Fewer Cars, More Bikes, Better Air – ECF Report Conclusions


In the past few articles, we have extracted a lot of content from the ECF (European Cyclists Federation) Report which aims to see Fewer Cars, More Bikes, Better Air, looking at measures to increase cycling (“Pull Measures”) and to reduce other modes of transport, particularly if they involve combustion engines (“Push Measures”.

Now we look at some of the Conclusions of the ECF report.

Technical measures alone, in terms of technologies that directly reduce emission from road vehicles, are insufficient to meet compliance with urban air quality objectives. This has been highlighted by the failure of vehicle Euro emission standards to produce the reductions in emissions expected in urban areas as has been noted in various studies (Carslaw et al., 2013: EEA, 2013; Hitchcock et al., 2014). Therefore a more demand-side-focused approach is needed to reduce the impacts of transport, such as air pollution, and develop a more sustainable transport system. A commonly used framework is the three-pillar system known as Avoid-Shift-Improve (Dalkmann & Brannigan, 2007; UNEP, 2013):

Avoid the need to travel to access goods and services, through efficient urban planning, communication technology, consolidation activities and demand management.

Shift people and goods that need to be moved towards more inherently sustainable modes such as walking, cycling, public transport, rail and (where appropriate) water transport.

Improve the environmental performance of vehicles by the adoption of low-emission vehicle technologies and more efficient operation of vehicles.

In line with this approach cycling measures are now present in the air quality and mobility plans of numerous cities around the world. In terms of air quality this needs to be related to a mode shift away from motorised road transport, and the emissions benefits that this brings, rather than an increase in cycling per se. Therefore cycling measures need to be part of an overall approach to reduce road traffic in order to generate air quality improvements.

The examination of the measures aimed at increasing cycling mode share suggests that in order to encourage cycling and attract people out of cars, municipalities have to engage in developing the appropriate infrastructure (bike share schemes, differentiated tracks, end-of-trip facilities, parking slots, etc.), carrying out positive information campaigns and more widely discouraging the use of private motorised transport through the adoption of policy instruments such as congestion charging or low-emission zones.

Analysis of five European case study cities revealed that the most successful drivers for modal change are the development of appropriate cycling infrastructure and its correct integration with the public transport network. In these cases a direct relationship between these variables and an increase in cycling modal share has been observed. For example, cities such as Antwerp or Seville have the highest cycling modal share and the largest cycling infrastructure among the studied cities. In the case of Thessaloniki and London, moderate increases in modal share have been observed as well, yet cycling infrastructure still needs to be improved.

Four of the five studied cities, (Antwerp, London, Nantes and Seville) explicitly present cycling as part of their respective air quality plans. To be most effective at improving air quality local authorities should focus on encouraging modal shift from private motorised transport to cycling in order to reduce road-traffic pollution, rather than promoting cycling per se.

Overall the reduction in traffic levels brought about by cycling measures, and other mode shift initiatives, will generate reductions in emissions and ambient concentrations of pollutants, and ultimately provides a benefit to human health.

The degree to which these air quality benefits will become evident is a function of the level of modal shift as well as the specific characteristics of the city including existing traffic flows, fleet composition, meteorology and urban topology. Therefore the benefit of any package of cycling measures will vary from city to city, dependent on its local situation. However, in all five of the case study cities mode shift to cycling on its own was unlikely to be sufficient to achieve to air quality objectives, although it did generate air quality related and wider health benefits.

The key actors in developing cycling as part of the solution to urban air quality are the city authorities and they need to:

Promote measures that shift residents from private motorised transport to cycling, rather than promoting cycling per se, to ensure that air quality benefits are generated;

Integrate cycling measures as part of a wider mode shift package with a combination of ‘pull’ measures to directly attract car users and ‘push’ measure to more generally discourage car use;

Complement cycling and other mode shift measures with technical measures to reduce the emissions from the remaining traffic such as public transport and delivery vehicles.

In addition there are further co-benefits of cycling regarding health (through physical activity), climate change, noise, human rights (access to mobility for all parts of society/population) and economy (congestion-easing, improving travel-time reliability) and all these co-benefits should be taken into account when authorities discuss investments in cycling from the point of view of air pollution.

Thus in summary, from an air quality management point of view, cycling should continue to be part of air quality plans that aim to tackle air pollution at the urban scale. However they must be part of a package of measures directed at reducing overall road traffic, to ensure that the associated emissions benefits and air quality improvements are generated. These air quality improvements will in turn give rise to numerous societal co-benefits. However the extent of the air quality improvements will vary from city to city and across the city itself with our analysis showing changes at the selected monitoring locations in NO2 concentrations from zero to 12.6 μg/m3 and changes in PM10 concentrations from 0.3 μg/m3 to 1.4 μg/m3.

Although overall the changes in London and Thessaloniki were not enough to meet the European limit values. This suggests that mode shift measures alone are unlikely to be sufficient to meet the European air quality limit values in urban areas. Therefore, a successful approach to combat air pollution is a combination of both non-technical and technical measures: encourage a modal shift, including the shift towards cycling, and reduce emissions from the remaining traffic such as public transport and delivery vehicles.


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