It’s estimated that about 50 percent of car trips in urban areas are three miles or less in length, making them a possible candidate for replacement with other modes.

By Skip Descant

It stands to reason that moving more car trips in urban areas to micromobility modes will reduce congestion. New research quantifies this reduction, offering another tool for policymakers and infrastructure planners.

A study from Carnegie Mellon University zeroes in on how micromobility — namely e-bikes — can affect congestion in Seattle, finding that if even 10 percent of short car trips during peak afternoon travel were replaced with micromobility, more than 4,800 car trips would not happen, decreasing vehicle miles traveled by more than 7,300 miles a day, a 2.76 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The big takeaways are that micromobility could decrease congestion, especially on highly congested corridors. But you’re going to need wide-scale bike lane deployment,” said Corey Harper, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the authors of the study.

It’s estimated that about 50 percent of car trips in urban areas are three miles or less in length, making them a possible candidate for replacement with other modes.

Americans are not huge cyclists. Only about 1 percent of trips in the United States are taken by biking, according to the 2017 National Household Travel Survey. But one of the many side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was an increase in cycling in a number of metro areas. And micromobility advocates have been bullish about the growth potential for this transportation sector.

Speaking at the Micromobility World Conference last month, Travis VanderZanden, founder and CEO of Bird, said his company’s aim has always been to serve short trips.

“So far, it seems like we’ve been able to have a pretty good impact on some of these short-range trips. But there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said VanderZanden.

VanderZanden also stressed the need for more micromobility infrastructure to better serve these new forms of transportation.

“We need to continue to solve this chicken and egg problem for cities by showing them, hey, people are willing to get out of cars now. Let’s make sure the infrastructure follows suit. And that’s bike lanes. But it’s also more dedicated parking for micromobility as well,” said VanderZanden.

“Right now,” said Harper, “if you replaced a lot of short car trips with bikes, then these bike trips are going to interfere with private vehicles, because there’s not a lot of bike lanes.”

In Seattle, it’s estimated that 18 percent of short car trips could be replaced with micromobility, and during peak travel times, some 70 percent of trips in the Puget Sound region are made by private vehicles, according to the study.

The research could be used by metropolitan planning agencies, cycling advocates, transportation planners and others, said Harper.

“This quantifies the impacts more bike lanes could have in terms of energy use and getting more people out of cars and onto bikes,” he added.

It will take more than pedal power to solve the world’s climate crisis, say researchers, who note replacing a lot of short urban trips with micromobility would likely do more to improve congestion than to reduce energy usage. The reason is simple: Longer trips, made by cars and other vehicles, still account for the bulk of emissions associated with the transportation sector.

“So we’re going to do a whole lot more than just replace short trips with micromobility. We’re going to have to electrify vehicles, buses, trucks. We have to target longer trips with commuter trains, commuter buses, in order for cities to meet those climate change targets that the White House set out,” said Harper. “We’re going to have to do a lot more than just say, ‘Alright, everybody get on a bike.'”