ARB Bicycle Awareness Program

This page last reviewed March 03, 2015

Bicycle Fact Sheet

Bicycling is important to the health of Californians -- and not just to those doing the cycling. Statewide, about seven tons per day of smog-forming gases and almost a ton of inhalable particles are spared from the air we breathe due to use of bicycles rather than motor vehicles.1

People choosing to pedal rather than drive usually replace short automobile trips that are disproportionately high in pollutant emissions.

Communities Lead the Way. In some California communities, bicycling has an especially profound impact on transportation choices and air pollution reduction. The City of Davis, for example, has the highest rate of bicycling in the nation. Among its 64,000 residents, 17 percent travel to work by bicycle and 41 percent consider the bicycle their primary mode of transportation.2 City officials place strong emphasis on provision of adequate, safe facilities for cyclists -- both travel lanes and properly configured traffic signals. With over 100 miles of on-street and Class 1 bicycle lanes, the City of Davis provides bicyclists and pedestrians safe access to and from school, thereby eliminating the need for the school district to provide school buses, combating child obesity, encouraging a healthier lifestyle and promoting a community atmosphere.

Other California Communities are Leading by Example. In places like Palo Alto, Pasadena, Chico, Long Beach, Santa Barbara and San Diego, innovative projects, good facilities and bicycle-friendly local policies are boosting the share of trips taken by these pollution-free vehicles. As a State we can do better, though -- much better.

Untapped Potential. California's Mediterranean climate supports cycling for most months of the year. State and federal fiscal support for bicycling facilities is increasing. And there is tremendous untapped potential for increased use of bicycles to meet our transportation needs. Consider:

More than half of commute trips, and three out of four shopping trips, are under five miles in length -- ideal for bicycling. Forty percent of all trips are under two miles.3

Past national polls have found that 17 to 20 percent of adults say they would sometimes bike to work if safe routes and workplace parking and changing facilities were provided.4 A comprehensive review of non-motorized travel data indicates "considerable latent demand for bicycling and walking will be released if infrastructural impediments to these modes are removed or mitigated." 5
About 27.3 percent of the driving age public (age 16 and older) reported they rode a bicycle at least once during the summer of 2002, which equates to approximately 57 million persons age 16 or older who rode a bicycle.6
Bicycling can be an excellent choice for enjoyable exercise. Recent exercise recommendations include a minimum of one hour of daily moderate exercise, such as bicycling, for children and adults to promote health and vigor and to maintain body weight.7

More Bicycling = Less Pollution. The U.S. Department of Transportation's three-year National Bicycling and Walking Study, completed in 1994, identified strategies for doubling the percentage of total trips made by bicycling and walking and identified scenarios for increasing bicycle trips by 3 to 5 times current levels. The 1991 Statewide Travel Survey found 1.3 percent of trips were made by bicycle. Here's the air pollution reduction that would result if Californians were to replace an additional 3 percent of car and light truck trips with bicycle trips by 2010:

Travel and Emission Reductions in 2010 for Each 1% Replacement of Light-Duty Vehicle* Trips** with Bicycle Trips (tons / day)8
  Reduction in Vehicle Miles of Travel** Reductions in Smog-Forming Gases
(ROG + NOx)
Reductions in Inhalable Particles (PM10)*** Reductions in Carbon Monoxide
South Coast Region 1,027,214 1.38 0.25 7.78
Bay Area 557,308 0.75 0.14 4.22
San Joaquin Valley 255,086 0.34 0.06 1.93
Sacramento Region 167,585 0.23 0.04 1.27
San Diego County 229,525 0.31 0.06 1.74
Southeast Desert Region 57,526 0.08 0.01 0.44
Ventura County 64,974 0.09 0.01 0.49
Santa Barbara County 30,383 0.04 0.02 0.23
Monterey / Santa Cruz 29,401 0.04 0.01 0.22
Statewide 2,656,035 3.58 0.65 20.11

   *Light-Duty Vehicles = Passenger Cars + Light Trucks (GVWR < 5,751 lbs.)
 **Average Trip Length of 1.8 Miles
***PM10 Includes Tire and Brake Wear

Funding bicycle facilities and programs can be a cost-effective means of reducing motor vehicle emissions. Selected bicycle projects evaluated by the Air Resources Board in 2004 demonstrated reductions of $5-$10 per pound of smog-forming gases and particulates. Examples of cost-effective projects include construction of Class I and Class II bicycle lanes and paths linking residential areas with employment and shopping centers; bicycle parking facilities at transit stations, bicycle racks on transit buses; and bicycle loan programs.9

What steps will achieve reductions in air pollution? The experience of communities with high rates of bicycling demonstrates the importance of both facilities and pro-active policies:

On-Street Bike Lanes along principal roads raise bicycle usage by providing official accommodation for the needs of cyclists and addressing concerns about their safety. Nationally, cities with at least one mile of bike lane for every three miles of arterial roadway have 3 to 10 times higher average bicycle commuting rates than cities with lesser ratios. 10 Count data from Santa Barbara indicate that bicycling has increased by 19 percent above the rate of population growth over a twenty-year period, with almost all of the increase on streets with striped bicycle lanes.11 Data collected in Oregon link bike lane striping to reduced accidents, corresponding with increased use.12

Secure Bicycle Parking and workplace changing facilities are important complements to safe and convenient routes of travel, according to local and national surveys of potential bicycle commuters. Combining workplace amenities such as bicycle lockers and showers with good bike lanes will substantially increase cycling to employment sites.13 Secure and convenient parking at stores will encourage shoppers to try cycling, especially in compact, multi-use neighborhoods with reduced trip distances.

State and Federal Funding is available to help local governments complete facility improvements. Through the Bicycle Transportation Account, the California Department of Transportation currently provides over $7 million dollars annually for city and county projects such as new bikeways, bicycle-carrying facilities, installation of traffic control devices to improve bicycle travel, eliminating hazardous conditions on existing bikeways, planning and improvements and maintenance of bikeways.14 More federal dollars could be "flexed" to support projects such as bike lanes and bicycle-transit linkages that reduce automobile use and emissions; California ranks 41st among the states in the portion of federal transportation dollars used for bicycle projects.15

Local Support and Education Programs for cyclists and motorists will help break down barriers and address safety concerns that limit bicycling. Bicycle safety education, such as the award-winning Safe Moves program based in Van Nuys,16 is an important element of a comprehensive local program. Public awareness campaigns, city and county bicycle program managers, and the active support of local officials work in tandem with good facilities to make cycling a safer, more familiar means of transportation.

For additional information, please contact:

Tom Scheffelin
Air Quality and Transportation Planning Branch
Motor Vehicle Assessments Section
Air Resources Board
P.O. Box 2815
Sacramento, CA 95812-2815
(916) 327-7847
(916) 322-3646 (FAX)

  1. Estimate from California travel survey data (1991) and the April 23, 2003 release of EMFAC 2002, version 2.2 emissions factors. Emissions impacts of reduced traffic congestion not considered.

  2. California Energy Commission, Energy Aware Planning Guide, 1993; Environmental Working Group / The Tides Center, Surface Transportation Policy Project and Bicycle Federation of America, Share the Road, May 1997.

  3. National Personal Transportation Survey data, 1990.

  4. Harris Poll data published by Bicycling magazine, April 1991 and by Rodale Press, 1992.

  5. University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, A Compendium of Available Bicycle and Pedestrian Trip Generation Data in the United States (for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)), October 1994.

  6. National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors Highlights Report, U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2002.

  7. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) (2002); Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Academy of Science.

  8. Calculation with EMFAC 2002 version 2.2 (April 23, 2003) emission factors.

  9. Air Resources Board, Evaluation of Selected Projects Funded by Motor Vehicle Registration Fees, December 2004.

  10. Goldsmith, Stewart A., Reasons Why Bicycling and Walking Are Not Being Used More Extensively as Travel Modes (for FHWA), 1992.

  11. Rails to Trails Conservancy and Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, Improving Conditions for Bicycling and Walking: A Best Practices Report (for FHWA), January 1998; Correspondence with Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.

  12. Ronkin, Michael P., "About Bike Lanes," Bicycle Transportation Alliance News, June 1997.

  13. Harris and New York City survey data analysis by Komanoff, Charles and Cora Roelof, The Environmental Benefits of Bicycling and Walking (for FHWA), 1993.

  14. SB 1772 (Brulte, Statutes of 2000).

  15. Surface Transportation Policy Project, Correspondence, January 2004.

  16. Safe Moves, 1121A Erwin Street, Van Nuys CA 91411; 818/762-5535.

Bicycle Awareness Program
Transportation Strategies and Air Quality