Fighting Climate Change With Bikes

Fighting Climate Change With Bikes Photo Credit: Shutterstock Photo by Shutterstock

Record breaking days, weeks, and months of heat. The sudden shrinking of Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and the Great Salt Lake. Dwindling snowpack. Power grid failures due to air conditioning demands skyrocketing. Wildfires ripping through subdivisions in late December. The evidence is clear as day. Climate change is here, no longer up for debate. However, what to do about climate change certainly is up for discussion. And unfortunately Colorado—like every other state in the nation and every nation across the globe—simply is not doing enough. In fact, according to a recent progress report, Colorado has fallen far behind in its greenhouse-cutting goals for 2025 and 2030, as reported by The Colorado Sun. The biggest failure, so far, lies within the transportation sector.

Colorado is Failing to Reduce Vehicle Emissions

In order for Colorado to meet its 2025 greenhouse-reduction goals within the transportation sector (representing a cut of 10 million tons of CO2 annually or 26 percent of its 2005 levels), the state would have to implement significantly stronger emission standards. So far, no serious action on this has been taken. Motor vehicle emissions pose two problems for those of us on the Front Range. Not only do vehicle emissions cause global warming by adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, but they drastically reduce the air quality we breathe. The topography of the Front Range—in addition to wildfire smoke, emissions, and industrial pollution—is conducive abysmal air quality.

The EPA Names The Front Range a "Severe" Violator of Federal Ozone Standards

Air quality in the Front Range is so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies our region as a "severe" violator of federal ozone standards, according to CPR News. There are plenty of summer days here in the Front Range that surpass Beijing, for instance, in dangerous air. Across the globe, poor air quality caused by vehicle emissions and other pollutants causes six and a half million premature deaths each year, according to the National Institute of Health. Long term exposure to poor air quality like the kind we experience in Denver, Golden, Boulder, and the Front Range can cause or increase a person's chances of developing the following conditions:

  • Breast cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Emphysema
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • COPD

Children and fetuses exposed through their mothers are at an increased risk of developing the following health conditions due to vehicle emission, industrial pollutants, natural gas extraction, and wildfire smoke:

  • Asthma
  • Lung damage
  • ADHD
  • Cognitive and emotional problems
  • Autism
  • High blood pressure
  • Low IQ

In terms of cutting emissions and reducing air pollution/greenhouse gasses, "The state should put everything it has behind getting people off roads and making sure we all have safe and convenient transit, bike, and pedestrian options," says Heidi Leathwood of the climate advocacy group 350 Colorado. Cycling advocates, as we all know, have been saying this for decades. Here at ColoBikeLaw, we've been fighting for bike safety laws and bike infrastructure for years as well. While we've seen progress, far too little infrastructure is set aside for pedestrians and cyclists here and throughout the country. This has helped enabled a car-addicted culture that:

  1. Forces the average American household to spend 13 percent of its income on vehicle expenses, which is particularly burdensome on low income households.
  2. Creates noise pollution, leading to depression, anxiety, and cognitive disorders.
  3. Is somehow content with having upwards of 40,000 avoidable traffic collision deaths and hundreds of thousands of serious injuries in the U.S. every year.
  4. Requires millions of miles of pavement (a major CO2 contributor in its own right) and mega-sized parking lots that exacerbate the city "heat island" effect, which forces residents to crank the AC up and thereby increase energy expenditure.
  5. Creates urban sprawl.
  6. Marginalizes large segments of the population.
  7. Leads us into violent conflicts and decades-long wars, in which millions of third-world people have died or been displaced, which in turn increases terrorist threats here and abroad.
  8. Befriends America to authoritarian and human-rights-violating regimes.

And these car-caused problems do not even take into account climate change, of which we're only experiencing the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

E-Bikes (and Bikes in General) Were Excluded From the Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act, which was recently passed by congress and is set to go into action in 2023, does a lot to combat climate change. It also does a lot to incentivise driving—specifically, electric vehicle driving. The Electrification Coalition calls the Act "perhaps the most significant legislation to accelerate transportation electrification in U.S. history. No wonder, because it provides significant tax incentives for U.S. battery manufacturing (as well as rebates for home appliances like heat pumps and electric stoves) and elective vehicles (EVs). Buyers of new EVs will continue to receive $7,500 in tax credits. However, these tax credits are no longer reserved for the buyers of the first 200,000 vehicles made per manufacturer per year—a pre-2023 stipulation that was enough for many buyers to put off getting an EV or to refrain from getting one at all. Thanks to the Act, used EVs are eligible for up to a $4,000 tax credit, and electric plug-in hybrids also qualify for a credit.

Unfortunately, e-bikes were left out of the Inflation Reduction Act entirely, despite the efforts of bike advocacy groups. And, of course, there still is no tax incentive or rebate for purchasing an "old fashioned" non-e-bike (called simply a bike.) Colorado, however, is in the process of setting aside $12 for an e-bike rebate program. And Denver already offers a standard rebate of up to $400 for purchasing an e-bike, and $900 for an e-cargo bike. Those figures increase to $1,200 and $1,700, respectively, for income-qualified buyers.

The Problem With Putting Too Much Hope in Electric Cars

Electric cars are great, at least compared to gas-powered cars. They themselves produce no emissions and get people to realize that, even as individuals, we can have a positive impact on climate change and we can make a difference. However, the massive amounts of electricity required to power two- and three-ton personal vehicles still mostly comes from gas and coal-fired power plants assuming the EV-owner doesn't have their own solar array on their roof. Because here in Colorado, only 37.5 percent of our electricity is produced by renewable technologies like wind and solar. That's better than the national average (21.8 percent), and even if 100 percent of the electricity used to power a person's EV came from coal-fired power plants, the total greenhouse emissions from driving would still be less than if they were operating a gas-powered vehicle. But "better" just doesn't cut it. If we do not curb our emissions drastically (as in get to net zero within a decade), there will be catastrophic climate change, the likes of which we still do not fully understand. We can't afford to continue leaving bikes out of the transportation picture. Whether they're powered by burritos or by batteries, bikes are significantly more efficient and climate-friendly than the latest and greatest EV.

Why Bikes are the Best

E-bikes are 1,200 to 1,800 percent more efficient than a standard electric vehicle. Their infrastructure also requires far less concrete and asphalt (the production of concrete accounts for 8 percent of greenhouse gasses alone), enabling cities to be more compact, walkable, greener, and more enjoyable to live in. And traditional bikes have essentially no carbon footprint at all—only the calories the rider eats go into this equation. Yet, few people (not counting avid bike commuters) think about bikes as a way to seriously combat climate change. For one, the bike is not a new invention. It has been in existence for more than 150 years. As such, bikes aren't quite as flashy as a Tesla or a Rivian. You probably can't name the CEO of Specialized or Giant, and neither of those CEOs are in the process of buying (or maybe not buying?) Twitter. But bikes, traditional or battery-powered, have the potential to help us reach our transportation climate goals. And maybe save the world in the process.

Contact a Denver and Front Range Bike Crash Attorney Today

If you were involved in a bike crash, we can help you hold the driver accountable by filing a personal injury claim against any liable parties. Colorado bike crash attorney Brad Tucker of Colorado Bike Law is here to help you get the compensation your injuries deserve. Call ColoBikeLaw today at 303.694.9300 to schedule a free consultation.