WASHINGTON – After Paul Snodgrass got an electric cargo bike last year, he said it quickly became his vehicle for everything: commuting to work, transporting his kids and even hauling a playhouse.
The Arlington, Virginia family’s Subaru Outback can be found mostly at home. Their Toyota Prius, which once traveled 1,000 miles per month, now has around 300.
“It’s funny. It’s really fun,” said Snodgrass, 41, who competes with a friend to see who can get the wackiest loads on his motor rides.
Cycling makes up only a tiny fraction of the billion daily trips Americans make, but advocates and some lawmakers hope to get more people like Snodgrass on two wheels. House Democrats looking to tackle climate change have put forward a proposal in recent days as part of a massive $ 3.5 trillion program to provide billions in tax credits for the purchase of bicycles electric.
The $ 7.4 billion measure would be perhaps the most publicized push yet for emerging technology in Washington, DC, where the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats have shifted transportation priorities to focus. on the sector’s contribution to environmental damage. By combining the effort of a cyclist with a small electric motor, e-bikes provide the power to travel at 15 mph without breaking a sweat, carrying hundreds of pounds, or traveling long distances – tasks that might otherwise require a car.
“It’s absolutely exciting,” said Noa Banayan, a lobbyist for PeopleForBikes, a business group and advocacy organization. “Anything in the billions is really a lot bigger than what we’ve seen before. “
Transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States. Emissions peaked in 2006, before the financial crisis, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but have steadily increased in recent years. House Democrats, who gathered in a committee group last week to push forward the gigantic tax and spending proposals, are casting a wide net to turn the tide.
They are dotted with ideas to reduce carbon emissions from transport all the way through packaging. It would provide billions for transit; financial incentives for cities and states to reduce emissions; grants for cleaner jet technology; subsidies for the high-speed train; and money to help people buy electric cars, as well as set up places to charge them.
Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Chair of the transport and infrastructure committee, said the extreme weather conditions this summer showed why action was needed. He described being in Washington and seeing the sun rise in a sky blurred by western wildfires.
“America is on fire,” he said.
DeFazio’s part of the bill provides for $ 4 billion in subsidies for reducing carbon emissions. It would also force the federal government to set targets for reducing transportation emissions and reward states that make the most progress, while ensuring that latecomers suffer “consequences.”
It also offers $ 10 billion in additional funding for public transit under a program jointly managed by the federal departments of Transportation and Housing. The unusual structure of the program was designed to circumvent President Joe Biden’s pledge that the bill – that Democrats would go through a process called reconciliation without the support of Republicans – would not add money to the measures included in it. a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the Senate.
“There is no money here to build new highways,” said Yonah Freemark, transport researcher at the Urban Institute, a policy analysis organization. “There is money to do a lot of other types of improvements that are much more aimed at generating alternatives to road transport and creating opportunities for people to switch to much more sustainable transport options.”
Republicans on the transport committee said the proposed spending was a waste and an attempt to finalize infrastructure negotiations. Representative Garret Graves, R-La., Said the bill should bolster disaster relief, such as hurricanes like those that hit his state.
“It’s an absolute slap in the face,” he said. “I didn’t hear anybody, anybody call and say, ‘Hey, I want you to put $ 9 billion in transit on top of the $ 69 billion we put into it last year. “
The Biden administration is also betting heavily on electric cars, issuing an executive order calling for half of new vehicles to be zero-emission by 2030. The reconciliation plan would back that goal with tax credits for car buyers. electric cars, offering the biggest payouts to people. who opt for those made by unionized workers from American manufacturers. It also includes billions of dollars to fund charging stations and other infrastructure.
But the nation’s car fleet takes a decade or two to renew itself, meaning the emissions gains from those sales are expected to start slowly. A recent forecast from RMI, an environmental organization, concluded that a 45% reduction in transportation emissions by 2030 – in line with Biden’s overall goal for the nation – would require 70 million cars electric on the road and for Americans to drive 20%. less.
“We cannot expect American car buyers to emerge from the climate crisis – even if they are in electric cars,” said Julia Thayne, director of the urban transformation team at RMI, in a statement. E-mail. “We need to make sure that investments in transportation encourage and prioritize alternatives to driving.”
Their supporters say e-bikes could play an important role in this transformation, as about half of car trips are four miles or less, according to the National Household Travel Survey.
The popularity of cycling has exploded during the pandemic as people locked away at home turned to cycling to stretch their legs. Growth in e-bike sales exceeded that of standard bikes, with market research firm NPD Group estimating that 274,000 were sold in 2020.
The new tax credit would be worth up to $ 750, and couples filing jointly could claim it twice if they buy two bikes. The credit would be linked to income and would start to disappear for couples earning more than $ 150,000 a year. Another provision in the bill would provide a monthly tax benefit of $ 81 to cover costs associated with cycling, similar to what many employers offer for transit or parking.
Karen Buhler’s family had relied on one car since arriving in the Chicago area three years ago. Then she bought an electric bike in the spring. Buhler, 36, uses the bike to get around his suburban Chicago neighborhood, making the five-mile trip to Costco and playing Tetris to organize his shopping on board.
By the time Buhler paid for the bike – nicknamed Sonic because it’s blue and fast – and the accompanying racks, bags, child seat and locks, the cost was around 8,000. $. Nonetheless, Buhler said she could avoid the gasoline and maintenance costs of owning a car.
“I was not a biker, a cyclist, but I feel like I am now,” she said. “I’m doing my exercise. I save money. I help the environment. I spend time with my children.
While the cost can be a barrier for many families, Caron Whitaker, deputy executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, said the biggest barrier to increasing the number of people riding bicycles is safety. In recent years, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in crashes has increased, even as the number of drivers and passengers killed has declined.
Jessica Bowles-Martinez, 41, described riding her electric bike in Pasadena, California as a “cheat code” that allows her to avoid long waits in queues at school. But she said the cycling infrastructure was poor and finding safe routes required looking for underpasses and lanes with little traffic.
“The way I’m going is longer and has more level changes, which is why having an electric bike is so helpful,” she said. “This means that a steeper, slightly out of the way route is still possible and won’t make me much later or more sweaty.”
Whitaker said the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill includes measures that could help improve cycling safety. It includes a provision that would require states to tackle pedestrian and cyclist safety and require the federal motor safety regulator to consider dangers to people outside of vehicles.
“We hope this will be a point of change where we see states and communities really considering biking and walking when they think about their future transportation plans,” Whitaker said.
But Banayan, the lobbyist for the trade group, said that while tax credits would ideally go hand in hand with infrastructure investments, the bipartisan bill falls short of what his group wanted. This would increase funding for a federal program used to build bicycle lanes, but would not increase funding for recreational trails.
Nonetheless, she said, “It’s absolutely progress. “