Monthly cycling column with Becky Cox of Swindon Cycle Campaign.
Listening to the COP26 discussions in Glasgow you’d be forgiven for thinking that zero emission vehicles are the wonder pill to meet all our climate goals and solve all our problems.
Whilst electric vehicles play a part in the solution they are certainly not the answer alone. E-vehicles still emit dangerous emissions from brake and tyre wear, and their production is far from climate-neutral. Our streets will be no less congested, safe or equitable if we replace all our existing cars with electric ones.
We must invest in walking, cycling and public transport. We must make it easier, safer and more attractive to walk, cycle, wheel or scoot short journeys. In some areas of the UK around a quarter of journeys under 500m are driven. We need to be designing places where people can live without being reliant on private vehicles with most amenities within 15-20 min walk or cycle.
For longer journeys investment is desperately needed to improve our public transport system. Investing in active and more sustainable transport will not only benefit our local environment. There are the health benefits of exercise, societal benefits of getting people out and about meeting each other, and safer streets due to more people out using them.
The poorest in our society are significantly more affected by our car-based travel, they drive less but are more likely to live in a highly polluted area, be involved in a road accident and suffer severances from busy roads.
The green choice needs to be the easy choice – not a middle-class lifestyle option. At the moment the more sustainable choice is not always the easiest choice, and the barriers make people travel in other ways. However, we all can play a small part by re-evaluating our journeys, getting out of the habit of immediately jumping in the car for trips which could be easily made another way. Small changes made by all of us, aggregated up across the globe do make a significant distance.
And… whilst electric cars may not save the planet, if you speak to a recent convert to electric bikes you may just believe that they are the answer we’ve been waiting for. If you haven’t yet tried one… do it, you won’t regret it!