Cycling and walking instead of driving

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Leaving the car at home for regular journeys

The average car produces three tonnes of co2 a year; walking or cycling produces none. Is it time to lose the car and use your legs?

Transport of choice for the climate conscious, bicycles are greenhouse-gas-free, good for the heart, and cheap - yet they account for less than 2% of journeys in the UK.

Walking is cheaper still and also excellent exercise - but the government reckons we walk 20% fewer miles than we did a decade ago.

So what will it take to get us out of our cars?

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Photo: Cycling and walking instead of driving

Saves 1,400kg of CO2 a year

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • Brits spend a staggering five weeks a year commuting
  • The number of people cycling in London has risen 83% in the last seven years
  • The number of deaths due to physical inactivity every year in Britain is over 300 times greater than the number of deaths due to cycling (46,000 against 153)
  • Only 30% of men and 20% of women are as fit as they should be for their age
  • Men cycle almost three times more often than women
  • If one third of all short car journeys were made by bike, national heart disease rates would fall by 5-10%
  • While over 90% of kids own a bike, just 2% cycle to school
  • On average, cycling burns about 300 calories per hour

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," said Confucius. On the other hand, Confucius didn't drive. Nowadays a journey of a thousand yards often begins with a turn of the ignition key. But we could do ourselves and the climate a lot of good if we tried some alternatives:

  • If the four million Britons who drive four miles to work every day cycled instead, between them they would save a million tonnes of CO2 a year
  • If all commuters left the car at home one day a week for the next year, we would save enough miles to travel to the moon and back 35,000 times
  • Getting rid of your car altogether can wipe three tonnes off your emissions - over three times the annual emissions of the average citizen of Swaziland
  • Manufacturing a car emits five tonnes of CO2 - more than the average Brit's direct emissions of CO2 in a year

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What's stopping me?

"I don't have the time"

We Brits now spend an average of five weeks a year just commuting. In busy cities, bikes can often be the fastest way from A to B. According to Transport for London, for example, a bike is twice as fast as a car on a four-mile journey in the centre of London.

"What about safety?"

It's true you're safer in a car than on a bike: the stats suggest that cyclists are 10 times more likely to be killed on the road than car drivers, and even more likely to be injured. That said, you're actually more likely to have an accident just walking on a pavement than cycling in the UK.

"If I buy a bike, it's just going to get stolen"

A bike is pinched every 71 seconds in England, so a good solid lock could be an investment. Retailers recommend you spend 10-20% of the bike's total value on a lock.

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How do I do it?

You've probably got walking covered - if not, check out Walk It for walking routes in your city.

Here are some cycling tips:

  • Buy a tax-free bike through Cycle Scheme
  • Find a safe bike route to school for your children on Sustrans
  • Get a free regional cycling action pack and other tips from Sustrans with information on cycle routes near you and your work
  • Try carry-on cycling for a combined rail and bike commute: buy a miniature folding bike which you can carry on to public transport. (See BBC News: 'A-bike, no less')
  • Find tips on maintaining your bike with BBC Sport

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Anonymous 2009-12-04

Be cynical about cycling statistics. They're always based on current cyclists. How many current cyclists have died from cycle accidents? Surprise, surprise None! How many current cyclists have been permanently disabled through cycling accidents? Surprise, surprise None! - They can't be current cyclists because of their disability/death. Ditto less serious injuries which have still had a huge negative impact on their lives. You've been warned.

greenmaus 2009-10-03

I cycle to work every day which is a 50 min. return ride. It helps me to get rid of stress, unwanted calories and helps our planet as well :)

c, Inverness 2009-08-25

cycle to school every day well fun

Dave, London 2009-05-23

Recently bought an electric bike from Sustain Cycles. I can now get to the shops and back without the trouble of parking. Also take it on my campervan when going away for the weekend!

Linda, Reading 2009-04-19

I'm the same as Beandette from Omagh. I don't have a car and can't drive. I only ever walk or use public transport. I don't go places that need a car, so if I can't get there I don't go. On the rare occassions when a car is necessary, I sometimes get a lift from friends. The bus service in my home town is pretty good and was even running a reduced service when the snow fell over alot of the country. As a family we get about using public transport or walking and the same goes for our holidays.

Bernadette, Omagh 2009-03-23

I don't have a car (am saving for one at the moment) so only ever walk or take the bus. It will be a challenge not to drive everywhere when I do have my car, but I hope to be motivated to walk short journeys for the environmental and health benefits. The bus service in Northern Ireland is not great, and there are no trains in the west of the province where I live. I will try and buy the most eco-friendly fuel efficient car I can afford.

Che Guava, Keighley 2009-03-04

Just cut daily commute from 50 miles per day in a car to 22 by changing jobs, will probably be able to use public transport and bike but running on recycled chip fat anyway!

Baz, Shropshire 2009-02-22

It seems that many in power have the misconceived idea that we drive a car because we like it, if only it were that simple. Perhaps an example may make the point, for 14 of the past 18 years I have driven from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury 5 days a week (300 Miles a week). This was to get to work and earn money to pay the bills and eat etc. I would have been classed as a skilled professional when at work, and if one looks at skilled people it will be found that they have a longer commute than semi skilled workers. So it was my job and grade that set my commuting pattern. Sice retiring, my car use has fallen cosiderably, this must be proof conclusive that I drive to survive, rather than I survive to drive. This model must be true for many car users who wish they could simply take the car out for pleasure rather than need but the deplorable public transport system makes this impossible for many.

Anonymous, Flintshire 2009-02-18

Would love to cycle to work. But, it would add 3 hours to my day, make me late to pick the kids up from school, I do shifts and we have no shower faciliies at work, I would feel a bit sweaty all day/night.

Anonymous, Flintshire 2009-02-18

Would love to cycle to work. But, it would add 3 hours to my day, make me late to pick the kids up from school, I do shifts and we have no shower faciliies at work, I would feel a bit sweaty all day/night.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere. navigation


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