Is a Change Coming to Your Transportation Future

Posted by Brent Gray on 4/27/2016 to News

Last week Zach Krapfl delivered a fascinating TED talk (https://youtu.be/0zJHMMYa01g) that caught my attention. In his talk, Zach, who is a electric bike engineer in Paonia, Colorado, poses a couple of thought-provoking questions:

How much energy is required to move a human from Point A to Point B via various modes of transportation? And what can we do to reduce our energy consumption to get there?

Before we answer those questions, let's take a look at a few (mind-boggling) transportation statistics provided by Zach:

  • Americans drive 3 trillion miles in the U.S. each year
  • There are more than 253 million cars on the road (and 80% of us are stuck in traffic!)
  • 55% of all of our trips via automobile are less than 10 miles

Wow!

I agree with Zach when he pointed out that the first two statistics, by their sheer numbers, are "catalysts for change". The third statistic, on the other hand, is an "enabler for change".

So, how much energy are we consuming getting from Point A to Point B? According to Zach, whether you are consuming gasoline or electricity, every mode of transportation requires a certain amount of energy. He has converted the energy that is consumed to "miles per gallon", since that's a simple measurement we can all relate to. Here are some examples Zach used in his presentation:

      Pickup truck................... 20 mpg
      Honda Civic................... 40 mpg
      Hybrid car...................... 50 mpg
      Motorcycle.................... 65 mpg
      Airplane........................ 90 mpg
      Electric car.................. 114 mpg
      Electric bike................ 570 mpg

As to the question, "What can we do to reduce our energy consumption?", there are alternatives out there that currently exist. For example, if you go to Copenhagen, Denmark or Amsterdam, Netherlands you will find an unbelievable cycling infrastructure with lanes that are protected from the cars. Bike riders are a priority and because of that 35-40% of Copenhagenites ride their bikes everywhere, regardless of the weather. There are a few cities in the U.S. with about the same ridership—Washington DC, Minneapolis and Portland to name a few—but not nearly as many as in Europe.

The main problem, as Zach pointed out, is that "we have this sprawl", with cities that are way more spread out in the U.S. than in Europe. And if you ask people who commute on a daily basis if it's possible for them to commute via bicycle, they will say, "No way, it's way too far" or "there are too many hills." Rightly so, they are afraid of arriving at work all hot and sweaty.

Enter the electric bicycle. Already, over 3 billion road miles have been directly substituted from cars to e-bikes. And the benefits go much further than just energy savings. E-bike riders are finding a greater level of happiness, money savings, more free time, stress relief and a number of other health benefits. In the statistic quoted above, 55% of the trips we take are less than 10 miles. Get this: If Americans took just 1% of those trips this year via an electric bicycle, we would avoid driving 17 billion miles in the U.S. alone and 2.2 million Americans would lose 25-50 pounds in the process!

One TED talk viewer said this about riding an electric bike: "I use an eBike in Washington DC to commute 25 miles round trip, 4 days per week. I save $8.50/day (or about $185/month) and the ride is 20 minutes faster than the Metro. The exercise improves my attitude at the office and my weight and my fitness level at 46 is exceptional. I don't think of the eBike as a replacement for my regular bicycle, but as a viable alternative to the metro or driving our car. I have put 3,000 miles on my bike over the last 10 months."

The environmental footprint of many methods of modern transportation is just too big and most would agree that change is a necessity. Electric bikes offer a most promising opportunity. People who have changed their main mode of transportation to electric bikes are living healthier, happier, more eco-friendly lives.

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