Achieving the goal of sustainable, low-carbon transport demands a comprehensive approach. We need to avoid unnecessary trips, shift travel to more sustainable modes, improve transport technology and increase access to jobs and opportunities. Viewed in the context of this Avoid-Shift-Improve framework, most policies to date have prioritized “improve” over “avoid” and “shift” solutions.
Rethinking the way we get around allows us to shift to lower-emitting modes while improving quality of life.
Focusing on land use and mobility planning, public transport, cycling and walking can offer simple solutions to combat urban congestion and air pollution. Public transport, including so-called informal transport, is especially critical in urban areas, where it can be the most accessible, efficient and safest means of transportation. In many cities and in disconnected areas, residents who do not have convenient transportation may be either underserved or trapped into extraordinarily long commutes that hinder access to opportunities, medical care and other necessary services.
Many barriers have prevented the widespread adoption of active options like cycling: the limited availability of protected bike lanes, unfavorable weather conditions, topographical challenges, social perceptions associated with biking, and the perceived risk that local businesses will suffer if car access is diminished or denied. If cities and urban centers can overcome these impediments, they could propel a transition to a low-carbon future.
Active mobility (cycling or walking) and micromobility (shared bikes, e-bikes and scooters) could eliminate as much as 50 to 70% of short car trips (0-5 km). But making roads safe and convenient for cyclists and pedestrians will be an essential first step. Copenhagen and Bogotá have demonstrated that, despite challenges such as long winters or mountains, well-planned biking infrastructure increases daily bike use and can create a vibrant cycling culture.