Chart of the Day: CO2 Emissions vs. Cycling Modeshare

Here’s a chart from a recent study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a big International thinktank, about the relationship between CO2 emissions and bicycling modeshare (i.e. the percentage of people who use one mode of travel vs. another).

They ran two scenarios about how urban bicycling could affect greenhouse gas emission. The first is a status quo modeshare; the second is a very optimistic “high shift cycling” (HSC) scenario that would focus on increasing the percentage of people who ride bicycles (or electric-assist bicycles). They make assumptions ranging anywhere from 25% nationally in the Netherlands to an 11% national mode share in the US.

Granted, this is talking about a global shift in transportation behavior, but here’s the results of the status quo, the “high shift” (HS) scenario that does not place a big emphasis in bicycling, instead relying mostly on transit and walking, and the HSC scenario. Here are the CO2 impacts:



Today, we’re a long way from these kinds of goals in shifting any mode share, let along focusing on cycling. Minneapolis, one of the national leaders in bicycling mode share, has just reached around 5 – 10% depending on who you ask. Saint Paul is half that, and other metro cities even smaller.


So this scenario is asking: what would happen if we really, really increased the amount of people bicycling, walking, and taking transit? And everywhere, not just in the central (more bikeable) cities.

Here’s the conclusion from the piece…

This analysis shows that cycling can have a substantial positive impact on the world’s future, saving US$24 trillion dollars over the next thirty-five years and dramatically improving quality of life for the world’s rapidly urbanizing population. Benefits also include an 11 percent annual reduction in urban transport CO2 emissions by 2050 over the High Shift scenario without a strong cycling component, as part of a broader 50 percent reduction from the entire set of changes in the HSC scenario versus the BAU scenario. Given the growing threat of global climate change, the authors recommend that actions be taken at the municipal, national, and global level to help realize such a scenario.


To meet ambitious cycling targets and achieve the resultant benefits, strong policies must be adopted at both the local and national levels of government. The recommendations below are based on the policies adopted by cities and countries that have achieved high and sustained levels of cycling as a percentage of urban travel. To achieve an HSC scenario, governments should:

  • Rapidly develop cycling and e-bike infrastructure on a large scale;
  • Implement bike share programs in large- and medium-size cities, prioritizing connections to transit;
  • Revise laws and enforcement practices to better protect people cycling and walking;
  • Invest in walking facilities and public transport to create a menu of non-motorized transport options that can be combined to accommodate a wide variety of trips;
  • Coordinate metropolitan transport and land-use plans, so that all new investments result in more cycling, walking, and public transport trips and fewer trips by motorized vehicles;
  • Repeal policies that subsidize additional motor vehicle use, such as minimum parking requirements, free on-street parking, and fuel subsidies;
  • Encourage cycling and active transport via pricing policies and information campaigns;
  • Adopt policies such as congestion pricing, vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT) fees, and development impact fees to charge a price for driving that accounts for negative externalities;
  • Dedicate fuel taxes, driving fees, and other transport-system revenues toward investment in sustainable transport.

Well, there’s a list for you! Though it apparently doesn’t motivate that many people, climate change is one of the big reasons why I personally push so hard for better bicycling infrastructure. Believe it or not, I find not having winter to be really disconcerting.

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.