The new report also finds that the shift could save society more than $24 trillion.
“This is the first report that quantifies the potential carbon dioxide and cost savings associated with a worldwide shift toward much greater use of cycling in urban areas,” says report coauthor Lew Fulton, co-director of the STEPS Program at the University of California, Davis, Institute of Transportation Studies.
“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.”
Currently, cycling accounts for about 6 percent of urban trips worldwide, more than half of which occurs in China, Japan, and a few European countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark. In the United States and Canada, only 1 percent of urban trips are by bicycle.
According to the study, the right mix of investments and public policies can bring bikes and e-bikes to cover up to 14 percent of urban miles traveled by 2050—ranging from about 25 percent in the Netherlands and China to about 7 percent in the United States and Canada.
The potential is enormous considering that typically more than half of all urban trips worldwide are less than 6 miles and potentially could be done by bike.
“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,” says coauthor Jacob Mason, transport research and evaluation manager for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy in New York.
“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.”
The Union Cycliste Internationale, the European Cyclists’s Federation, and the Bicycle Suppliers Association supported the research.