All eyes have been on world leaders as they gathered in Glasgow to map a global response to our climate emergency over the last week. With current commitments way off target, we need radical change to be in with a chance of reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030. But COP26 seems to be more interested in showcasing Formula E cars than talking about the clear solution: e-bikes.
As the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, transportation has rightly taken up much of the conversation at COP26. But just as they do in our cities, cars are occupying more than their fair share of space. Electric cars have about as much chance of solving our climate emergency as flying cars have of replacing airplanes. So, why is no one talking about the power the e-bike has to transform our cities for the better? It’s time to flip the mindset and focus on the tools we have at our disposal right now.
The answer’s right in front of us. It’s time to think bike first, fast.
The discussions at COP26 have highlighted our obsession with cars. No time has been given to discuss e-bikes – in fact, there wasn’t even the infrastructure in place to allow bikes on the train specifically put on as the climate-conscious travel option for the event. This preferential treatment given to cars trickles down to legislation too: in the US, the government wants to give out eight times more cash to spur electric car adoption, even though e-bikes create 30-60% less pollution.
We don’t lack enough space to create better public spaces for city-dwellers. We lack imagination. E-bikes are the most viable solution for creating better cities, and for making the switch fast. Biking makes for a safer, healthier, and a more playful, enjoyable way of getting around. E-bikes are faster than cars on congested urban streets, and most importantly they’re low emission. A study on the benefits of active travel estimates that if just one in five urban residents permanently switched to biking over the next few years, it would cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%. And we could lose the street-blocking, air-polluting goods and services vehicles cluttering our neighborhoods too: e-cargo bikes cut carbon emissions by 90% compared with diesel vans.
It’s time we made cars history
Currently, fewer than 5% of new cars produced and sold are electric, meaning 95% run on diesel or petrol. Making up this percentage will take time and resources – and that’s exactly what we’re running out of, fast. Approximately 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes – a number that won’t change from people driving electric instead. With more than half of all road traffic deaths affecting pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, the only way to improve safety on our city’s streets is to improve infrastructure and design roads with all road users in mind. That means more bike lanes, footpaths, safe crossing points, and fewer private cars in cities. It’s time to disrupt the hierarchy on the roads so transportation in cities benefits everyone, not just motorists.
Cars – electric or not – also take up a colossal amount of our finite space in cities all over the world. It’s time they stopped being given the lion’s share of space, and we reclaim it for all the pedestrians, cyclists, runners...roller skaters... Earlier this year, we supported the Berlin Autofrei initiative which campaigns to transform Berlin’s streets within the S-Bahn-Ring into car-reduced spaces – this is just one example of how radical change is supported by local communities to bring a brighter future for their city.
The solution lies not in changing the way we drive, but in changing the fact that we drive at all. If we want to make a difference, the focus should be on diversifying modes of transport – including e-bikes and electric mass transit. The way forward is clear: it’s time we left cars behind. That’s why we’re calling on policy-makers at COP26 and beyond to boost global biking levels as the most efficient way to combat our climate emergency.
ECF and a global coalition of over 60 pro-cycling organisations have published an open letter calling on governments to commit to focussing on biking to tackle the climate crisis. We stand behind this letter and call on NGOs and pro-cycling associations to get involved.
Do you live in London? Join the movement and make a difference to the future of our cities by supporting the #BikeIsBest campaign, a new energetic campaign about the benefits of more people cycling in the UK.