Cut Calories, Cut Carbon

What doe a coal-fired power plant, road construction, and driving to work share in common? They all contribute towards our collective carbon footprint. The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) nationally and is responsible for 36% of GGE in New York State. Reducing greenhouse gases and lowering our carbon footprint cannot be achieved by one individual or community, but small, incremental changes to our day-to-day habits can certainly make a difference.

With the completion of the Empire State Trail set for 2020, we have a unique opportunity in New York State to promote active transportation alternatives to motor vehicles; specifically walking and biking. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found that if bikes and e-bikes accounted for 14% of travel in the world’s cities, we could lower our carbon emissions by 11%. Although only .6% of New York State commuters bike to work, we have a proven track record of the strongest long-term trends in the rate of bicycling to work, and our soon-to-be longest multi-use state trail in the nation can help us continue this upward trend.

Increasing the number of people who use bicycles as their primary method of transportation would be an accomplishment in itself given the health and economic benefits, but when you factor in how cycling can reduce our carbon footprint both directly and indirectly, we can appreciate it as an investment in ourselves and our future.

Sharing is Caring

Expanding bike-share programs can encourage more people to ride bikes. Bike-share programs are becoming increasingly popular across the country. The National Association of Transportation Officials reported that the number of bike-share bikes in the U.S. more than doubled from 2016 to 2017– from 42,500 bikes at the end of 2016 to about 100,000 bikes by the end of 2017.

Although each bike-share program varies, and therefore the benefits associated with the program vary, too, just one mile traveled using a bike-share instead of a car means one less pound of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In just a few case studies, we can see the potential impact bike-share programs have on our carbon footprint. For cities like Denver, the carbon offsets may not be substantial if viewed from the perspective of total emission output, but bike-share programs are making an impact. With the implementation of Denver B-Cycle, the program is estimated to have avoided more than 1 million pounds of CO2 emissions and replaced 1 percent of car trips with bike trips.

Offering this service provides residents and visitors with a convenient mode of transportation at a fraction of the cost. Bike Share Programs around the state include:

Is This Seat Taken?

More people riding bikes means fewer single-occupant vehicles on the road. Integrating bike racks on rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems and increasing bike parking at rail stations and bus stops offers bicycle commuters more options for getting to work efficiently and safely. Commuters may use public transportation alternatives more often if the appropriate infrastructure is available to accommodate their bicycles. Providing safe and reliable storage for bikes helps increase a rider’s comfort and could lead to an increase in bicycle commuters using public transportation. Allowing riders to transport their bikes is convenient and makes it simpler to choose to take public transportation.

According to the Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration if one driver per household used public transportation for a 10-mile daily commute, each household could save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Phrased differently, this could mean reducing the annual carbon footprint of a typical American household by 8%.

Much progress has been made over the past decade in coordinating cycling with public transportation, with demand for enhanced facilities increasing. A well-designed BRT system with appropriate bicycle infrastructure can increase the number of cyclists that use public transportation, helping to lower carbon emissions.

Safe, Equitable, and Healthy

Whether you are a novice weekend rider or an avid bicycle commuter, your contribution is helping to reduce our carbon footprint. The increase in bike-share programs and use of public transportation plays a direct and indirect role in the fight against climate change.

Beyond our carbon footprint, cycling can improve our quality of life. Although safety concerns, ability, and resources may keep some people in their seat belts, the expansion of programs like Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets prioritizes facilities that create safer streets for people of all ages and abilities. Personal mobility and access to an affordable and independent means of transportation provides for a more equitable society. Through the promotion of bike-share programs we can get more bicyclists on the road while decreasing mortality rates from heart disease and obesity.

Increasing safe multi-modal connectivity and active transportation alternatives continues to be a top priority for PTNY. With the completion of the Empire State Trail, legalization of e-bikes, and with more funding allocated for bicycle infrastructure facilities, New York can rise up as a leading bike-friendly state and take the lead in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

PTNY is currently working on a project funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee to promote and increase opportunities for safer and more accessible cycling for rides of all ages and abilities.