Infrastructure is essential for supporting safe and abundant bicycle use, which curbs emissions by reducing the need for fossil-fuel-dependent transportation.
We assume an increase in bicycle infrastructure will drive bicycling from under 3 percent to almost 5–6 percent of urban trips globally by 2050, displacing 2.59–2.98 trillion passenger-kilometers traveled by conventional modes of transportation and avoiding 2.73–4.63 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. By building bike infrastructure or converting lanes rather than constructing roads, municipal governments and taxpayers can realize US$2.42–3.13 trillion in construction savings and US$5.91–8.45 trillion in lifetime net operational savings.
Project Drawdown’s bicycle infrastructure solution consists of implementing bike lanes of various types to encourage more bicycle use. This solution replaces the use of—and therefore the need for—construction of motorized road vehicle infrastructure (i.e., more lanes for cars).
In 2018, 2.6 percent of urban passenger kilometers around the world were completed by bicycle, with some places, like the Netherlands, having more than 30 percent of trips made by bike (Blondiau et al., 2016). In the EU, where more than 7 percent of urban trips are completed by bicycle, the net economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure improvements have been estimated to be as high as €513 billion annually (Neun & Haubold, 2016). This includes reduced costs associated with health expenditures, congestion, fuel consumption, air pollution, and more. Research has shown that bicycle infrastructure, most notably separate cycling facilities along heavily traveled roads and intersections and traffic-calming infrastructure in residential neighborhoods, is associated with increased bicycling and walking.
This analysis investigates the greenhouse gas and direct financial impacts of an increase in urban bicycle ridership through expanded implementation of bicycle infrastructure. Bicycle infrastructure is an easy to implement, cost-effective solution that offers significant reductions in emissions (as proven by COVID-19 pandemic pop-up lanes, increased number of cycle tracks and “rails to trails”).
Total Addressable Market
We defined the total addressable market for bicycle infrastructure as the total projected passenger-kilometers traveled in urban environments from 2020 to 2050. We defined implementation in terms of kilometers of lanes (bicycle or car/bus/other) installed, and we assumed a fixed usage of each lane-kilometer installed, with one bicycle lane-kilometer generating 5.2 million bicycle passenger-kilometers annually. The total addressable market is 27.74 trillion passenger-kilometers in 2014 and 50.30 trillion passenger-kilometers in 2050.
Information on global bicycle adoption is limited. We used data from the International Transport Forum (ITF, 2021), International Energy Agency (IEA, 2016) and a 2015 collaborative study on cycling by the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) and University of California-Davis (UCD), which included projections (Mason et al., 2015) to set 2018 global adoption at 779 billion passenger-kilometers.
We calculated impacts of increased adoption of bicycle infrastructure from 2020 to 2050 by comparing two growth scenarios with a reference scenario in which the market share was fixed at current levels. We calculated estimates at a regional level, summed them to determine a global value, and interpolated back to the estimated current adoption (amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in 2018).
- Scenario 1: Bicycle infrastructure continues to grow without any major interventions and many temporary COVID-19 pop-up lanes return to car lanes. The solution achieves 5 percent of the addressable market (2.59 trillion passenger-kilometers).
- Scenario 2: Most pop-up lanes are made permanent and cities around the world continue to build bicycle infrastructure and encourage biking. The solution achieves 6 percent of the addressable market (2.98 trillion passenger-kilometers).
We based emissions calculations on fuel use from cars. Data for this came from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
We estimated the net first cost to implement this solution from 22 vehicle and bicycle lane installation cost data points collected from 14 sources. We considered operating costs to be the maintenance costs for road and bicycle lanes. They were much lower for bicycle lanes because the wear and tear from bicycles is lower than that from cars and buses.
We consider Bicycle Infrastructure to be a high-priority Project Drawdown solution, so we didn’t limit its adoption in the integration process.
Unless otherwise noted, all monetary values are presented in 2014 US$.
In Scenario 1, municipalities avoid more than 2.73 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, while saving US$2.42 trillion in net first costs and achieving US$5.91 trillion in lifetime operational savings. These financial savings compare the cost of constructing new roads and lanes for increased light-duty vehicle traffic with the cost of remodeling or renovating roads to accommodate and encourage bicycle ridership along with other types of bicycle lanes.
In Scenario 2, almost 1.1 million additional lane-kilometers installed results in 4.63 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions avoided. Net first cost savings are US$3.13 trillion, and lifetime operational savings are US$8.45 trillion.
Shifting passengers to lower emission modes is a huge step toward achieving drawdown. Bicycle Infrastructure is an important solution to help with this shift. The IEA estimated that the transportation sector produced 9.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2018 (IEA, 2018). We show that building bike lanes can reduce annual emissions by 0.18 gigatons (on average for 2020–2050 in Scenario 1). In more aggressive scenarios, bicycle infrastructure increasingly replaces car lanes, other dedicated infrastructure is constructed, and bicycle use for commuting, shopping, and recreation moves from a lockdown trend to a true modal switch.
Many factors affect the expansion of bicycle infrastructure and the rates of adoption, including weather, type of bike lane, geography, and other attributes of a city and its residents. These attributes are beyond the scope of this report.
Our analysis shows that the benefits we can measure are large when there is significant expansion in bike infrastructure. The decrease in car trips and increase in bicycle trips has concomitant benefits in congestion, air quality, noise, stress, health, and travel delay.
Additional benefits of cycling include an increase in the uptake of public transport by making more public transport stops accessible by bicycle. These benefits, though not included in our analysis, are of great value.
Thomas Blondiau, Bruno van Zeebroeck, & Holger Haubold. (2016). Economic benefits of increased cycling. Transportation Research Procedia, 14 (14), pp. 2306–2313. Elsevier B.V. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trpro.2016.05.247
International Energy Agency (IEA). (2016). Energy Technology Perspectives 2016: Towards Sustainable Urban Energy Systems. OECD International Energy Agency. https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/37fe1db9-5943-4288-82bf-13a0a0d74568/Energy_Technology_Perspectives_2016.pdf
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2006). Guidelines on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Volume 2, Chapter 3: Mobile Combustion. https://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/2006gl/pdf/2_Volume2/V2_3_Ch3_Mobile_Combustion.pdf
International Transport Forum (ITF). (2021). ITF Transport Outlook 2021. https://www.oecd.org/regional/itf-transport-outlook-25202367.htm
Mason, J., Fulton, L., & McDonald, Z. (2015). A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario. Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the University of California, Davis. Retrieved from https://www.itdp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/A-Global-High-Shift-Cycling-Scenario_Nov-2015.pdf
Neun, M., & Haubold, H. (2016). The EU Cycling Economy: Arguments for an integrated EU cycling policy (pp. 1–16). European Cyclists’ Federation. Retrieved from www.ecf.com