Environmental benefits of cycle-to-work schemes

If you’re worried about global warming, then cycle-to-work schemes should give you a healthy glow of contentment.

According to cycling campaign and promotions organisation CTC, transport accounts for 25% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. But that includes public transport and flying, which are unlikely to be affected by commuters switching to cycling to work.

The only way that cycling to work can cut carbon emissions is when commuters give up their cars and use bikes for the daily commute. CTC claims that the average person making a typical daily car commute of four miles each way would save 0.5 tonnes of CO2, or 6% of their annual carbon footprint, by switching to cycling.

“If we can double cycle use in the next 10 years by encouraging people out of cars, this will save 0.6 million tonnes of CO2, almost as much as all the flights from London to Scotland,” says CTC.

The government wants to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 26% by 2020 – and transport is a key part of its strategy. 

The Department of Transport says: “If all the commuters in England with a journey of under five miles went by bike rather than car or bus, they would save a collective 44,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent emissions produced by heating nearly 17,000 houses. And that would just be in the first week.”

It adds: “Encouraging more people to cycle to work is a win-win solution that has the potential to make a hugely important contribution towards pressing dilemmas facing both people and the planet. Nearly one-quarter of all car trips are made by getting to and from work. 37% of CO2 emissions from transport are from business travel, of which nearly one-quarter (24%) relates to commuting and 13% to business travel.

“Over 85% of commuter cars have the driver as the only occupant and many will be driving journeys of less than five miles that could easily be cycled. The cost of congestion to the economy and business is estimated to run into billions of pounds per year in lost working time and delays.”

Photo: Alex Segre / RexRichard George, roads and climate campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport, says cycle-to-work schemes mean that there are fewer car drivers on the roads, which brings safety benefits to pedestrians and cyclists, and also means less congestion for those who still drive to work.

“The largest environmental benefits are from transferring people from car to bike, but there are benefits of getting people off public transport too,” says George.  “Transferring people from, say, crowded city centre buses to bikes, either clears space for more passengers or makes the trip for existing passengers more attractive. It is also much cheaper than running more buses, widening roads or buying more train carriages.”

Be that as it may, cycle-to-work schemes, unless they result in a massive migration from car to bike, are part of a much bigger whole, as far as reducing UK carbon emissions is concerned.

Independent research group Cambridge Economics (CE) says UK carbon emissions will fall by around 7% between 2008 and 2010, largely driven by fall in energy demands from industry and road transport, thanks largely to the recession, and the substitution of gas for coal in electricity generation.

CE also believes that the government’s long-standing goal of reducing domestic emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2010 is likely to be ‘missed by a wide margin’. It believes UK carbon emissions will fall by around 0.75% per year from 2010 to 2020.











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