From free electric bikes to new infrastructure, the fabric of our cities is changing

The U.K.'s first "Dutch-style" roundabout, in Cambridge, prioritizes cyclists and pedestrians over motorists.Joe Giddens | PA Images | Getty Images

  • Projects can take the form of new road layouts and cycle hire schemes.
  • While the roll out of electric vehicles is encouraging, challenges remain.

In the latest example of how the cities we live and work in are changing, a city in northern England has launched a free trial of electric bikes in a bid to encourage commuters to ditch their cars and use two wheels instead.

The scheme, in Leeds, will enable people to use the bikes for as long as two weeks, providing they put down a £200 (roughly $256) deposit, and the trips people undertake can be up to 10 miles each way. In total, 15 bikes will be available: 10 of these are fixed-frame, while the other five are foldable.

Leeds’ electric bike scheme follows on from another trial in the city that gave charities and businesses the chance to use electric vans for free.

“Since launching the electric van trials scheme earlier this year, participants taking part have invested in cleaner and greener vans of their own so we’re excited to launch this similar offer for electric bikes,” James Lewis, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader, said in a statement issued Monday.

“As part of our transport strategy, we’re working hard to make cycling an everyday choice for people in Leeds,” Lewis added. “Electric bikes have a really exciting potential to make it easier and more accessible to many.”

Leeds is not alone in its attempts to encourage the use of electric bikes. Parts of the U.K. capital, London, also offer a scheme in the same vein: This summer saw a firm called HumanForest roll out electric bike hire – free to use for 20 minutes a day before charging a fee of 0.12 pence per minute – in Islington and Camden.

Green travel

The desire of municipal and national authorities to develop greener infrastructure and encourage more sustainable forms of transport looks like it’s here to stay. Major cities such as New York, Paris and London, for instance, already boast well established and popular cycle hire programs.

On Tuesday the Scottish city of Aberdeen said it would work with experts from energy major BP to cut emissions and “become a climate positive city.”

The collaboration will focus on a number of areas such as: The use of hydrogen in transportation and for heat and power; the development of “solutions for clean, low emission vehicles”; and boosting energy efficiency within buildings.

The U.K. government on Wednesday announced £12 million in funding for electric vehicle research projects, including ones looking at the rapid charging of batteries. 

While the roll out of electric vehicles, as well as the infrastructure that’s required to make them run smoothly, is encouraging, much more needs to be done to reach climate goals.

In a statement sent to CNBC via email, Daisy Narayanan, director of urbanism at Sustrans, a charity focused on walking and cycling, described electrification as being a “step in the right direction for urban mobility.”

“Electric cycles in particular open up cycling for last mile deliveries, people travelling further distances, along with those wanting to try cycling for the first time,” Narayanan said, highlighting a number of talking points. 

“However, if we really want to meet decarbonisation targets, we need to think beyond electrification, and in particular electric cars,” she said. “Whilst the air quality emissions from combustion are reduced, the brake and tyre emissions from electric cars can still result in dangerous levels of particulate matter.”

Changing layouts

With efforts underway to encourage both walking and the use of bicycles, the physical infrastructure of cities is also undergoing a change with the development of segregated cycle lanes and wider sidewalks taking place.

Even roundabouts, a big feature of roads in the U.K., are starting to look different. At the end of July, in the city of Cambridge, a “Dutch-style” roundabout was officially opened.

The roundabout, described by Cambridgeshire County Council as “the first of its kind in the U.K.,” has been designed to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over motor vehicles.

A system of pedestrian crossings and cycle lanes means that, on their approach to and exit from the junction, vehicles have to give way to pedestrians and cyclists.

Whether it is the introduction of electric vehicles or changes to the layout of roads, the cities and towns we live in are changing.

“Ultimately, we need fewer, not just cleaner cars on our streets, and solutions that have a better impact on urban space, liveability, congestion, and public health should be prioritised,” Sustrans’ Narayanan said. “Streets and places that invite people to walk and cycle will help us tackle air pollution from motor vehicles, and create healthier, happier cities.”

Pin It on Pinterest