On a global scale, urban transportation plans are evolving from cars to more efficient and sustainable modes of transportation. Take Oslo for example, the capital of Norway, which plans to be car-free by 2019, or Paris, who plans to double the number of bike lanes and ban diesel cars by 2020. With rising urban populations, there’s simply not enough space to accommodate cars in cities, and with the long feared consequences of climate change already here, environmentalism is playing a bigger role in urban transportation than ever before. It begs the question; what will mobility look like in cities in 20 years?
When factoring in things like health, speed and congestion, cycling has always been one of the best ways used to get around a city, and with the invention of e-biking, much of the concern and setbacks around biking have disappeared. Electric bikes work with you as you pedal, allowing you to commute faster and farther in less time. Typically, e-bikes cut down commutes on regular bikes by 50 percent, debunking the argument that biking is only logical for short distances. Most importantly, e-bike technologies make it a bike for everyone, meaning regardless of age or fitness level, you can ride comfortably and well.
Although the benefits seem endless for both the rider and the city, ridership in Toronto has been slow to take off among bikers. “About four years ago you started to see more and more positive articles about electric bikes in regular bike magazines,” Bruce Ford tells me over coffee. As the manager of one of the city’s few e-bike focused shops, he’s seen the growth first hand, “before people saw electric bikes as a quirky little part of the market but now, they’re becoming more mainstream.”
Last year, Trudeau spent $768 million to update and expand Canada’s public transportation systems hoping to eliminate congestion and encourage public transit. However, if Europe acts as any indicator when it comes to sustainable urban transportation, e-bikes might be our solution. The entire continent of Europe sold over 1.5 million e-bikes just last year, with some countries seeing tripled annual growth, and in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, bikes and e-bikes together outnumber cars. This adoption didn’t just happen overnight. European cities have been implementing various tactics to encourage e-bike ridership over the past decade, and if Toronto wants the same results, we better start making changes now.
“The city doesn’t look at e-bikes as a mode of primary transportation, when in reality, for so many people, it is,” Bruce explains to me. Toronto’s lingering mentality that e-bikes are still recreational toys is present in their regulations around them. For example Toronto offers no tax breaks for e-bikes, although they do for electric cars, and they refuse to change regulations on e-bikes that classify them in with mopeds, banning them from boarding public transit and riding in bike lanes. Considering Toronto’s crippling traffic and less than average public transportation system, it’s hard to understand why the city hasn’t yet taken e-biking as a more serious answer to their problems.
However, e-bikers are a community at work. They don’t just ride, they also make sure to tell you they ride. Bruce credits this as a major reason why, even without the city of Toronto’s encouragement, e-bikes sales continue to rise. “You end up with fifteen sales from one sale. People buy one, have their friends try it, and next thing you know, all their friends are one by one in the shop and riding an e-bike home.”
This is true for Matthew Locke, an e-bike enthusiast living and working in the city. He’s been riding an e-bike for two years now, and other than walking, it’s the only way he gets around. Sick of biking home exhausted after a hard day’s work, he was quickly converted to an e-bike. When I ask him why he loves it, he spews out pretty much everything I expect; efficiency and speed of travel, sweat-free, competitive price versus cars, easy storage, and in his own words, “if the battery dies, you can pedal the thing.”
“I like that it’s good for the environment,” Matthew elaborates, “but it’s more so that I don’t want a car. I’d rather allocate that money to travel or an experience of some sort.” Matthew, a 20-something, echoes his generation in this sentiment, more interested in spending on experiences over things. As a widely eco-conscious generation, millennials are eager to find more affordable and efficient ways to get from point a to b, so it only makes sense that this is the generation leading e-bike culture.
Yet the generation of eco-friendly advocates can’t do it alone. City planners are part of the solution, and currently, Toronto’s city design encourages driving. Of course, a bike focused city will take time and money to build, but the long term benefits are far worth it. Bike-centric cities mean less carbon monoxide and other pollution. It also allows means less congestion and more downtown space, something we’re running out of. On top of more space on the roads, e-bikes don’t require building parking lots or highways, which means, as Bruce puts it, “fewer parking lots and more parks.”
It’s about time for the city to recognize e-bikes as a serious solution to their congested transportation problems, but for now, the e-biking community will continue to spread the word themselves, slowly but steadily making strides towards a more efficient, eco-friendly urban transportation system — one e-bike conversion at a time. Although perhaps not as fast as we’d like, if we use Bruce’s statistic that every one e-bike rider makes for fifteen more, we’re on the right track.
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