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Increasing cycling worldwide could save cities US$24 trillion

If all cities worldwide focused on a “dramatic increase in cycling”, society could save US$24 trillion (AU$33 trillion) between now and 2050, and reduce carbon emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 per cent, a new report has said.

The findings come from a new study carried out by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and the University of California, Davis, which is said to be “the first report that quantifies the potential CO2 and cost-savings associated with a worldwide shift toward much greater use of cycling in urban areas”.

According to the authors, in cities and countries where data is available, typically more than half of all trips are less than 10 kilometres, while in the United States, more than 35 per cent of trips are less than five kilometres. They argue that these short trips are “cyclable” for many, and could unlock “substantial” benefits if travelled by bike or e-bike.

A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario argues that with “the right mix” of investments and public policies at a global, national and municipal level, bikes and e-bikes could account for 14 per cent of urban kilometres by 2050 – ranging from about 25 per cent in the Netherlands and China (where cycling is already popular) to about 11 per cent in the US and Canada.

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The report suggests that this high-cycling global society could be brought about by:

  • rapidly developing cycling and e-bike infrastructure on a large scale
  • implementing bike share programs in large- and medium-sized cities, prioritising connections to transit
  • revising laws and enforcement practices to better protect people cycling and walking
  • investing 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
  • co-ordinating metropolitan transport and land-use plans, so that all new investments result in more cycling, walking, and public transport trips and fewer trips by motorised vehicles
  • repealing policies that subsidise additional motor vehicle use, such as minimum parking requirements, free on-street parking and fuel subsidies
  • encouraging cycling and active transport via pricing policies and information campaigns
  • adopting policies such as congestion pricing, vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) fees, and development impact fees to charge a price for driving that accounts for negative externalities
  • dedicating fuel taxes, driving fees and other transport-system revenues toward investment in sustainable transport.

Co-author Lew Fulton, co-director of the STEPS Program within the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, said: “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.”

Fellow co-author Jacob Mason added: “This study shows the profound impact that cycling can have in developing countries like India and China, where much of the infrastructure has yet to be built.

“Building cities for cycling will not only lead to cleaner air and safer streets – it will save people and governments a substantial amount of money, which can be spent on other things. That’s smart urban policy.”

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