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Cities turn to e-bikes to help reach climate goals

Bike safety National Team 072319
Posted at 11:10 AM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 11:10:59-04

Public transit took a major hit during the pandemic. In June 2021, nationwide ridership of some buses, rails, and train systems was two-thirds its usage in 2019.

The decrease has proven to be a barrier for some people to get to places like the grocery store or work, but cities are working to bring public transit back, and in a greener way, by turning to electronic bikes, or e-bikes.

E-bikes work very similarly to regular bikes but are assisted by an electric motor that allows bikes to reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour without pedal assistance. A full charge on a starter electronic bike can give a rider 20-30 miles of effortless riding, whereas some of the more top-end models have charges that can last up to 100 miles.

“It feels good that people are actually taking their time to benefit our community with these bikes,” said Virgil, a 20-year-old in Denver who did not want to give his last name and has been using a city-paid-for e-bike for the last three months.

Virgil received his bike from a free loan program the City and County of Denver is funding through a 0.25% sales tax that was implemented last year. The bill, which voters approved, helps bring the city $40 million annually to use for its climate initiative goals.

“If the benefits of our work don’t translate to the people in communities that are most harmed by climate change impacts, then we’re not doing our job,” said Grace Rink, Denver’s chief climate officer.

Denver has committed to lowering its carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050, a goal many cities nationwide have committed to as well.

Cities in parts of New England, Western New York, and Oakland have all implemented e-bike programs to reach that goal.

A study done in Portland last year that was published in ScienceDirect found if residents there used an e-bike rather than a car just 15% of the time, greenhouse gas emissions in the city could be cut by 12%.

“We’re trying to be really creative to get money out to people and to community-based organizations so they can actually do climate work on the ground in a way that meets their needs of their community,” said Rink.