time frame seems to me to be thinking that has lost the plot.

    • 35 years seems like a reasonable and possible timeframe, but I doubt that we will ever reach 100%. I also doubt the need to. 80 or 90 percent would be a tremendous improvement.

      • Why not? Thirty-five years is a long, long time. Time enough to build superchargers to cover what we now cover with gas stations.

        Might there be a need to 1% or 2% of our driving on liquid fuels? Perhaps, bit it’s hard to imagine why. It will be easier to transport solar or wind hardware to remote places than large amounts of fuel. The Army is already working with solar powering its forward bases.

        • I was thinking more of ag equipment, flight, heating and similar applications. Liquid or gaseous fuels will probably still be used if not necessarily fossil derived. Personal transportation is the easy part.

          • Ag – combination of battery and biofuel. The high torque of electric engines would be great for many ag applications.

            Flight – move medium length flight to high speed rail. Biofuel the rest.
            Those are doable now. There are two possible other options. At about 400 Wh/kg we can fly on batteries. We’re over halfway to 400 Wh/kG, Panasonic/Tesla is at 233 Wh/kg. One doubling. History says ten years
            The golden ring – Hyperloop. Move 90% to a all renewable energy powered, faster, more comfortable, more convenient form of travel than flying. Tupe to Anchorage, hop to mainland Asia by air (biofuel) or from NE Canada to Europe. Get back in the tube.

            Heating – better insulated buildings and heat pumps.

          • Possibilities are not enough. It still would have to make economic sense and would require a lot of time to implement.
            If we stopped building ICE cars today and built only electric at the same rate, it would still take about 20 years to replace the ICEs. Since we are still quite a few years from producing only electric, I think 45 years may be a minimum.
            I see farmers today that are still using some of their 50 year old equipment. They are a pragmatic bunch and will take considerable convincing before making drastic changes.
            I am thinking it would take even longer to raise capital. obtain right of ways, get permitting and international agreements, and actually build trackage and rolling stock for high speed trains.

            Although a lot can be done to improve the efficiency of existing housing, cost to the average homeowner gets in the way, as well as motivation. Since the lifespan of a well built house should be 200 years, total replacement will take a long while.
            I am sure I will not be here to see how things finally shake out, but whatever the outcome, I am sure the next 50 years will be interesting.
            Everything you say is possible and some is even probable but I won’t hold my breath.

          • Don’t ignore the fact that each year we will experience more and more extreme weather and sea level rise from climate change. The need to take decisive action will become more and more obvious.

            And at the same time we will almost certainly invent new ways to lower fossil fuel use, to do the job at a lower cost.

            We’ll want it more and it will cost us less.

          • I am not sure you can support the statement about extreme weather but sea level rise is probably a given, to some degree.
            I would like to point out, though, that a move to electric vehicles and biofuel may not be the answer.
            Technology today, means that most people probably do not have to travel much. It is possible to enjoy the world from your armchair through the internet. Virtual reality technology could make that practically indistinguishable from actually being there. Many people can work from home. It is not even necessary to travel to shop. More and more, companies are delivering to your door by low impact methods.
            Simply using computers in cars to force hypermiling driving techniques, or increasing gas mileage in other ways could have a tremendous impact.
            Increasing the longevity of vehicles and other consumer products would also help a lot.
            These are just a few possibilities. They require attitude and lifestyle changes, but that is a given anyway, if catastrophic climate change becomes a reality.

          • One of the things that happens as the planet warms is that the warmer air holds more moisture. When the warm, moist air collides with a cold front the moisture precipitates out.

            I don’t know if you’ve paid attention to recent events such as Australia flooding an area as large as France or massive flooding in parts of Pakistan where it hardly ever rains.

            I’ll give you a picture of what we’re experiencing in terms of large single day rainfalls in the US.


          • To think that people are going to make significant changes in lifestyle in order to limit climate change is foolish. A few will, most won’t. Or won’t until climate change might become extremely intense. In other words, when it would be too late.

            We have to find ways to eliminate greenhouse gases at affordable prices and in ways that don’t require people to make significant lifestyle changes.

            EVs get us the personal transportation portion. They’ll be cheaper to own/operate and more comfortable/convenient. A massive win-win.

            Solar and wind along with other RE take care of the electricity problem. After a few years electricity should be cheaper and the air cleaner. Another massive win-win.

            Change out coolants in refers and AC? People don’t notice.

            Move to LEDs? People are rapidly getting over the purchase price difference and understanding how quickly that money is being returned.

            And on it goes….

    • It’s not an either/or situation. One can convert to R.E. AND have bicycles.
      Whilst we spend the next 35 years trying to transition the world, the current fleet of cars is still spewing out its contribution to the global toxic brew. It is an urgent problem, and there is no immediate technological solution. But there are simple things we can do right NOW that can make a significant difference.
      Every single mile that is traveled by bike (or on foot, or public transport) is one less mile in a car. From an environmental perspective, the best car is not an EV. The best car is no car at all.

      And why would TALKING about bicycling represent a threat to anyone? Is getting people onto bicycles somehow going to prevent RE adoption? I doubt it. Some of the most well-informed and passionate environmental advocates I’ve met are also cyclists.

      Technology on its own isn’t going to solve the world’s problems. Every time people have thought that some new technology would come along to save us, it has ended badly. (The law of unintended consequences, and all that.)
      Even if we could wave a magic wand and transition 100% to R.E. tomorrow, we still face some very serious environmental challenges.
      Nine billion people, all trying to live a consumerist Western lifestyle, is completely unsustainable, irrespective of the energy sources we choose.

      A philosophical transition is also required. To a lifestyle that is less focused on “stuff”, one that priorities quality over quantity. The world would be a much better place if there were fewer cars in it. If getting people onto bicycles helps to make it happen, that is a reason to celebrate, methinks.

      • My objection is the lack of thought that we see when we speak of a solution for AGW. Many people only go so far as to seek small personal solution, or to accept the way that AGW solutions are almost all corporate-driven.

        Riding a bike, or turning down your thermostat, or doing with less, or putting some PV panels on your roof is not enough. It is not nearly enough. The proper entity to tackle this enormous problem is government. Huge national programs that do NOT have to be corporate or profit driven.

        We can sit back, not think very much, and let things sort of solve themselves (for-profit players will move in), or we can think bigger. We can have our cake and eat it too – we could have extremely abundant clean energy and not be forced to pay through the nose for it. I would rather have plenty of cheap energy to raise the standard of living for everyone.

        If a homeowner can enjoy free electricity after he has payed off his rooftop system costs, so can a nation. But that means we need to not settle for less than a new National Renewable Energy Utility System.

  • I have already shifted >80% of my urban trips to bicycle. Shifted might not be the right word, because for as along as I remember I mainly used the bicycle for urban transport.

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