Why Your Next Car Is a Bike
On the window of a bike shop in Copenhagen, a sign reads: Your next car is a bike.
More than 62 percent of Copenhageners cycle to work in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, and the municipality is actively investing in new bike lanes and green light waves to allow seamless commutes in the morning traffic. In recent years, new types of bikes, such as cargo and electric bikes, have also reduced the need for family cars.
But these trends aren't unique to Copenhagen. Around the world, cities are witnessing the emergence, and sometimes the demise, of smarter, healthier and cheaper transportation tools and systems, and they are attempting to integrate them into existing mobility patterns.
Paris pioneered one of the first city bike schemes, the Vélib', and projected it onto the global stage. The system took advantage of innovations in smart cards in the early 2000s to deploy a fleet of around 15,000 bikes, accessible by the hour, to residents and tourists. It soon became a refreshing new mode of discovering the city's leafy boulevards, away from traffic jams and crowds. The system was very successful and inspired similar schemes across the globe: Milan in 2008, London in 2010 and even NYC in 2013, which, to the surprise of many, has raced ahead on the path to becoming a bike-friendly city.
The next wave of innovation came from the East. Chinese startups Mobike and Ofo and Singapore-based oBike took advantage of GPS tracking. If you know where a bike is at all times, why do you need docking stations? And dockless systems were born, with clear advantages in terms of usage for customers and deployment for cities. Before spreading to many other cities in 2017, these companies raised billions of dollars in funding and became known as Chinese bike "unicorns," Silicon Valley jargon for companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more.
Then, the issues started.
First, quality. Many bikes required constant maintenance and were often out of service.
Then, vandalism, as bikes freed from docking stations were much more vulnerable to improper usage. They were drowned in Amsterdam's canals, and they eventually ended up in urban bike cemeteries around the world, giving rise to pollution concerns and prompting cities to get more stringent in granting licenses.
Finally, the business model came under pressure. At the beginning, new deposits by customers financed the deployment of new bikes, but market saturation soon threatened this strategy. As of now, several dockless bike startups have gone bankrupt, and Mobike — the remaining largest player — is considering selling most of the stakes of its European arm.
Yet, micromobility addresses important urban issues, and as such, it will certainly have a role in tomorrow's cities. Of all trips in the United States, 80 percent are under 12 miles, and in New York City, most don't exceed 2 miles. This is precisely where the car is not particularly competitive — and where micromobility is handy. Micromobility is more energy and space efficient, and safer if accompanied by dedicated urban areas.
Besides, why use a five-seat, 2,000-pound SUV to move what is often less than 200 pounds? If you can access one the vehicle that best suits you at the touch of an app, it would be better to go for a two-seater, when moving with a partner, or when alone, a single-pod car, bike, or even dockless electric scooter, which are now deployed by companies like Bird, Lime, Bolt and others. These scooter companies have attracted investment from big ride-hailing operators such as Uber and Lyft, and they're probably just the first sign of a richer biodiversity (or bike-diversity?) in mobility.
If micromobility can play a big role in the coming years, cities and investors should plan ahead to avoid recent shortcomings. To avoid polluting bike cemeteries, cities should start providing designated spaces for dockless parking. This would fit well with the trend of managing the curb as a city-wide resource that could provide income to public administrations. To manage this multipurpose physical space, there could be a corresponding unique digital platform — granting us the freedom to choose between cycling, scootering, walking, taking an on-demand vehicle, using the subway or train and hitching a ride with friends. We could call it the "moving web" — an integration platform similar to what happened with the airline industry a few decades ago.
Cities should also manage citizens' expectations. Urban tech means using the city as a lab. The next few years are an important time for experimentation, but city governments should communicate with citizens to educate them about tolerating failure. This means allowing ideas and innovations to be tested by people and using feedback loops to take users' responses into account.
If we are able to address the above issues, the future of micromobility will be bright — and will help make our cities healthier and more sustainable. And then, your next car could, indeed, be a bike.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
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