Mother Earth News Blogs >

Green Transportation
Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

Benefits of Electric-Run School Buses

school busCurrently, there are about 480,000 school buses operating today in the United States. These school buses alone contribute 5.3 million tons of climate-altering pollution every year. If schools in America were to swap out all of these school buses with electric-powered replacements, it would not only have numerous environmental benefits, but it would also have many health benefits for the students who take those school buses every week.

A new report, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthy Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air”, from Environment America Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and Frontier Group shows that replacing all school buses in America with an electric-powered model would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off of the road, saving millions of tons of pollution annually.

Not only do these hundreds of thousands of buses have terrible effects on the environmental, they also have harmful health consequences for the students riding the bus every day. Approximately 95 percent of school buses run on diesel fuel, which is proven to cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma.

"Pollution from school buses is harming our children's health and contributing excessively to global warming,” said Andrea McGimsey, Environment America Global Warming Director. "Our research shows that whether they're boarding the bus or on the bus, kids are exposed to toxic air in high concentrations. Electrifying our buses is a common-sense solution for communities across the nation.”

These electric school buses are already available for schools to consider. They are cleaner, healthier, and often cheaper for schools to purchase in place of diesel-fueled buses in the long run. Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, which could help reduce kids’ exposure to toxic fumes on a daily basis.

"When we put our kids on a school bus we rely on these buses for safe transportation,” said Jeff Robinson, director of U.S. PIRG’s transportation program. “We have the technology to avoid these negative repercussions, so why wouldn’t we drive toward a cleaner future?”


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

New York City Bans Cars in Central Park

central parkAs one of the most visited outdoor spaces in the United States, Central Park is one of the most famous landmarks of New York City. Every year, 40 million people visit the park for its charm and history. The park was originally established in 1857, but did not become popular until it was redesigned at the start of the 20th century.

During this redesign, led by Robert Moses, several roadways were added inside of the park, which helped to popularize the park for Manhattan residents, and made for a shortcut cross the park for drivers and pedestrians alike.

However, beginning June 27 of this year, privately owned automobiles will not be permitted to drive through the roads of Central Park. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio previously banned private automobiles from driving through the northern end of the park in 2015, this new ban will prevent vehicles anywhere in the entire park.

“Our parks are for people, not cars,” de Blasio told the press. “For more than a century, cars have turned parts of the world’s most iconic park into a highway. Today we take it back. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of the millions of parents, children, and visitors who flock to Central Park.”

This ban will not apply to emergency vehicles, nor will it have any impact on vehicles using the four below-grade crosstown routes that were part of its original design.

This has not been the only case of cities restricting cars from urban parks in recent years. Cities such as London, Paris, and several cities in Germany have cracked down on private vehicle access to urban parks, putting time and car-size restrictions in place. Even the efforts to remove cars from Central Park has been underway for over 5 decades, slowly adding more and more restrictions over the years that have led to this complete ban.

The reactions of New Yorkers to this ban have been mixed. Many believe that this new ban will make the park safer and more enjoyable for children and families, while many – particularly cab and Uber drivers – believe that this will hurt their profits. Those who are happy about this change are excited that New York City is taking steps to become a cleaner, healthier, and environmentally friendly city.


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Green? Exploring the Environmental Impacts

Vehicles Sensors STreet Curb

Photo by Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

It’s no secret that cars are one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas-driven climate change. Given that fact, in the past five years, there’s been a significant push from automakers to make cars more efficient. But during that same time period, there’ve also huge advances made in semi-autonomous and autonomous tech.

This technology gives us a taste of what will come in the future. But while these innovations bring with them substantial safety improvements, how much impact will they have on the amount of energy consumed by cars?

This question is now being studied in earnest. The list of companies who are chasing self-driving dreams has grown from the famous Google SUVs just five years ago. But with many local governments beginning to implement regulations around self-driving cars, car manufacturers few places to test them on real roads.

And until more “real-life” tests can be performed, it will be difficult to gauge how much impact — if any — self-driving cars will have on the environment. However, thanks to several states introducing legislation friendly to self-driving cars, new studies are looking to answer just that.

But First, What Makes a Car Self-Driving?

Self-driving cars (or fully autonomous cars) are more than just vehicles that can keep themselves in a lane or stop with traffic. This technology (known as semi-autonomous) already exists today – Tesla's AutoPilot and Honda Sensing, for example. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) considers this "Partial Automation."

The next phase is "Conditional Automation," where a driver needs to be in the car, but the car does most of the driving on its own. The final phase is "Full Automation," in which vehicles are completely self-driving. No driver presence is required, and the vehicle manages all driving functions.

Future of Mobility Illustration

Photo by BreezyInt/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Environment

When considering the way self-driving cars will impact the environment, we have to first look at the way they will change driving. The NHTSA estimates that Americans spent almost 7 billion hours stuck in traffic during 2014, a number which has likely only increased.

Self-driving cars use connected technology to manage traffic congestion, reducing or eliminating the time we spend idling in gridlock. The NHTSA also reports that 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. In addition to saving lives, self-driving cars could reduce the waste byproduct these collisions send to landfills.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are several other ways self-driving vehicles could impact the environment.

• Because self-driving cars tend to crash less, vehicles can become much lighter as some older safety technology is removed, potentially reducing energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.

• They also last longer, decreasing the environmental impact of producing a new car.

• Plus, NREL estimates a 12 to 20 percent decrease in vehicle use thanks to increased occupancy.

And self-driving cars are capable of driving much more efficiently than human drivers, which could result in a 10 to 25 percent reduction in energy use (again, according to the NREL).

However, the NREL report also raises some concerns about potential negative environmental impacts. Self-driving cars make it possible for older generations and people with prohibitive disabilities to drive. While improved mobility will open opportunities for these groups, it will also mean more people — and vehicles — will be on the roadways.

Self-driving cars might also mean that people will drive more often and for longer periods of time. Combining these factors could cause a 50 percent increase in usage as well as a significant increase in energy consumption. Highly efficient routing and highway driving will likely increase the average speed at which vehicles travel. Over 50 mph, drag forces on a vehicle cause it to burn more fuel, and the faster the speed, the more energy is used.

Self Driving Semi Illustration

Photo by Chesky/Shutterstock. Provided by author.

Texas Helps Lead the Way with Green Autonomous Vehicles

In 2017, Texas was one of 10 states chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation to be designated a national Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground, allowing researchers and manufacturers an open place to test self-driving vehicles.

This is a big deal because it gives researchers and innovators alike a chance to review impacts automation may have on the environment. In Texas, several universities and organizations have formed a partnership with a focus on studying and proving these effects.

There are already real-world results coming out of these proving grounds. In July 2016, TTI — along with federal and state transportation authorities — released the results of tests with self-driving tech and truck platooning. Using a partially autonomous truck, they were able to determine that this method of transportation reduced fuel consumption by 12 percent.

How, you ask? By maximizing the drafting effect, fuel consumption is lowered. This results in fewer carbon emissions and reduced operating costs. With a highly efficient, fully self-driving truck, truck platooning could have big impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption in the long run.

In addition to Texas, nine other locations across the United States were chosen for testing. A proving ground in Pittsburg is being used by companies like Uber. In Michigan, the home of the automobile in North America, a 335-acre proving ground was built to explore and certify self-driving vehicles. There are additional proving grounds in Wisconsin, California, Iowa and Central Florida. Plus, there's a proving ground located at the U.S. Army Aberdeen base with a focus on self-driving military technology.

These spaces provide a varied environment for researchers to study the ways self-driving cars will change the industry and become more environmentally-friendly. Many of the proving grounds are still in their infancy, with testing only just beginning.

Ultimately, the effects may only be clear once self-driving cars become more common and theories like platooning are tested on real streets and highways. Until then, the results of testing at U.S. proving grounds — and others like them around the world — will give us a glimpse at how self-driving cars will impact the environment.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the director of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to product and service innovation. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about how technology — including autonomous cars — will impact the insurance industry. He is also a mobile guru, aspiring yogi and mixed martial artist. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Norway Sees Drastic Increase in Hybrid Vehicle Registrations

carIn 2017, Norway saw a major increase in the number of hybrid and plug-in vehicles that were being registered. New data from the independent Norwegian Road Federation (OFV) has revealed that over half of the new vehicles registered in the country in 2017 were for plug-in electric cars or hybrids, surpassing fossil fuel-run cars for the first time anywhere in the world. Although this is great progress, Norway’s goal is for the country to have only 100 percent electric cars sold in the country by the year 2025.

No other country is this close to possibly eliminating fossil fuel vehicles on the road. Even though hybrids still partially use fossil fuels – they just use the fuel more efficiently – the market is still beginning to tip in favor of ecofriendly vehicles.

The Norwegian EV Association has tracked this progress of the growth of electric vehicles (EVs) actively on the roads, and have provided the statistics and facts below:

• There are now more than 140,000 fully electric cars on Norwegian roads; when plug-in hybrids are added, the number of electric cars surpasses 200,000.

• The two most popular cars in Norway in 2017 were fully electric cars, according to the Association’s examination of the 20 most popular passenger cars in Norway.

• In total, 6 of the top 20 cars were fully electric, 4 were plug-in hybrids, and only 6 of the 20 are not available as a plug-in or hybrid.

A reason for this spike in electric vehicles registrations could be explained by the country’s incentives for citizens to turn away from fossil fuel cars. Norway offers numerous tax exemptions and free parking and highway tolls among other benefits for electric car drivers. Norway also a smaller population than its neighbors, making it a bit easier and manageable to switch the entire country over to electric transportation.

Norway has worked hard and pushed the make the country an ecofriendly society, and hopes that soon, more countries will be able to follow their example and progress.


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Phase 2 and Solarrolla

The times they are a changin... Since my last blog I have fully dedicated my life to the advancement of solar electric vehicles.

I had talked about the test results of the lithium batteries as well as the result of adding another 1,000 watts of solar to the VW bus in the form of an awning.  Maybe more importantly I was able to test the flexible, much lighter panels, for performance and durability.  Check!

At this point our experience is a 120 mile range and 30 miles per day solar input.

I'm happy the flexible panels worked out since they are 7 pounds compared to almost 40 for a glass framed panel.  Time to phase out the glass....and the weight.

Without the glass to worry about the panels are safer too.  Flexible panels have been advantageous on boats for years now and are making their way to RVs worldwide due to this lightweight, flexible and conforming design.

We promised phase two of the solar electric vw bus would include the lithium batteries and 3,000 watts of solar.  I will hold up my end!

I took an intermediate step in adding just one more 1,000 watt array for  a 2,200 watt total.

And now ladies and gentlemen....It's time for whole enchilada....and a twist of fate that we all will be enjoying this summer and for years to come!!!! I currently have 36 flexible solar panels on the way!  Get ready for the completion of the solar electric VW bus. Using the 3.2-3.4 watt sun power cells sandwiched in a flexible polymer sub-straight, and utilizing the available surface area of a VW transporter roof I can get 1,200 watts.  Now we will have 3 times this! 3,600 watts split up into a center array and two awnings will be fully track-able and give us a potential 100 miles in a little over 2 days.  The awning will need to retract of course during driving...this is the real innovation.

The bus with the second awning

Are you with me?  Well....there's more! If you get a chance take a look at my last blog.  In the picture of burning man you will see a funny looking vehicle with a solar panel on the front of it. I was fortunate to make it to “burning man” this year with my wife.  We took the Solar bus and had an amazing time.  I was thinking before we left for the Nevada desert that it would be fun to have a small electric vehicle to spin around the gathering with....the next day a friend dropped off a scooter that he "thought I could do something with."

"I can and I will!" I replied. I added the 4 extra lithium cells from my bus project, a 100 watt flexible panel on the front and headed to Black Rock City. I didn't have time to get a charge controller on the scooter.  I thought it would take a long time to charge and figured I would just keep an eye on it. The storage turned out to be around 900 watt hours.  As it turned out on the flat the scooter pulled just a few hundred watts. It turned out to be more juice than I could use! During the day the juice went right back in!

I quickly realized that I had something special.

The scooter that started it all...

When I got home I drove it 20 miles and saw it charge right back up in a few hours....what a form of transport!!!!!!!!

I started ordering parts and built my own version of the scooter from the ground up calling it the "Solarrolla". It's made out of an aluminum frame, 3-wheels for stability, a 100 watt flexible solar panel and  comes complete with a waterproof  Bluetooth speaker and phone holder and charger.

Everyone needs a “Solarrolla.”   The scooter is a way I can offer the solar driving experience without all that is entailed with the something as large as the VW bus. I realized the scooter could replace motorcycles in sunny 3rd world countries where pollution is a real problem.  Also the scooter is a quite viable source of energy for lights, music, cell phone charging laptop use and anything else electric.

Get more info at: https://solarrolla.com/

The Solarrolla

So stay tuned for the completion of phase 2 of the solar electric VW bus and the development of Solarrolla! Wanna see even further into the future check out the Estar page on our website!  http://www.solarelectricvwbus.com/estar.html

Photos by Kira Belan

Brett Belan lived off-grid in California for a decade before he and his family moved to Ashland, Oregon. There he co-founding Apparent Energy, an engineering company dedicated to improving our electrical systems. He builds electric vehicles and converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. He's working on a project now called Solarrolla, a solar powered electric scooter. Find out more at: Solar-Electric VW Bushttps://solarrolla.com/ Follow Brett on Facebook and Instagram, and read his article in Home Power magazine. Read all of Brett’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Advocate for Progressive Bike Policy and Infrastructure in Your Community

 

Progressive bike policy offers a number of benefits to personal, environmental, and community health; in my last post, I put the spotlight on Minneapolis-St. Paul, one of the most bike-friendly metropolitan areas in the world that has already reaped the benefits of greater bike utilization and bicycle commuting. But what if your community isn’t so bike-friendly yet? 

Biking alongside traffic can be dangerous even for experienced cyclists, and it is certainly intimidating to those new to biking. Biking on the sidewalk is illegal in some jurisdictions, and it is actually linked to more accidents than road biking, according to the League of American Bicyclists [1]. The Washington Post reports that cyclist-automobile accidents and air pollution can create real dangers that are mitigated by progressive bike infrastructure such as dedicated bike lanes and trails [2].

To recap the community benefits of biking, the United States and much of the developed world is struggling with rising rates of illnesses related to poor diet and lack of exercise. Biking—especially bicycle commuting—is a great way to get your CDC-recommended 2 hours and 30 minutes of weekly exercise [3], and good infrastructure also benefits community members who may not be able to afford a car: The Simple Dollar, a financial planning website, featured an excellent breakdown of the comparative costs of driving, biking, and walking, which also accounted for time and health costs and benefits—and biking was the clear cost-effective winner [4]. Bike infrastructure is also enormously beneficial to local economies, the American League of Bicyclists outlines in its 28-page report on the link between bicycle advocacy and the economy [5].

The benefits of bicycling may not be in question, but local government’s willingness to improve bike infrastructure often is. Here, I’ve collected three community organizing strategies to ensure that your politicians are serving your best interests and the best interests of your community.

Connect with or Start Local Bicyclist Leagues

In addition to providing strength in numbers, bicycle leagues like the League of American Bicyclists often offer toolkits for local activists, and may provide funding and a body of research to help you persuade local politicians. Local leagues may offer even more targeted assistance, including help with interpreting local laws. The League of Michigan Bicyclists even offers an easily generalizable advocacy toolkit [6]! There are also special-interest bicycle leagues, such as the Major Taylor Bicycle Club in Minnesota, for African-American bicyclists [7].

If you don’t have a local league, first check for other types of advocacy organizations. For example, Our Streets MPLS is a Minneapolis-based advocacy organization that supports both pedestrians and bicyclists in advocating for safer infrastructure [8]. If you find that there are no relevant local organizations, consider starting one! The League of American Bicyclists offers a helpful guide on how to do so [9].

Conduct Studies

Local politicians often will not act unless you can provide a plan to reach your goals and concrete evidence to support it. Having a summary of potential costs and benefits at hand can only be an asset to your efforts! Local universities and colleges may be able to help you conduct policy analyses (and are also a source of student volunteers). Think about what types of progressive bike infrastructure would benefit your community most: bike lanes? Off-road bikeways? A bike-share program? Factors such as local climate, average income, and population will all influence the effectiveness of infrastructure.

The University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box program offers an excellent guide to community-based participatory research that will give you a head start on study design, statistical analyses, how to increase participation, and more [10]. Less-formal measures like community surveys, town halls, and focus groups can also help you to determine the needs of your community and the best way to advocate for them.

Hold a Letter-Writing Campaign

While tactics like rallies are also highly effective, I have chosen to highlight letter-writing campaigns because they can be less daunting for new community organizers and involve less of a time commitment from community members. Be sure to enlist as many community members as you can in your campaign: a handful of rogue letters isn’t likely to be taken seriously.

Keeping your campaign focused on a clear “ask”—requesting bike lanes on a certain avenue, for example—is the key to success. Letter-writing campaigns usually involve letters both to news outlets (especially letters to newspaper editors) and politicians. Create a template and a list of addresses for community members to use when writing in, and encourage people to add their own comments about how progressive bike policy would benefit them personally. Consider holding letter-writing events in conference rooms—often available to rent cheaply at local libraries—and provide stamps, envelopes, and other materials. Posting flyers in community centers, places of worship, libraries, schools, and other communal spaces is one way to drum up interest. Letter-writing campaigns can also be coordinated via email.

Letter-writing campaigns can be held at multiple stages in the advocacy process. One campaign might be held at the beginning to request research into better bike policy; another one might be held once all research has been completed in order to spur politicians into action. Letter-writing is often done in conjunction with petitions. The League of Michigan Bicyclists has even more information on organizing successful letter-writing campaigns in their toolkit [11].

The tide is turning towards better bike policy worldwide, and I hope that you can use these tools to bring those policies to your community.

For more information on the benefits of progressive bike policy, see the previous post in this series, “Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area Leads on Progressive Bike Policy.”

References and Further Reading:

[1] “Bike Law University: Sidewalk Riding.” League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from bikeleague.org/content/bike-law-university-sidewalk-riding

[2] “How safe is bike commuting? Perhaps less than you think.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2016/05/12/how-safe-is-bike-commuting-perhaps-less-than-you-think/?utm_term=.a9771368c612

[3] “How much physical activity do adults need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

[4] “Walking, Bicycling, Driving, and Cost-Effectiveness.” The Simple Dollar. Retrieved from www.thesimpledollar.com/walking-bicycling-driving-and-cost-effectiveness/

[5] “Bicycling Means Business: The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure.” League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf

[6] “Advocacy Toolkit.” League of Michigan Bicyclists. Retrieved from www.lmb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=185&Itemid=311

[7] Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota. Retrieved from www.majortaylorminnesota.org/

[8] Our Streets MPLS. Retrieved from www.ourstreetsmpls.org/

[9] "How to Start a Bicycle Club or Advocacy Organization." League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from www.bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/bikeleague/bikeleague.org/members/club/pdfs/how_to_start_a_bicycle_club_AO.pdf

[10] “Community-based Participatory Research.” Community Tool Box. Retrieved from ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/evaluate/evaluation/intervention-research/main

[11] “Letter Writing Campaigns.” League of Michigan Bicyclists. Retrieved from www.lmb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&Itemid=311&id=308%3Aletter-writing-campaigns

Maggie Tiede made the move from small-town Minnesota to the Twin Cities in 2014 in order to attend college. She majors in public health at Hamline University and will graduate in December; in addition to being a student, she works as a writing tutor, public health researcher, and freelance writer. Find her blog on life, health, writing, and reading at www.maggietiede.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

>

The Surprising Future of Bicycling: 12 Reasons Why Its Popularity Will Continue to Soar


Maria Contreras Tebbutt teaches bike safety in Woodland, Calif. Photo by Kate Hoff

The following is from the report The Surprising Future of Bicycling in America. A fundraising campaign is underway to expand the report into a full-scale book.

For too long biking has been viewed skeptically as a white people thing, a big city thing, an ultra-fit athlete thing, a 20-something thing, a warm-weather thing or an upper-middle class thing. And above all else, it's been seen as a guy thing. But guess what? The times, they are a changing. More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, and bicycles have out-sold cars most years in the U.S. since 2003.

Actually, Latinos bike more than any other racial group, followed by Asians and Native Americans. African Americans and whites bike at about the same rate.  Actually, most bicyclists are from low-income households, according to census figures — as many as 49 percent of bike commuters make less than $25,000 a year.

As for other misperceptions, keep in mind that Minneapolis (in chilly Minnesota) and Arlington, VA (in suburban Washington, DC) rank among America’s top towns for biking. And the one place in the U.S. where bikes account for more than 20 percent of traffic on local streets is Davis, CA (pop: 65,000).

Slowly but surely, more U.S. communities are realizing that the future of mobility is bigger than cars. Biking is seen as an attractive, cost effective, healthy and convenient way to get around. Bike commuting tripled in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Portland and Denver from 1990 to 2012, and doubled in many other cities.

This success is changing what people see as possible for life on two wheels. There’s a new push is to make bike-riding more mainstream by creating low-stress routes that conveniently take even inexperienced bicyclists to the places they want to go on networks of protected bike lanes (where riders are safely separated from speeding traffic) and neighborhood greenways (residential streets where bikers and walkers get priority).

But the culture shift in biking is about more than infrastructure. “It’s the transition from a small group of people who strongly identify as bicyclists to a bigger, broader grouping of people who simply ride bikes,” explains Randy Neufeld, a veteran bike activist from Chicago. The music star Beyonce has been known to pedal to some of her own concerts, for example, and the NBA’s Lebron James bikes to his games.

People who don’t ride are perplexed by this boom in biking. But it comes as no surprise to those who do — they know how good it feels to whoosh on a bike, wind in your face, blood pumping to your legs, the landscape unfolding all around. You feel fully alive!

How We Got Here — and Where We Want to Go

“If you look at the bike infrastructure we had 20 years ago and what we have today, it’s mind-boggling,” says John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles. “But we still have a long way to go to make a bike-friendly America,” Burke admits. “This is important for everybody because the bicycle is a simple solution to climate change, congestion and the massive health crisis we have in this nation.”

A quick glance at other nations shows what’s possible. Across the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made on bike — double the rate of the 1980s. Even Canadians bike significantly more than Americans. Montreal and Vancouver are arguably the two top cities for bicycling in North America despite freezing temperatures in one and heavy rainfall in the other. Why? The prevalence of protected bike lanes and other 21st century bike facilities.

Megan Ramey and her daughter Annika ride on a protected bike lane in Boston. Photo by Kyle Ramey

12 Reasons Why Bikes Will Grow in Popularity

Expanding Diversity Among Riders. People of color and riders over 60 are two of the fastest-growing populations of bicyclists. This is a clear sign of bicycling’s shift from an insider club of Lycra-clad hobbyists to a diverse cross-section of Americans who ride for all sorts of reasons — from getting groceries to losing weight to just having fun.

Safer Streets for Kids. In 1969, 40 percent of all children walked or biked to school — by 2001, less than 13 percent did.  Over the same period, rates of childhood obesity soared. That prompted U.S. Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota to add $1.1 billion to the 2005 Transportation Bill to promote Safe Routes to Schools, a variety of projects and programs in all 50 states to make biking and walking less dangerous and more convenient for students K-12. By 2012 (latest figures available), the number of kids biking and walking to school jumped to 16 percent.

More Women Becoming Bike Advocates. Despite biking’s macho man image, almost a third of all trips were taken by women, according to 2009 Federal Highway Administration. That number is very likely to rise in the upcoming count, thanks to streams of women becoming bike advocates — as grassroots activists, transportation professionals and bike industry leaders. One telling statistic confirms this trend. In 1990, about 10 percent of the crowd at the influential Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference were women, remembers Wisconsin bike advocate Kit Keller. At the most recent conference, women outnumbered men in both the audience and among the speakers.

Comfortable, Convenient Bike Routes. Expanding access to biking means moving beyond from stand-alone bike lanes to connected networks that give bicyclists the same ease of mobility that motorists enjoy on roads and pedestrians on sidewalks. That’s how many European nations have achieved big increases in bike ridership over recent decades. This vision — being jumpstarted in the US by Big Jump Project — can already be glimpsed in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Indianapolis, Austin, Calgary and Fort Collins, Colorado.

Bikes Available When You Want Them. Bikeshare systems — where a rental bike is yours at the swipe of a credit card or clicks on a smartphone — have swept across America since 2010. Eighty eight million rides were taken on 42,000 bikes in the 55 largest systems last year, evidence that bikeshare is changing how people — including many who do not own a bike — get around town. Meanwhile in China, a new kind of bikeshare, where bicycles are available everywhere on the streets not just at designated stations, is resurrecting biking on a dramatic scale.

Renee Moore learned to ride at 25, and then Bicycling and the City to get more women on bikes in Washington, DC. Photo by Rakiya Moore

Riding Boosts Our Health. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity like bicycling five days a week based on medical studies showing that it reduces your chance of dementia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and other health threats by at least 40 percent. Enough said.

The Dawn of E-Bikes. This technological innovation — in which riders’ pedaling can be boosted by a rechargeable battery — answers many of the excuses people have for not biking: hills, long distances, sweaty clothes, strong winds, hot weather, cold weather, and not being able to carry things due to weight, says bike activist Randy Neufeld.

Growing Clout of Grassroots Activists. Neighbors across the country are rising up to have a say about the future of their communities. Sick and tired of planning decisions that favor automobiles over people, they advocate solutions that promote biking and walking such as Complete  Streets (roads designed with all users in mind) and Vision Zero (a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities). Many bike advocates are also expanding their vision to emphasize social justice.  “We must also talk about public health, gentrification, people of color, women who feel harassed on the street, older people,” urges Tamika Butler, former director of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition.

Curbing Climate Change. Almost daily headlines remind us that climate disruption is a problem we must fix now. Transportation makes up the second biggest source of greenhouse gases. Seventy-two percent of all trips three mile or less are made by motor vehicles today, the vast majority of which could be biked in less than twenty minutes.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles. Sooner or later driverless cars will dominate traffic on America’s roads, which could result in a surge of bike riders. Research shows 60 percent of Americans would bike regularly if they felt safer on the streets and this new technology can dramatically reduce crashes. Also, autonomous vehicles require far fewer parking places, opening up space in the street for state-of-the-art bikeways.

“It may be that only every third street has cars allowed on it,” muses Gabe Klein, former transportation director in Chicago and Washington. “The choices we make about how autonomous vehicles are regulated are crucial. If we get it wrong, the future is grim for any not in a car,” cautions Andy Clarke, Director of Strategy for Toole Design Group.

The Emergence of Bike Planning and Advocacy as a Profession. Thousands of professionally-trained people are now employed by government, private business and nonprofit organizations to improve biking in America’s communities.

Better Communities — Even for Those Who Don’t Bike. When National Geographic magazine and the Gallup organization recently rated the 25 happiest cities in the US, the article’s author Dan Buettner noted, “There’s a high correlation between bikeability and happiness.”

Even people who never hop on a bike benefit from bike-friendly improvements — a safer environment for walkers and drivers, less traffic and more vital neighborhoods and business districts.

Jay Walljasper, author of the Great Neighborhood, consults, speaks and writes about how to create stronger, brighter communities. Find him on JayWalljasper.com. The report was created with Melissa Balmer and Pedal Love with support from Bosch eBikes Systems Americas.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.