Cycling and Sustainable Transport — How is North America Doing?

How we choose to get around has different levels of impact on the environment. It’s no secret walking, biking or taking transit is better for the environment than driving alone in a car or taking an airplane, for example. Much fewer greenhouse gases are emitted, and no fuel is used. Biking or cycling produces 10 times fewer carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre than driving a car, some estimates claim. Meanwhile, taking a bus can cut emissions by more than half.

There’s also the health benefits of getting exercise by walking or cycling. But with all that in mind, some cities and countries don’t make these options accessible. So, whether or not we can commute or get around sustainably depends on where we live. In many countries, urban areas may be more serviced with transit options than rural areas.


Biking/Cycling— How is North America Doing?

While most of the world’s bike friendliest cities are in Europe, plenty of cities in the United States and Canada are also known for their bike friendliness. This includes:

  • Portland, Oregon
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • San Francisco, California
  • Victoria, British Colombia
  • Austin, Texas
  • Vancouver, British Colombia

Montreal, Quebec, is the only North American city on the popular Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index. It ranks cities based on things like the number of bike racks available, separate bike lanes, and availability of bike share programs.

All in all, plenty of European cities seem to be further ahead when it comes to getting around on a bicycle.


Row of Bicycles parked next to Amsterdam City Center (Centrum). Visible are typical Church and Dutch Houses in the background. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


What about Public Transit?

When it comes to public transit, a 2017 transit index ranked various cities around the world based on factors like access to transport services, hours of accessibility, wheelchair access, greenhouse gas emissions, commuting travel time, and affordability. Here are the top 10 cities worldwide from the 2017 index:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Zurich
  3. Paris
  4. Seoul
  5. Prague
  6. Vienna
  7. London
  8. Singapore
  9. Stockholm
  10. Frankfurt

No North American city made the top 20 of this index. At 23rd place, New York City was the top North American city. Other North American cities on the list include San Francisco, Vancouver, Montreal, Washington, DC, and Boston.

While more cities are prioritizing public transit, others are clearly doing it better. Almost all of the top-ranked transit cities are in Asia and Europe, providing other cities and regions with many examples to consider.

While it’s clear walking, cycling and taking transit has its benefits, some places just have it easier. But there are plenty of ways to make getting around towns and cities greener.  That could include more designated bike lanes, more affordable and accessible transit, and improving transit emissions. And, luckily, there are plenty of examples of this to pick from.

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