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Electric cars a dead-end street
Electric cars a dead-end street

The obsession with the shift to electric cars is holding back our quest for zero emissions transport.

And even if all new cars were electric today, the replacement of the existing fossil-fused fleet would be too slow to arrest the impact of severe climate change.

These disconcerting observations are from a new study into the climate change mitigation effects of active travel in cities.

Lead author Christian Brand, from Oxford University’s Transport Studies Unit, says tackling the climate and air pollution requires curbing all motorised transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible.

"Emissions from cycling and e-biking can be ten times lower than driving an electric car,” Brand says.

"Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transport.

"Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise because of its heavy fossil fuel use and reliance on carbon-intensive infrastructure—such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves—and the way it embeds car-dependent lifestyles.

"One way to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially globally, is to swap cars for cycling, e-biking and walking – active travel.”

Professor Brand argues that as many as 50% of car journeys are less than five kilometres and could easily be replaced by active travel.

And electric bikes increase this range to 10 kilometres or more.

"In our own research, colleagues and I show that people who walk, cycle or use e-bikes have lower carbon footprints from all their daily travel, including in cities where lots of people are already doing this.

"Despite the fact that some walking and cycling happens on top of motorised journeys instead of replacing them, more people switching to active travel would equate to lower carbon emissions from transport on a trip-by-trip and daily basis.

"We found emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one."

Professor Brand said active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles, while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation.

"To make this happen, cities urgently need to create (more) safe cycling networks or free up some streets altogether for cycling, walking and zero emission public transport only – as is starting to happen in cities around the world.

"This will not only benefit those who travel actively, but everyone who lives in cities."

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.