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Electric bicycles -- Effect on reducing barriers to cycling, Electric bicycles


Many cities have goals for reducing automotive VMT in order to reduce tailpipe emissions and to reduce congestion. Conventional cycling is a good solution, though its uptake has slowed in recent years in several cities, despite the implementation of greenways, bikeshare, and bike lines (Anderson and McLeod 2017). Electric bicycles (e-bikes) could be an effective new part of the solution to combat mode shift stagnation. The e-bike is a recently introduced mode of travel that is rapidly gaining in popularity throughout the United States.

The e-bike can offer a cheaper alternative to car travel (Popovich et al. 2014) and can provide users with an adequate level of physical activity intensity necessary to enhance health (Fishman and Cherry 2016). Riding an e-bike is rewarding and fun, is freeing for users with limited ability and mobility, and can even lead to a car-free household (Popovich et al. 2014; MacArthur et al. 2017, 2018; Jones, Harms, and Heinen 2016). It can be a useful tool to reduce CO2 emissions, urban noise and air pollution, and inner city traffic (Weiss et al. 2015). Lastly, e-bikes encourage users to cycle farther and more often than conventional bicycles (MacArthur et al. 2018), meaning that they offer the opportunity to multiply the benefits already available through conventional cycling. This white paper explores the potential e-bike effect on person miles traveled (PMT) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in terms of CO2 for varying levels of e-bike mode share replacement. A model for PMT shift and GHG reduction potential is created for Portland, Oregon. Portland was selected for analysis because of the availability of regional transportation data, the extensiveness of the city’s bike network that would lend itself to e-bike uptake, and the authors’ familiarity with the city.


This paper was prepared by the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University, and lead by research team members behind the LEVER Initiative.



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