Your city can’t miss the e-bike revolution

Some mistakes are irreversible, and some are quite tame, all of them are opportunities to learn. We’ll see if city planners can learn from the mistakes of their forbearers. As virtually everyone is pushing for a transition to electric vehicles, it’s an opportunity to right the mistake of fossil fuels in cities.

Of the 103 U.S. mayors surveyed, 55% believed “all-electric vehicles” were the most promising technology from a list of 20 options presented to them.

But it’s also an opportunity to fix the mistakes of car-centric cities. The electric vehicles that are most sustainable and most compatible with a greater quality of life aren’t cars, they are bicycles. So it’s quite disheartening to see that so many American politicians and planners are missing the e-bike revolution and releasing reports that don’t even mention e-bikes. Less so in Europe, where it’s a better known solution:

“E-bikes can enable alternatives ways to travel to the private car for people living in urban, suburban and rural areas, where the public transport network can be sparse and infrequent.”

Thankfully, other studies prove the importance of e-bikes and even show that it’s not only in city cores that they can be useful.

[The study] “E-Bikes and their capability to reduce car CO2 emissions,” finds that e-bikes could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly and that the “e-bike carbon reduction capability is greatest in rural areas.” […]

Study authors Ian Philips, Jillian Anable, and Tim Chatteron assume the maximum distance people would be willing to do on an e-bike is 20 kilometers (12.42 miles), which may be enough for someone in rural England to get to a town but won’t do much in rural North America.

Don’t forget that, while people often assume that e-bikes are just a ‘lazier’ way of biking, they are actually mostly used for lengthening rides. In other words, not for an easier 4km ride, but for a non-sweaty 10km ride.

That’s a game-changer because, as Pew Research shows:

[T]he vast majority of Americans live in urban and suburban areas now, which puts 86% of the American population within range of e-bike use and the same logic applies: Suburban drivers travel longer distances by car, so their use of an e-bike instead will reduce CO2 emissions more dramatically than urban e-bike users.

As the article shows, with the right approach for infrastructure, pushing for a change focused on e-bikes instead of electric cars would be the faster and fairer approach to “try to reduce the number of cars and make space for the safe and secure use of bikes and e-bikes.”

The conclusion remains that from any basis of comparison, be it speed of rollout, cost, equity, safety, the space taken for driving or parking, embodied carbon or operating energy, e-bikes beat e-cars for a majority of the population.

Let’s not make the same mistakes again.