Navigant Research Blog

Autonomous E-Bikes May Grow Ranks of Cycling Commuters

John Gartner — September 3, 2015

Bicycling safety seems to be gradually improving, as the number of people cycling to work in the United States is growing significantly while fatalities have remained relatively unchanged.

According to the latest American Community Survey executed by the Census Bureau, the number of workers who cycle to work grew from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in the years 2008–2012, for a 60.8% increase. Cycling as the primary means of transportation grew to 0.6%, while travel by private motor vehicle remained dominant at 86%.

Unsurprisingly, bicycling to work is most popular in larger cities, with Portland, Oregon retaining its spot at the top in the United States with 6.1% of all commutes done by bike. The United States trails bicycle commuting in Europe, where cities such as Hamburg are pushing to have 25% of all city trips completed by bike. The survey also found that men bike to work (0.8%) at more than twice the rate of women (0.3%).

Biking blog graphic

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), cycling deaths in crashes with motorized vehicles have been increasing over the past few years but haven’t kept pace with the increase in commuting. Approximately 743 cyclist fatalities occurred in 2013, which is up 1% from the year prior and is disappointing for safety advocates. Many cities are addressing safety by adding bike lanes and increasing outreach to drivers.

Electric Bicycles Keeping Pace

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are expected to be part of the continued growth of cycling commuting trips. According to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report, annual e-bike sales will grow by 76% between 2014 and 2023 to nearly 270,000 units in the United States. E-bikes can extend two-wheeled urban commuting beyond the current average of 19.3 minutes, as they can take over for weary legs on hills and aid cyclists to arrive more quickly than via pedal power alone.

An e-bike that could increase safety was premiered at August’s Eurobike conference by startup company coModule, as reported by Electrive. The Estonian company modified a Veleon electric cargo bike with autonomous driving features that can be remotely controlled via a mobile phone app. In addition to increasing the ability of cyclists to anticipate dangerous situations, the three-wheeled bikes could be used someday to deliver medical supplies to remote areas without the need for a driver.

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