How E-Bikes Could Help Create Car-Free Cities

They can’t make cities any worse

Key Takeaways

  • Electric bikes open up daily cycling to almost anyone, regardless of fitness level. 
  • Removing cars from cities seems impossible, but it’s already happening. 
  • Bikes and e-bikes need to be combined with better infrastructure, laws, and public transport.
Someone riding a Bird e-bike

Bird

Electric bikes let almost anyone cycle for fun and transport, and they may be the way to finally rid our cities of cars. 

Cars are a blight on cities. Roads bisect neighborhoods and pollute our living and working spaces with noise and dirty air. Roads and free parking take up a huge percentage of real estate, and for what? A notion of freedom and convenience.

Removing cars from cities is the way to increase livability, reduce pollution, and free up space for parks and much-needed housing. But we still need to get around, and bikes are one of the best ways to do that. 

"The best way to sell people who live in the city electric bikes is that they will save a ton of money. They won't pay for the crazy high gas prices. You won't be stuck in bad traffic all the time. Electric bikes are much cheaper than a car, and if you don't plan on leaving the city, you can sell your car for a much cheaper and greener alternative," Bryan Ray of the Biking Apex blog told Lifewire via email.

Electric Bikes FTW

The benefits of bikes are clear. People who get around by bike are fitter, and—somewhat counter-intuitively—they inhale less pollution than drivers. Parking is easier, and you never get stuck in traffic. And e-bikes are big business. Bird, the electric scooter-sharing company, just announced a new e-bike that you can buy, and many cities' bike-sharing programs also offer electric rides. 

Someone riding a KNO e-bike on a city street.

KBO Bike / Unsplash

But cycling in cities also has its downsides. One is that many people don’t consider themselves fit enough, or they prefer not to arrive hot and sweaty at their destination (although millions of bike commuters in Europe manage to get around without sweating through their clothes).

On the other hand, electric bikes can offer assistance to everyone at any age. They can make daunting hills easy, and at the same time, you still get much of the fitness benefits from cycling.

Once we get past the physical obstacles, two things keep people in cars and off bikes: habit and dangerous roads. 

"It all comes down to the habit people have with cars, where it is more a matter of comfort and status than a really practical thing. It is expensive owning a car and stressful at times. Maybe when more people opt for an e-bike, the infrastructure will be adjusted for the change, and more people will join in and trade their car for a bike," Casper Ohm, editor of the UK’s Water Pollution Guide, told Lifewire via email. 

Pave the Way

For a successful transition to car-free (or drastically car-reduced) cities, we need better infrastructure. Safe, physically separate bike lanes, rule changes that favor cyclists and pedestrians over cars, ample parking, and more.

In Berlin, for instance, there are bike lanes on most major routes, and traffic lights have a zone ahead of cars, so bikes can wait out front where they are visible. The lights also change to green a few moments earlier for bikes. And—importantly—when there is roadwork, bikes get a diversion lane, too. 

Someone sitting on a bench at the beach, with a KBO e-bike resting behind the bench.

KBO Bike / Unsplash

"I don’t believe e-bikes are the key to a car-free city, but they could drastically change the way people see their daily commutes," Carmel Young, editor of the Wheelie Great bike blog, told Lifewire via email. "Until cities allocate their budgets to provide a safe atmosphere for cyclists, I believe it will just remain a hobby for most."

It’s not just about bikes. To phase out cars, we also need better public transport, which should also be bike-friendly, so cyclists can do longer stretches by bus or metro. This combined strategy is daunting, but cities like Paris and Barcelona are taking significant steps towards discouraging car use and improving alternatives. And it’s not just a hippie dream. To meet climate goals, the best way for cities to reduce emissions is to ditch cars. 

"Imagining a car-free city is difficult and seems impossible," Urban eBikes’ Adam Bastock told Lifewire via email, "but imagining your journey to work being pleasant because there's just fewer cars on the roads with everyone else using an e-bike feels much more tangible. And who knows, eventually they might become an e-bike user too."

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