Environmental Benefits of Active Transportation
Active transportation means any form of human-powered transportation. It generally means walking or biking but can also include rollerblading, skateboarding, canoeing, or any other way you like to get around.
There are tons of benefits of active transportation. In fact, lots of reports have been written on just that. I’ve chosen to look at a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called Active Transportation in Canada: a resource and planning guide. The report outlines several health, environmental, economic and social benefits of active transportation.
Here’s a summary of the environmental benefits of active transportation that will definitely get you biking to work.
If you’re like me, when you think cars and the environment you instantly think of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emission, which drive climate change, are a huge negative impact on the environment, but they’re not the only reason to leave the car in the driveway. Let’s chat about the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions if you’re in the know) and then we’ll move on to two other environmental impacts that you might not think of right away.
There’s no debating it, greenhouse gas emissions are a big side effect of private vehicle use. In 2006, transportation accounted for 25% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, with private vehicles accounting for about half of that. This number hasn’t changed much from then. In 2013, transportation accounted for 23 – 28 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, depending on how you break it down. This means that time spent in your car really does add up, so leave the car at home and make a huge difference.
These next two effects didn’t immediately come to mind. The first is air pollution. In addition to greenhouse gases, vehicles also emit many pollutants that can have serious health impacts and damage the environment, including damaging plants and agricultural crops. These pollutants include volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (tiny stuff that’s not good to breathe in), carbon monoxide and sulfur oxides. What’s most alarming is that your car emits the majority of these pollutants at the start of your trip, before the engine fully warms up. For example, in a typical 11-kilometre trip, it’s estimated that 90% of pollutants are produced in the first 1.6 kilometers. This means that all those short trips you think aren’t a big deal actually are. The good news is that these are the trips that can often be accomplished without a car.
The third is one that might not have occurred to you. Communities built for cars always include roads and parking. This means, that in order to have cars, we need to pave over a lot of land. In addition, communities built for cars are generally more spread out, think urban sprawl. Communities that rely on cars don’t need to have things within walking distance so houses are bigger and residential areas are a lot less dense. Compared to walkable communities, where housing is more compact, sprawled out residential areas tend to use a lot of space. All this equals less land for natural areas and all the benefits that come along with that such as biodiversity, natural water purification, human enjoyment, and on and on. Walkable, bike friendly communities therefore use a lot less land which leaves more land for all that good stuff.
So, next time you jump on your bike be proud of yourself because you just did a major solid for momma earth and your neighbours. If social benefits get you excited, read the next post.