Dani Permuy, CMO Capri Bikes.
Whenever I attend forums on sustainable mobility, I find that the vast majority of the speakers are from the automotive lobby. The debate then revolves around the electric car, tacitly assuming that electric cars and sustainable mobility are exactly the same thing. But the truth is that they are not. They are far from it.
To make my position clear, I like to start my speeches by recalling that the private car, electric or otherwise, is the antithesis of sustainable mobility and that, moreover, in Europe alone, there are some 275 million more cars than at the beginning of the century, representing 25% more and an immense occupation of public space.
The space taken up by cars in the city is completely disproportionate and the opportunity cost of this is simply enormous, so great that it is almost impossible to measure. This is the real battle horse for truly sustainable mobility in cities: to recover the huge amount of space that has been taken up by the car.
The car in the city in figures
There are some sobering facts. The average speed of the car in the city is about 15 km/h. The average distance travelled by car in the city is less than 5 kilometres. However, according to a brilliant study by the Complutense University of Madrid with the working group "Huella Ciclista", the bicycle is the most competitive means of transport for short and medium trips (up to 20 minutes) in cities.
If we convert a road with two car lanes into a single lane road with wider pavements for pedestrians and a cycle lane, we can move up to 10 times more people. That is the dimension, the true scale, of what the car takes up in the city.
The question is, does it make sense for the car to occupy so much space in our cities, does it make sense for the private car in its electric version to continue to set the urban planning agenda in cities, to monopolise subsidies and to appear as the standard-bearer for sustainable mobility?
The Danish model: making it convenient to move around sustainably
The truth is that the efforts of the car lobby are bearing fruit and the message, however false it may be, is getting through. Therefore, the real challenge facing sustainable mobility is the use of road space. Fitting the private car into the infrastructures needed to encourage the use of sustainable mobility (and not the other way around) is the key to everything: pedestrians, bicycles, public transport, car sharing... and from there, fitting the private car in as far as possible.
The reality is that sustainable mobility has to be a matter of convenience, and not so much of will, but to make moving around in a sustainable way as convenient as possible, steps have to be taken in terms of infrastructure and legislation. When cyclists in Copenhagen were asked why they cycled, only 1% mentioned the fight against climate change as the main reason. The most voted reason (56%) was to get to work faster. The second most voted reason was 35 points behind (only 19% of respondents) and was to lead a healthier lifestyle. Third was saving money (6%).
All these reasons have to do with sheer convenience. I cycle because it's convenient for me. Full stop. Because it's good for me, and it's good for the planet? Fine, but I cycle because it's good for me.
It turned out that the Danes didn't cycle because they are more environmentally conscious than their European neighbours: they cycle because it's convenient for them, because they have the right infrastructure, with well-designed and connected cycle lanes and parking facilities at key points, because, in short, getting around their city by car is more complicated for them.
The Sustainable Mobility Pyramid
The European Green Pact places the mobility pyramid as follows:
3. Public Transport
4. Shared Transport
5. Private Car
However, political decisions (such as the famous MOVES aid plan or the Next Generation funds in Spain), completely invert this pyramid.
Support for the private electric car is boosted because the car lobby has been responsible for spreading the false idea that the electric car and sustainable mobility are the same thing (although in reality it is exactly the opposite) and because the pyramid of sustainable mobility set out by the European authorities and which appears in the Green Deal is not taken into account. In other words, because they make a banger out of the funds.
The car lobby lies
Meanwhile, the car lobby continues to lie shamelessly, delighted to lead a green transition that has very little to do with green and none at all with transition. First it lies when it equates the private electric car with sustainable mobility, and then it lies when it talks about this green transition.
Without going into the question of whether or not electric cars are as polluting as internal combustion engines, as some important studies suggest, even if we wanted to switch the entire fleet of internal combustion engine cars to electric vehicles, this would be physically impossible.
On the one hand, there would be a lack of raw materials to manufacture the batteries that would be needed, and on the other hand, there is not enough copper to install all the charging points that would be necessary. There is also no way back. Cars with internal combustion engines cause some 400,000 premature deaths in Europe due to pollution and account for more than 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Greenpeace. Moreover, according to the International Energy Agency, there are oil reserves for a maximum of 40 years.
As if this were not enough, Europe is a community heavily dependent on third parties for oil. In other words, continuing to promote the private car, electric or otherwise, as well as forcing us to maintain - or rather expand - the road space dedicated to it in the city, with the opportunity cost that this entails, goes completely against sustainability, whichever way you look at it.
It is crucial to reclaim the road space occupied by cars in the city
For this (and many other reasons), as Charley Montgomery explains in his fabulous essay Happy Cities, it is crucial to reclaim the road space we give to cars in cities.
"Laws, design standards and legitimacy favour the private car," he says, even though we know for a fact that people who cycle are happier, more productive and have a higher quality of life and life expectancy, reducing public spending dramatically.
We also know that the future will be sustainable or it won't be, and that sustainability in cities means taking the car out of the centre of our policies and our urban planning. The car lobby bombards us with clean and shiny advertisements to try to keep us sitting and getting fat in that endless traffic jam that they now disguise as sustainability, but what is most striking and gratifying is that the actions that help us fight Climate Change are precisely the same actions that make us happier.
More green spaces full of birds and trees, more pavements to walk on and keep in touch with your community, more cycling.
CMO Capri Bikes