I’m sure there are people who bike to work specifically because it is better for the environment. I don’t know those people, and I am not one of them. For me, biking to work is about money, health, and overall quality of life. Don’t get me wrong, I know that what I’m doing is good for the environment, and I’m glad of it, but reducing my carbon footprint is not the reason I ride.
Still, the environmental benefits of biking to work are real.
Modern cars run incredibly cleanly–when their engines are warm. However, according to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 40% of all trips in the United States are to destinations within two miles of home, which means that the car is just getting warmed up when it is time to turn it off. Indeed, 60% of the pollution created by automobiles happens in the first few minutes of operation. This may be why, according to The Clean Air Council, motor vehicles are responsible for 31% of total carbon dioxide and 81% of carbon monoxide released in the U.S.
Particulates are fine particles (less than 10 microns in diameter) that are suspended in the air and get deep in your lungs, causing lung disease. They include dirt, smoke, dust, pollen, metals and organic compounds such as nitrogen oxides. Motor vehicle emissions are responsible for 49% of nitrogen oxides in the air and the average care scatters 40 pounds fine particles created by worn tires, brake debris, and worn out road surfaces into the air over the course of its life.
Unlike most other vehicles, bicycles are nearly silent.
You know motor vehicles use energy to propel themselves, but it also takes energy to manufacture vehicles and transport them from the factory to the consumer. Depending on how you calculate it, between 70 and 100 bicycles can be built with the resources required to build one car. Because of their vast differences in weight, a bicycle can travel over 900 miles on the energy equivalent to one gallon of gasoline.
The amount of impervious surface (asphalt, concrete, etc.) required to move bike traffic is a lot smaller for bicycles than for cars, even though most cars carry the same number of travelers as most bikes (1). The amount of impervious surface required to park a bike is also a lot smaller than for a car. You can park between six and 20 bikes in the space required to park on car (depending on how you stack them).