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Guest editorial: This administration offers our industry an opportunity

Published March 29, 2021

By Dave Morrow

The Biden administration intends to take on climate change in a substantial way. Transportation is the biggest sector for greenhouse gas emissions, almost one-third of the national total, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning gasoline and diesel. If one looks at the oil industry and the infrastructure needed to make gasoline, there is another big chunk of CO2 and methane emitted. Light-duty vehicles account for about two-thirds of all U.S. vehicle emissions. There is some low-hanging fruit here that the administration and Congress can bite into almost immediately. First a few facts gleaned from recent research.

  • According to the most recent National Travel Survey, Americans drive an average of almost 10,000 miles per year.
  • Based on 2017 light-duty average fuel economy, this equals about 4.5 tons of CO2 per vehicle per year.
  • According to recent national surveys, about 60% of all trips are five miles or less (perfect for bicycling).
  • Astonishingly, 20% of trips are one mile or less and 35% are two miles or less.
  • In a perfect world (Copenhagen?) if those short trips were made by bicycle, over 2.5 tons of CO2 emissions per car/year could be avoided. Around 275 million light cars and trucks are registered in the U.S. right now. You do the math.
  • A national survey of 9,376 adults found that 53% want to ride bikes more. Why don't they? The biggest factor is their perception of road safety — they don't want to be hit by a car.
  • Other problems cited are wind, hills and getting sweaty. Electric bikes can mostly eliminate those problems, and an e-bike can often replace a car.
  • Finally, one-third of women's driving is taxi-ing children around. When we make our streets safe, kids can walk or bike to school, sports, etc. Streets are safe for kids in great cycling towns like Davis, California, or Boulder, Colorado, and kids develop independence and confidence when they walk and bike to school with their friends. When streets are safe for kids they are safe for everyone.

Every five years the federal government authorizes funding for a major transportation bill. The 2020 bill is called the "Invest In America Act" (HR 7095, DeFazio D-OR). It proposes spending $494 billion over five years, with $319 billion of this allocated to highways. Sections of the act are also designated for rail, transit and safety. The bill has not yet been taken up by the Senate. There is a proposed 10% set-aside in the highway funding section for so-called "Transportation Alternatives," which includes increasing bicycle infrastructure, but the section also potentially funds projects such as scenic turnouts. To focus on climate change, we need to fund safe streets that provide healthy alternatives to driving those short trips.

The bill also addresses "rising rates of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths by requiring States with the highest rates to set aside funding to tackle the problem, codifies and expands eligibility for safe routes to school, provides funding to develop active transportation networks, and strengthens emphasis on high-risk rural roads." This is good news for safety. But the climate crisis demands that we spend our money where it will do the most good — and this is shifting car trips to carbon-neutral modes such as cycling and walking.

Cycling and pedestrian infrastructure projects (Climate Change Projects) should be given priority for funding in the new administration. Urban areas need to remove barriers to biking and walking by completing an integrated network that serves primary destinations (schools, parks, shopping, etc.). These projects should be prioritized by order of effectiveness based on expected car trips reduced:

  • Safe Routes to Schools
  • An integrated network of buffered and protected bicycle lanes
  • Pedestrian/bicycle overpass or underpass
  • Sidewalks
  • Trails or shared-use paths
  • Separation/buffers
  • Bicycle parking and storage facilities
  • Curb extensions
  • Intersection treatments for bicycles – bicycle boxes, stop bars, lead signal indicators
  • Signage, especially high-visibility signage
  • Signalized pedestrian crossings and mid-block crossings
  • Paved shoulders
  • Pedestrian- and bicyclist-scale lighting
  • Shared-lane markings ("sharrows")
  • Landscaping, especially shade trees

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), investing in pedestrians and cyclists — who often make up the majority of citizens in a city — can save lives, help protect the environment and support poverty reduction. The UN's Emission Gap Report (2017) states the world must urgently and dramatically scale up action in order to cut roughly another 25% off predicted 2030 global greenhouse emissions and have any chance of minimizing dangerous climate change.

Meeting the needs of people who walk and cycle continues to be a critical, yet overlooked part of the mobility solution for helping cities separate population growth from increased emissions, and improve air quality and road safety.

To address this, the Share the Road Programme, a joint initiative of UNEP and the Fia Foundation for the Automobile and Society, highlights best practices and works with governments around the world to prioritize the needs of pedestrians and cyclists." (Source:

The need to combat climate change with substantial improvements in US bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure has never been more important. Building infrastructure will create jobs, potentially improve individual health, and make our communities more livable. Contact your federal representatives and senators today and let them know about this real opportunity to include strong provisions for bicycle and pedestrian funding in the Invest in America Act. The young people of the world will thank you.

Editor's note: Dave Morrow started Showers Pass Clothing in 1997 after a failed quest to find decent cycling rain gear. Riding in the Pacific Northwest is not for the faint of heart, and if you are ever in Eureka, California, be sure to ride the Showers Pass loop, 100 miles of unspoiled country with some challenging hills.

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