The next administration should capitalize on recent interest in cycling spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic by committing to triple the share of commutes made by bicycle from 0.5% in 20191 to 1.5% by 2024. This goal is achievable through policies that make cycling safer and more affordable.
Other than walking, cycling is the least pollutive mode of transportation. Led by the Department of Transportation (USDOT), the next administration can encourage a nationwide shift from driving to cycling by adjusting various policies related to cost, road design, and automobile safety. USDOT can further encourage biking by holding states accountable for reductions in automobile vehicle miles traveled (VMT), greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) from transportation, and traffic fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians.
Challenge and Opportunity
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many Americans to begin riding bicycles and electric bicycles (e-bikes) in order to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and maintain physical distancing while traveling. Cities including Los Angeles and Houston have seen significant upticks in cycling in 2020, while bikeshare systems in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York set new ridership records. A sustained move toward cycling could reduce GHG emissions from transportation, the sector that is the largest source of GHG emissions in the United States. Pedal bikes produce less than 1/15 as much GHG/mile as taxis or ridehailing services (e.g., Uber and Lyft), and around 1/10 as much a private electric automobile. Lifecycle emissions from bikes and bikeshare are nearly as low as pedal bikes, and e-bikes in particular could replace short automobile trips in urban areas.
These data indicate that tripling the share of commutes made by bike from 0.5% today to 1.5% could, by displacing driving, reduce GHG emissions by the equivalent of 3.8 billion car trips annually. A mode shift toward biking would also improve health and reduce urban congestion (because a bike requires less street space than an automobile).2
However, there is no guarantee that the current uptick in cycling will endure. Prior “bike booms” in the United States—in the 1890s, the mid-1930s, and the early 1970s—all ultimately faded.
Part of the challenge is that the federal government has historically done little to encourage biking. In fact, federal policies frequently impede cycling by making the activity more dangerous, especially as automobiles have grown heavier and taller (e.g., guidance that speed limits be set according to the “85th percent rule,” which pushes them higher). From 2009 to 2018, cyclist fatalities grew 38% to 1,100 annually, more than eight times the number of Americans killed from rail collisions, to which USDOT allocated $245 million in FY 2020.
By implementing policies that make cycling safer and cheaper the federal government can pave the way for sustained growth.
Plan of Action
The next administration should take immediate steps to reduce the risk of injury or death to cyclists while reducing the financial cost of cycling. The next administration should also incentivize transportation projects that reduce VMT and GHG emissions, which will boost proposals that encourage biking. Recommended actions are presented below.
Under the next administration, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should implement the following specific measures to reduce biking deaths and injuries:
- Direct states to share locations of all traffic collisions resulting in death or serious injury, flagging those involving cyclists and pedestrians. NHTSA and FHWA should use the data to create annual High Injury Network maps.
- Direct states to submit up-to-date maps of all bicycle infrastructure, including protected and unprotected bicycle lanes. USDOT field offices should audit this information, and states should receive annual grades for their efforts to reduce pedestrian and cyclist crashes.
- NHTSA should update the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to include metrics such as serious injuries and the presence of protected or unprotected biking infrastructure.
- NHTSA should publish revisions to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) that credit automakers for vehicles that minimize risk to vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists, through crash-avoidance technologies as well as through designs reducing likelihood of serious injury or death in the event of a collision.
- FHWA should issue guidance to states prohibiting them from setting “negative safety goals” that lead to annual increases in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities that are treated as successes.
- FHWA should eliminate the outdated “85th percentile rule” as a recommendation in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
- FHWA should issue guidance encouraging the use of federal funds on temporary “popup” projects designed as pilots for future infrastructure investments.
- USDOT should require states to demonstrate provision of access and safe accommodation for non-motorized users (i.e., cyclists and pedestrians).
The next administration should take the following actions to make biking more affordable to all Americans:
- The U.S. Trade Representative should make bicycle and bicycle components exempt from Section 301 tariffs, which would reduce the cost of importing items like children’s bikes and lithium batteries from China. This would reduce the cost to consumers of purchasing and maintaining a bicycle as well as the cost to businesses and cities of operating public bikeshare services.
- The administration should support passage of H.R. 7330, which would make bicycle and bikeshare expenses eligible for pre-tax commuter benefits. The administration should also support revising IRS 30D, the Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle Credit, to extend subsidies to e-bikes as well as electric automobiles.
The next administration should take the following additional actions to further encourage a conducive environment for biking at the state level:
- Re-establish GHG reduction as a performance measure for transportation and issue annual ratings of state performance.
- Revise the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program to include goals of reducing VMT.
- Issue USDOT guidance on Section 109 of the US Code pertaining to federal-aid highways that clarifies that maintenance projects must demonstrate access for all transportation modes (e.g., protective infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians).
- Support the language in H.R. 2 that the FHWA adopt “fix it first” principles favoring road maintenance over new construction.
Locking in the sharp growth in cycling spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic could enable the American transportation network to become safer, cleaner, and more efficient, especially in urban areas. The next administration should capitalize on this opportunity through a suite of complementary actions that make biking less dangerous and more affordable. These actions will encourage those who recently began cycling to continue, while compelling millions of additional Americans to begin using a bicycle in place of an automobile.
Though biking has enjoyed a surge of popularity in 2020, the fact remains that only a small fraction of trips is taken on a bicycle. Even in Washington DC, the city with the most bike commuters, the share of commute trips taken by bike was only 4.5 in 2018. There is significant room for growth, which the Federal Government can help encourage. 16 Furthermore, many of 2020’s new cyclists could revert to other transportation modes when the pandemic recedes. Federal efforts to make biking safer and more affordable will decrease the likelihood of reversion.
Research suggests that even the most optimistic forecasts for converting automobile fleets to electric vehicles would fail to keep global average temperature increases below two degrees this century. A shift from automobiles toward walking, biking, and transit would still be necessary. Furthermore, many e-bikes are sold for below $2,000, a fraction of the cost of an electric automobile. That makes e-bikes an affordable mobility option for a larger share of the population (and means that the taxpayer cost of subsidizing e-bikes would be far less than the current $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit).
The government will no longer refuse to confirm or deny that persons who are prevented from boarding commercial aircraft have been placed on the “No Fly List,” and such persons will have new opportunities to challenge the denial of boarding, the Department of Justice announced yesterday in a court filing.
Until now, the Government refused to acknowledge whether or not an individual traveler had been placed on the No Fly List and, if so, what the basis for such a designation was. That is no longer the case, the new court filing said:
“Under the previous redress procedures, individuals who had submitted inquiries to DHS TRIP [the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program] generally received a letter responding to their inquiry that neither confirmed nor denied their No Fly status.”
“Under the newly revised procedures, a U.S. person who purchases a ticket, is denied boarding at the airport, subsequently applies for redress through DHS TRIP about the denial of boarding, and is on the No Fly List after a redress review, will now receive a letter providing his or her status on the No Fly List and the option to receive and/or submit additional information.”
If the individual traveler chooses to pursue the matter, DHS “will provide a second, more detailed response. This second letter will identify the specific criterion under which the individual has been placed on the No Fly List and will include an unclassified summary of information supporting the individual’s No Fly List status, to the extent feasible, consistent with the national security and law enforcement interests at stake.”
The new redress procedures were developed in response to legal challenges to the No Fly List procedures, which argued that the procedures were constitutionally deficient or otherwise improper. The notice of the new procedures was filed yesterday in the pending lawsuit Gulet Mohamed v. Eric H. Holder, Jr., which is one of the ongoing lawsuits over the No Fly List.
“A number of travelers who dispute any connection to terrorism have alleged that they have been denied boarding on commercial aircraft,” a recent Congressional Research Service report noted. “A denial of entry can occur, for example, when a person’s name and/or date of birth correspond or are similar to the identity of someone in the government’s watchlist database.”
The CRS report, which predates the newly announced procedures, reviewed many of the legal issues involved. See The No Fly List: Procedural Due Process and Hurdles to Litigation, April 2, 2015.
Update: DHS TRIP has received and processed more than 185,000 redress requests and inquiries — regarding enhanced screening, delays, or denials of boarding — since 2007, DHS told the House Homeland Security Committee in a September 2014 hearing.
Update 2: A similar notice regarding changes in the No Fly List redress procedures was filed in several other pending lawsuits, including Latif v. Holder, in which a court found the previous process unconstitutional. In its filing in that case, the Justice Department added: “The Government will be closely monitoring the initial implementation of these newly revised procedures on an interagency basis, and will, as circumstances warrant, consider whether further revisions to the process are necessary. The revised procedures will be discussed in more depth in Defendants’ upcoming summary judgment briefing.”