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Cutting urban emissions, it’s like riding a bike

Choosing walking, cycling or e-biking over a car trip just one day a week could help fight climate change.

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Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment
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Can greenhouse gas emissions targets be met? Not unless we take a decisive step away from motorised transport, a new study suggests. In fact, the EU-backed study has demonstrated that personal carbon emissions in cities can be significantly reduced simply by replacing a car journey with walking, cycling or e-biking. Published in the journal ‘Global Environmental Change’, the research shows that shifting to active travel – walking, cycling and e-biking – could cut personal CO2 emissions from transport by as much as a quarter. What’s more, it even applies to European cities where walking and cycling is already quite common. Supported by the EU-funded PASTA project, the study was focused on seven European cities: Antwerp (Belgium), Barcelona (Spain), London, (United Kingdom), Orebro (Sweden), Rome (Italy), Vienna (Austria) and Zurich (Switzerland). Data was collected on 1 849 participants living in these cities to determine how changes to active travel, the main mode of transport chosen and cycling frequency affected mobility-related life-cycle CO2 emissions. “By following nearly 2,000 urban dwellers over time, we found that those who switch just one trip per day from car driving to cycling reduce their carbon footprint by about 0.5 tonnes over a year, representing a substantial share of average per capita CO2 emissions,” stated lead author Dr Christian Brand of PASTA project partner University of Oxford in a news item posted on the university website. “If just 10% of the population were to change travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around 4% of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel.”

Benefits of active travel

The largest benefits, the researchers found, were derived from shifts from car to active travel for business purposes, followed by social and recreational trips and commuting to work or place of study. The changes to commuting emissions were more noticeable in younger people who lived closer to work and farther away from a public transport station. “Our findings suggest that, even if not all car trips could be substituted by bicycle trips, the potential for decreasing emissions is huge,” observed Dr Brand. As stated in the news item, the benefits of active travel are already attested by the fact that people who currently cycle have 84 % lower C02 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists. According to Dr Brand, “[a] typical response to the climate crisis is to ‘do something’, such as planting more trees, or switching to electric vehicles. While these are important and effective, they are neither sufficient nor fast enough to meet our ambitious climate targets.” The lead author’s solution is “[d]oing more of a good thing combined with doing less of a bad thing – and doing it now,” which he says “is much more compliant with a ‘net zero’ pathway and preserving our ‘perfect planet’s’ and our own futures.” Following the PASTA (PHYSICAL ACTIVITY THROUGH SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT APPROACHES) study’s findings, co-author Dr Audrey de Nazelle of project partner Imperial College London shared her ideas for promoting active travel in an article posted on the ‘Mirage News’ website. “To improve active travel take-up, cities across the world will need to increase investment in high-quality infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and incorporate policy and planning concepts that require a fairly radical rethink of our cities.” For more information, please see: PASTA project website


PASTA, emission, active travel, transport, city, car, cycling, walking, e-biking

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