New Green Jack New Green Jack

21 responses to “Could it actually be greener to drive than to pedal?”

    • Tim Allen

      From the perspective of a sustainable transport planner (and ecotricity customer!), I think there is a fundamental issue that you need to think about with this – the NEED to travel. Post-war planning policy was all about opportunity and economic growth and “you’ve never had it so good!” stuff. Consequently because the car was king, land use planning was not very local-living friendly. Hence people have developed lifestyles where they drive 20+ miles to and from work each day – and they see this as normal!

      I am keen to explore the extent to which people actually LIKE travelling that distance – and would they prefer not to have to? I think increasingly there is evidence that they would, if they could, like to turn the clock back a bit. If we drew a line under road-builidng – and stopped doing it, just hypothetically, how would that change the way we live?

      I reckon over time people would re-adjust – they would seek jobs more locally, consider their quality of life more. I wonder if the side effect of the credit crunch and the house price crash is that people will be able to afford to live closer to where they work – and we should perhaps have policies that reinforce and respond to that aspiration.

      I think we need to start planning for the outcomes that we want to see – not planning only for the worst case scenario. We need a better recognition that what we plan for, we usually get – plan for unsustainable trends to continue – in case they do, and they surely will!

      Recently I’ve been working on some principles associated with trip purpose – why do people travel? I reckon it comes down to three things – there are “economic trips” – those are ones that we do at work, or lorries carrying goods, then there are “life affirming trips” – these are ones we have to do to function in society – go to work, go to school, buy food, that sort of thing. And then there are the third type – the “discretionary trips” – which are the ones we only make because we can afford to.

      I reckon people – individuals, have an over-whelming desire to make their “life affirming trips” as brief, efficient and cheap as possible – and policy needs to catch up and provide the means for them to do so. Which would mean more people using the bike, or Shanks’ Pony, because they could.

    • Will

      Interesting points and as an engineer I’m always open to ‘doing the numbers’ to come closer to truth as rather than relying on supposition. However, good engineering relies on good assumptions and the right frame of reference. That’s where you have gone wrong here.

      People do not eat food ‘efficiently’ (ie. eating more to do a daily bike commute as opposed to a basic calorie intake). Instead, in the developed world, we eat far more calories than we need (you only need to look at the obesity stats to know that) and thus convert food to work or waste with varying overall efficiency (witness the results of eating a large curry meal). Perhaps what you’re saying is that in a future carbon limited world we need to limit our food consumption, but I don’t think that rationing is anywhere near reality!

      So, instead what you are actually doing when riding your bike as an average person is increasing efficiency by letting less food go to waste and getting more work out of a meal.

      The other problem is that to look at this as a pure carbon problem leads to ignorance of broader sustainability issues in a similar way as has happened with 1st generation biofuels. We miss the incredible health benefits of cycling and its potential assistance with the obesity problem. We leave out the debilitating effect on the economy of road congestion caused by cars. We forget the environmental impact of loss of habitat from building roads.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love what you are attempting with the wind car and I agree electrified transport and electric cars in particular are part of the solution. There are also other sustainability positives to the electric car – increased mobility is good for the economy. But you must recognise that sustainability means thinking in terms of horses for courses and your frame of reference needs to be right.

      A bike is a great sustainable solution for a 10 mile return commute, but you are not going to go from London to Birmingham on a bike in a day for a meeting (your 30 miles per day scenario is definitely unrealistic for most people on bikes). You instead need to compare your car to realistic competitors (the train or the bus).

      Finally I think the biggest problem with you presenting your numbers in this way is providing fodder for the Clarkson’s of this world who spout crap statistics to justify their recalcitrant world view. This in turn can damages progress towards sustainable solutions.

      In the modern era there has been far too much spent on road infrastructure by governments at the expense of sustainable transport solutions. The chronic underinvestment in bike and public transport infrastructure for so many years has lead the UK to its current position where the infrastructure fails to cope with demand and provides no incentive for people to make the right choice. Instead people are lead towards the carbon intensive single occupancy car that dominates the country and gives us such a large part of our current carbon problem.

    • kdd

      I agree with Will. It’s a good thing you are devoted to developing less harmful cars, but arguing that they are better than bikes is one step too far and undermines your credibility.

      Much more important than substituting gasoline powered cars for electric cars is substituting the car alltogether, for the bike (short distances) and the train (long distance).

    • Damon Hart-Davis

      I’m not a car owner, and I’m not a petrol head, but there are occasions where the car is the right thing to use to get a legitimate job done, and in that case having a superior alternative to the ICE is a good thing.

      For example, rural journeys with goods to carry where population density is of necessity too low for much public transport, especially train, to be viable for much or all of the journey. For example, what is my farmer aunt in the country a couple of miles from the nearest (poorly-served) bus stop meant to do when she gets ill or needs to get some substantial shopping? Or take produce to market?

      Currently there are occasional journeys (such as an annual visit to my aunt!) where I hire an ICE. I’d much rather hire an EV and the range is doable. But my local car-hire companies don’t have any EVs presumably because they are currently too expensive and ‘weird’.

      Cars continue to be a fantasticly liberating mode of transport for many people, so if we can ditch much of the environmental badness that currently goes with them, all to the good.



    • MechaZilla

      I have not read a piece that I agree with more on this blog than Will’s comment, above. Far too much emphasis is placed on individual modes of transport rather than communal methods. For example the whole of the South East runs on electrified railways- think of the decrease in carbon kg/mile/person if these were powered by renewable sources. Similarly London Underground (who I believe do currently use a “green” tariif – whether it is a true green tariff or a greenwash tariff I’m not sure)provide a remarkably environmentally sound method of transport if measured using the carbon kg/mile/person comparison.

      Essentially my point is that sustainability lies in co-operation and community and that economies of scale are true in terms of energy efficiency as well as finance, so I think that the practical application for an electric 2 person (small adults too, if the original Lotus Elise is anything to go by) sports car is limited.

    • Justin Noe

      Well this topic certainly seems to create much discussion. I am one of those cyclists who endures morning rush hour and wished he could one day sit in the warm comfort of his EV during winter months.
      Yes sustainability is an issue but I do worry that too much socialist rhetoric may lead on to a “Logan’s run” style population control discussion!
      Cars are fun and sportcars are a child’s dream so I guess what I’m saying is we should push for evermore eco friendly ways of realising those dreams.
      I hope that this is just the beginning and that future EVs may actually become good for the environment. Keep up the good work Dale but don’t pick on us poor cyclists too much! We can’t help breathing out all that horrible CO2.

    • Naturehead

      Not a petrolhead, a naturehead. I’ve got a bike but need the car, living in a very remote area of countryside. As Will said – chronic lack of infrastructure and any proper planning for bike users – that’s the problem. When a city dweller the bike was fine!

      I’m waiting for electric cars to get longer range – And it would be charged on Ecotricity of course!

      On the farm I work at we’ve got electric buggies already doing this – the battery technology is what lets us down. Ever seen the film – “Who Killed the Electric Car?” ?

      Finally – calm down, cyclists – Zero’s obviously NOT arguing against bikes. He’s just shown us some useful arithmetic!

    • Igor Kolar

      Well, now I’m ashamed, even during high school I never did more than 19 miles per day, and that was just some 50 minutes worth of driving.

      But anyway, I found these numbers very interesting, certainly surprising, specially in a way that, if you carpool the number goes way up in the favor of the car. But we’re also talking air powered and electric cars, i.e. vehicles which will require new infrastructure, refitting of factories, advanced technology. Bikes on the other hand are unlikely to get any better, nor do they have to.

      Also, (and this is just an observation, not an accusation), you keep referring to this problem as ‘being greener’ than something else. That should account for way more than just carbon I think. What about the titanium compounds that end up on the side of the road from catalytic converters, the size (and number) of the tires one has to go through during those 14 years. All the other fumes we endure in the cities because its ram packed with cars. The very size of the cars, for which (at least in my city) there are already seldom places one can park, and none of them are unobtrusive for pedestrians, and cyclists. Add to that the infrastructure of new garages and parking lots, pavements, the damage done after car accidents which also has to be sanitized plus injury treatments and petrochemical byproducts in medication that are used and….I’ve gone way off, but my point is:

      interesting as it may be to see how inefficient our bodies are compared to the marvels of technology we produced, I hardly think that anything human powered, weighing less than a decent computer case, can be considered less green.

      But that’s just me, and don’t take it as I said, as an accusation, it’s merely an observation, from a student of design who is terribly worried what the hell he should do in his working life…

    • Randy

      Nice. Dale thank you for doing these calculations. What if all workers and projects have a waste footprint too? Have you factored the per worker and per vehicle waste unit into your building process? Here is some of my thinking about this from a few years ago.


      Social Sustainability Factoring

      Carbon Footprint (Home) + Waste Footprint (H)
      Carbon Footprint (Work) + Waste Footprint (W)
      = PSQ (Personal Sustainability Quotient)

      LEED Building Rating + PSQ(x)
      = TSQ (Total Sustainability Quotient)

      x=number of people in your business

    • Barry

      There are many issues regarding electric cars that people do not realize. A great site covering these is which also tell you how to build your own electric car.

    • Gavin

      “It’s really to illustrate that there are ‘hidden costs’ things we often overlook or assume are free – in this case cycling.”
      hmmm… Actually Dale, me think thou dost protest too much. When I first read this and looked at the dodgy maths I was amazed and had to check the date, thinking this was an April fools joke. On realising it isn’t I sat perplexed as to why someone such as yourself would be persisted with this line of BS…. Then it occured to me why… You are copping flak over the car building thing, aren’t you?

      All your green chums (the vegan type rather than we somewhat more pragmatic treehuggers) have turned therir heads in shame at you and you have felt the need to defend your electric car for tools…

      Its OK, Dale, most of us forgive you 🙂

    • Tom J. Byrne

      You keep calling it a wind powered car and it’s not really.
      I have an idea for a wind powered car but looking at the progress you have made it would be impossible to implement into the design that you have already developed.

      Your car looks great though. Hope it proves as efficient as you desire and that it gets into production.

        • Xena

          I guess it’s technically not powered by the wind itself… but it’s a shorter name than “electric vehicle charged from a house that uses electricity produced by wind turbines”

        • paul

          Hiya Tom.

          Ah yes – we do get that a lot. People expect ‘wind-powered’ to mean a ‘normal’ car, but directly powered by a vehicle mounted wind turbine… sadly that is not possible with our current understanding of physics… 🙁

          ‘Wind power’ generally involves converting the rotational energy from the wind blown blades into electricity, which is regulated, then either stored in a battery and inverted before being sent to power a device, or is sent direct to the grid for distribution. It is still wind power though.

          If you want to see a literal example of a wind powered car (as in – no electrical storage, conversion, transmission shenanigans between the wind and the power to drive) then check out one of Ecotricity’s other projects – the record breaking Greenbird, which still pushes the laws of physics to the limits…

          Thanks for dropping by,