Your next car should be a bicycle

Header image: Bicycle parking at Western Springs College. Source – Greater Auckland

This is a guest article by Dr Timothy F Welch. Tim is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Auckland.

Shatter 5 myths about self-centricity

Whenever it is suggested that action should be taken to reduce automobile use and provide better facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, a host of long-held myths resurface to confuse the issue. conversation. Although ubiquitous, many of the more common myths are quickly dispelled with common knowledge. Others require more up-to-date data to show how ideas like electrification or automating our fleet of vehicles are not feasible in our lifetimes. In no particular order, these are five of the most common myths about reducing self-centricity.

Myth 1: Slower speeds will ruin your commute

One of the cornerstones of Vision Zero slows down cars. Reducing speed makes sense as most of our roads are designed to increase vehicle mobility with respect to access and safety, allowing cars to move far too fast on the street.

We have designed our roads to accommodate the worst players among the drivers. Most roads are designed to accommodate speeds of 80 km / h, regardless of the official speed limit. This design encourages speed. Additionally, these speed limits are set using the 85% rule, which determines the speed of a road based on how fast the fastest 15% of people are traveling on the road.

These high speeds are potentially fatal for everyone outside the car. The goal of reducing speeds is therefore a small step towards making cities less dangerous for those who choose not to travel by motor vehicle.

The amazing thing about reducing traffic speed is that small changes in speed can have a huge impact on safety. Reducing speed from 50 km / h to 30 km / h (a 40% reduction) reduces the likelihood of a car-person collision being fatal from 80% to just 10%. It also significantly reduces the risk of an accident, as slower speeds make cars more responsive to braking and give the driver and the person outside the vehicle more time to react.

Percentage risk of death and injury at different speeds. Source: Auckland Transport

Despite drivers’ growls, slower speeds have little impact on travel times. Reducing speed from 50 km / h to 30 km / h only adds 48 seconds of travel time per kilometer. For the average 11.9 km trip to Auckland, this speed reduction adds just over nine minutes to an average 23-minute trip. Slower speeds reduce crashes, decrease inefficient queues and groupings, and make walking and cycling more appealing. As a result, travel times become more reliable, so on average your commute is barely affected by slower speeds, but your city is by far a much safer place.

Impact of reduced speeds on travel times. Source: Auckland Transport

Myth 2: Eliminating parking in front of stores will kill businesses

A common argument against reducing on-street parking is that it will kill local businesses. This is a common misconception among store owners. Research around the world has shown that business owners overestimate the number of people who drive to their store and vastly underestimate the number of people who arrive on foot, by bike, or by public transport..

Studies have shown that not only more than 95% of people who shop in convenience stores use active or public modes of transportation, they also spend more per visit and visit more often – in some studies, but these groups have also been shown to be responsible for more than 90% of a store’s turnover. More recent evidence suggests that cycle paths and pedestrian facilities are a boon for local businesses, even when it requires the removal of a traffic lane or on-street parking.

Parkdale Cycling Study. Source: TCAT

Myth 3: Electric cars will save the planet

Much has been said about the future of transportation with electric vehicles. But electric cars are still cars. Increasingly, they are as big as vehicles with internal combustion engines. There is nothing about them that reduces the demand for more road space.

Electric cars will not save the planet.

Fully electric cars represent less than 1% of New Zealand’s car fleet, and globally only 2% of new cars sold are fully electric. Even though as of that day every new vehicle sold was electric, we would need to go well beyond our 2030 emissions mitigation commitments to see substantial reductions in total carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Electric cars will do nothing to prevent a climate catastrophe.

Composition of New Zealand’s light fleet in 2019. Source:

The quality of life in our cities, apart from a potential reduction in air pollution, is not significantly improved by the adoption of electric vehicles. Roads full of heavy and fast metal objects are unattractive to the majority of potential users. Buses stuck in traffic are inefficient.

Beyond the challenges of achieving a significant level of electric vehicle adoption, the way in which raw materials for electric vehicles are extracted, distributed, assembled into cars and then disposed of at the end of the vehicle’s life is highly unsustainable. . If we are to face our climate and congestion crisis – the bicycle is potentially “”ten times more important than electric cars to achieve net zero cities. “

Myth 4: Autonomous vehicles will revolutionize our transportation system and our cities

Self-driving cars are cool tech, but they fall short of the flying cars promised decades ago. There is real technological promise in allowing cars to travel safely at high speeds very close together, virtually eliminating the need for more roads and eliminating vehicle-related fatalities.

But there are two problems with self-driving cars. To achieve the efficiencies envisioned by enthusiasts of automated vehicles, almost the entire fleet, or at least nearly 90% of it, would need to be self-sufficient.

Average travel time for different AV penetration rates in heavily congested traffic. Source:

The control of reality intervenes in the (necessarily) slow deployment of autonomy. If things keep moving at this speed, only 10% of vehicles will be autonomous by 2030. It’s a long way to a fully autonomous fleet from there.

Even if we come to a point where all cars are self-driving, would anyone want to live in a place where the roads are filled with packs of high speed robotic cars? What would our cities look like then? Would our urban streets become just a conduit to get somewhere else quickly?

We also have a conundrum about the fleet. Virtually none of the electric cars developed and sold today has the technology to be self-driving. This means that we plan to replace our entire fleet of vehicles with electric vehicles, and then in a very short time, this entire fleet will have to be replaced again with autonomous electric cars. Such a rapid fleet renewal is historically unprecedented, incredibly expensive and quite expensive.

Myth 5: Adding road capacity reduces congestion

The last myth is perhaps the most widely understood but universally ignored.

In 1992, Anthony Downs coined the term “Triple Convergence” to explain what happens to increased capacity on highways. This was a reformulation of an older term also first applied to Downs transport called ‘induced demand’.

As Downs explained, when new freeway capacity is added, people see the potential time savings and change their behavior to take advantage of the faster commute times. This change in behavior includes returning to driving from another mode, driving on the widened highway rather than local or arterial roads, or traveling during rush hour rather than less congested off-peak hours. In the long run, rush hour congestion will return to its pre-expansion level.

Anticipated traffic and actual traffic after road widening. Source:

When roads are enlarged, they also have the potential to induce changes in land use. Combined with the effects of triple convergence and natural population growth, studies have shown that 80% of new road capacity is consumed within 6 to 8 years.

A more effective way to deal with congestion is to reduce driving. This can be done on the supply side by providing more efficient public transport and better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. On the demand side, although politically unpopular at the moment, effective market-based solutions like charge the full social cost of driving can be used.

For almost 150 years, we’ve had one of the most efficient, sustainable, accessible and safe modes of transportation available. It does not require any fossil fuel to transport people through a city. It has virtually no negative impact on the climate, does not make the air dirty, does not obstruct the streets, nor does it require changes in the city’s infrastructure. It is perhaps the most equitable form of transport and it complements rather than competes with public transport.

If you want to help make our transportation system sustainable, your next car should be a bicycle.

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