13 December 2011
If all citizens were to cycle as much as Danes do - an average of 2.6 kilometres a day - it would help the EU meet its emission reductions target, claims the European Cyclists' Federation
But who else is going to cycle as much as the Danes? We found it more convincing to have a look at cycling levels that are achieved today in some countries. That is why we chose Denmark. Yes, it is true that the Danes do cycle a lot. They cycled an annual average of 581 miles per person. The EU average is just under 120 miles per person per year; while in the United Kingdom it is a mere 46 miles; less than 8 per cent of that in Denmark. However, if we look at the distance travelled by the Danes on a daily basis - it works out to be only 1.6 miles a day. This is a realistic figure to achieve and people will cycle if governments provide adequate infrastructure. If the EU is serious about meeting its overall and transport emissions reduction targets, we are going to need a modal shift and not just new technology. In this regard, cycling represents a splendid cost-effective opportunity. No, it is not about moving less. It is about the way we move and the transport choices that governments make available.
The key findings of our recent study found that emissions from cycling are more than 10 times lower than those stemming from the passenger car, even taking into account the additional dietary intake of a cyclist compared with that of a motorised transport user. And E-bikes, despite their electric assistance, have emissions in the same range as ordinary bicycles. Considering E-bikes allows for 56 per cent longer daily commutes and substitutes the car for 39 per cent of trips, they have a huge potential to further reduce transport emissions.
Meanwhile, bicycle-share schemes also have the potential to reduce further emissions - considering it is a substitute for motorised transport for 50-75 per cent of the users. If levels of cycling in the EU-27 were equivalent to those found in Denmark in 2000, bicycle use would achieve 26 per cent of the 2050 GHG target set for the transport sector. With EU crude oil imports at 955 million barrels per year, citizens cycling at Danish levels would reduce European oil importations by close to 10 per cent. Finally, the EU's objectives will not be met via technology and will require ambitious plans - which foresee a Europe-wide modal shift away from individual motorised transport. A combination of improvement measures - more efficient use of vehicles, lower carbon-intense fuels, more efficient use of the transport system - will only deliver a 20 per cent decrease by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.
Benoit Blondel is health and environment policy officer at the European Cyclists' Federation