Bikes, buses, and trees

photo of a dedicated bus lane with bike lane and a city bus with a tree

Though all cars cause traffic congestion and take valuable land, electric cars do not, as greatly, lessen the health of bicyclists, bus riders, and trees.

Reduction in mobile source air pollution exposure and beneficiaries

  • Bicyclists breathe heavily when pedaling hard and inhale ultra-fine particles while riding beside the tailpipe plume of many combustion engine vehicles. Though the health benefits of bicycling outweigh the downsides from exposure to pollution, having electric vehicles would better ensure the health of the bicyclists.
  • Bus passengers are the most exposed to mobile source air pollution because they spend considerable time inside the bus in traffic surrounded by combustion engine vehicles. If the vehicles surrounding the bus were electric and the bus was electric, the bus users would have cleaner air to breathe while waiting for the bus to arrive and while inside the bus. Pollution exposure while waiting for the bus in India has been so damaging to health that bus stops have been designed with filters to clean the air for the waiting passengers.
  • Trees exposed to mobile source air pollution do not thrive. Healthy trees reduce air pollution but, if the trees are not healthy, they cannot provide the benefit of clean air to the city. As there are other gases in the street, such as pollution from power plants or wood burning, streets will have cleaner air with electric cars and mature trees.

Competition for street space and who should win

  • Bicyclists in a study conducted in Montreal, had a 28% lower injury rate if riding in a cycle track, a barrier-protected bike facility that is beside the sidewalk, compared with biking in comparable streets without bike provisions.1 Also in Montreal, there were 2.5 times as many bicyclists riding in the cycle track compared to riding on parallel comparable streets.1  If a street is narrow and traffic high, the space beside the sidewalk is often used for moving vehicles or parked cars. As cities need multiple spaces to recharge vehicles, some cities put charging stations on the curbside edge by the sidewalk. Subsequently, that space cannot serve as the cycle track.
  • Bus passengers have rides that last much longer than necessary because the bus is stopped in traffic. If the bus could travel in a dedicated bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor, the travel time can be considerably shortened. The bus rapid transit lane typically is placed beside the sidewalk, but this is also a space where some city officials are placing electric car charging stations.
  • Trees need volumes of soil to be able to achieve a full crown. They can be planted in Silva Cells which are a plastic open structure filled with soil that allows the roots to spread.  Cars require gravel and asphalt depth to carry the weight of vehicles while sidewalks and cycle tracks require less deep gravel and asphalt. If recharging stations are placed on the road beside the sidewalk, the gravel and asphalt road depth must be sufficient to carry the weight of vehicles. A street with width given to sidewalks and cycle tracks, and not vehicles recharging, would have a greater chance to have trees that thrive because the trees would be under less asphalt and in Silva Cells.
parallel parked electric vehicles charging at charging stations on the side of the road
This is an example of electric cars being charged on the side of the road where BRT, cycle tracks, or trees should be placed, because electric cars could be charged off-road. [Photo: Anne Lusk]
two-way cycle track beside a sidewalk with mature trees and bushes as a barrier between the cycle tracks and the street
Two-way cycle track (in Paris) where cars were once parked, with mature trees in the sidewalk and bushes as a barrier between the cycle track and the street. [Photo: Anne Lusk]