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Air pollution and traffic jams, are electric bikes the future?

The Home Quality Mark and BREEAM Communities are encouraging the use of sustainable transport.


I like driving and cars, at the last count I think I’ve owned over 20 cars in the last 15 years including a few  Alfa Romeo’s which I think officially makes me a petrol-head.  I’ve even literally driven across the world.

But when it comes to getting from A-B, particularly on a regular basis (i.e. commuting, shopping etc.) I’m increasingly thinking the car doesn’t make sense.

The car offers great freedom, you just jump in and off you go – to wherever you want; one day you might decide to drive to Omorate on the Ethiopian, South Sudanese and Kenyan border (Landcruiser’s can go anywhere!) or perhaps just to the local Lidl.

But there is a problem, well a few actually. Most cars still burn fossil fuels, in an internal combustion engine (ICE) either petrol or diesel.  Car manufacturers have tried to make them as efficient as possible, even combining ICE with electric power in Hybrids.  However, all cars with an ICE emit CO2 and Pollution.  CO2 changes our climate and pollution can have a big impact on our air quality.

Today in London the Mayor is urging people not to drive. Last week Air Quality was poor with pollution assessed as high, Parents were advised to “take care” when taking their babies outside because of the levels.    Being a Londoner, with a 10month old and on annual leave, we decided to leave the capital – but can’t do that every day there is a pollution event.

Tesla think they have found the solution, with an electric car (no tail pipe emissions) integrated solar and battery storage.  For many, this probably is going to be the best solution.  While currently out of economic reach for most of us, Tesla promise that they will be affordable for more of us in the future.  We do need to think about the embodied impact though.

Electric cars don’t quite solve all the issues though.  Even £100k Tesla’s will still have to sit in traffic, and according to the RAC commuting adds more than 700 calories to our diet.  Pollution also comes from tyre and brake pads.  Talking with a friend who works in car finance, owners of electric Nissan LEAFs and Renault ZOEs are often going over their contracted mileage limits, presumably because owners are not thinking about fuel costs.  In 2015 traffic in the UK grew by 2.2%  it looks set to continue in 2016.  The unpredictability of driving is now becoming a serious issue.

So what is the solution? Simply there isn’t one solution.  Public transport can be great, but sometimes it isn’t always as flexible as you might like.  And while it is actually possible to get public transport to Omorate it can be a struggle to carry your shopping back on the bus.  It is great to see some housebuilders trying to think outside the box, Curo for example is planning a cable car to link its new development with the centre of Bath.

Cycling has really taken off in many places in the UK, Cyclist now make up 70% of traffic on Blackfriars Bridge . Increasingly, cycling is something for all, not just those in Lycra.  Saddiq Khan has just announced £770million for cycling initiative.   Currently in these cold months I’ve switch to an eBike.  Ebikes (popular in Europe) have a battery and a little motor, they help you get up to speed and also up hills.  You might have seen the G-Tech adverts, mine is a Kudos Stealth, which has gears and suited my somewhat hilly commute.  My 14 mile commute used to take about 55 minutes on a road bike, on the Ebike it is 40mins, which is more reliable than driving.

In the Autumn statement, the Chancellor announced £2.3Billion for new housing infrastructure, in order to ensure that we don’t have continued pollution events, traffic jams and poor health we need to ensure that where this money is spent on transport, it should favour sustainable options.

Home Quality Mark, and BREEAM Communities (master planning scheme) both encourage sustainable transport options in new housing developments.  This includes better provisions for walking, cycling and public transport and also the installation of electric vehicle charging facilities.  In Home Quality Mark this makes up part of the indicator scoring with impacts upon our costs, health and wellbeing and environmental footprint.

However great the alternatives are becoming, there is still nothing like a bit of Busso opera in the Stelvio pass, nobody has come up with a replacement to that yet…