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Are electric bikes changing the concepts of mobility?

Jun 28, 2018

Are electric bikes changing the concepts of mobility?
In last week’s blog post we’ve been talking about the need for drastically altering urban transport infrastructure to make our cities more worthy of living in them. Today we’ll look at how ebikes are likely to play a crucial role in those new mobility concepts.
Political measures that are increasing the cost of anything are likely to fare badly with voters. People simply don’t like being told what to do, and increasing fuel taxes, toll cost, or parking fees would also hit people for whom even the most advanced urban transport solutions would have a hard time offering a viable alternative. Still, used moderately, any of those measures may be able to provide a nudge towards a desirable change of behavior. It seems, however, much more promising to consequently develop alternatives that are simply so much better than the individual mobility we rely upon today that more and more people recognize their value and start using them. When developing those alternatives, it must be clearly recognized that there are many different reasons for using any form of transport, just like the transport routes used are very different. Thus, a comprehensive concept must always rely on a combination of various modes of transport in order to be able to offer the best possible solution for every type of traveler, or else it is doomed to fail.
Metros are very good for transporting large numbers of people over relatively big distances in urban areas in a very reasonable amount of time. They are often electrified, produce therefore only small amounts of pollution, and do not contribute to clogging the streets. But in many areas, the stations are few and far between, and commuters relying on them often have to use at least one more form of transport in order to get to the first or last station. Bus networks, on the other hand, are often knit much more closely, but they can still contribute to congestion, and emit quite a bit of pollution if they are not electrified. Bicycles neither block the streets nor do they pollute anything, but their range is limited in the sense that it takes both a lot of time and a lot of effort to ride distances of more than 2 or 3 miles.
This problem could be solved by ebikes, which can combine the best of both worlds. Their range is easily big enough for most urban commutes (in fact, in big cities they are often the fastest form of transport for a distance of up to 10 miles. Neither do they pollute or contribute to congestion. What’s more, riders can usually decide the level of physical exercise according to their needs: It can be just like riding a regular bicycle, or as effortless as riding a scooter.
Another factor that is increasingly considered by urban planners is how obsolete road space can be used to enhance resident’s quality of life in ways previously unheard of. Spaces that were previously used for parking and driving are being remodeled to serve the citizens and visitors instead of functioning as ugly, noisy, and dangerous areas in otherwise satisfying urban areas.
In Madrid, by 2020 all non-resident cars will be banned from as much as 500 acres of the city center, and some of the now most-congested streets will be designated for walking. Norway’s capital Oslo will go even further: Its plan to ban cars in the city center from 2019 even includes resident’s cars. 35 miles of roads will then be replaced by dedicated bike lanes. The Chinese city of Chengdu, too, is planning a new quarter – home to 80000 people – where only half the roads will allow vehicles. All around the globe, cities start moving fast, upping their commitment to sustainable transport while simultaneously penalizing car usage.

(Business Insider) Chengdu

While the commitment to buses, metro systems, and traditional bicycles is often very impressive, more can be done to specifically incorporate ebikes into those concepts as well. Many governments are still struggling with properly classifying electric bicycles, unsure whether they should be subject to rules similar to traditional bicycles or be treated akin to (electric) scooters. This uncertainty often hinders specific planning in that regard. This is a shame because ebikes would go a long way towards making the exciting new mobility concepts of cities all the more powerful, with fast and effective transport solutions taken care of for almost every conceivable use.