E-Bikes Can Improve Urban Travel Mobility, Efficiency, NREL Study Shows

Do automobile drivers dream of electric bikes? They might, as a new study seemed to find a preference for e-bikes in Denver when commuting and taking short trips, even if roads weren’t cycling-friendly.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) used its travel data collection technology, OpenPATH, to measure the efficiency of city transportation. The team calculated how efficiently individuals could reach employers, goods, and services when using e-bikes, regular bicycles, and auto vehicles. The resultant robust figures are the Mobility Energy Productivity, or MEP, metrics for these modes.

NREL selected the Mile High City out of six locations that were part of a two-year pilot by the Colorado Energy Office that started in spring 2021, providing 181 e-bikes and 50 electric bicycle-share memberships to low-income essential workers in different locations around the state.

Why study the use of e-bikes? “Electric bicycles were the best-selling electric vehicle in the United States,” said K. Shankari, principal investigator with the Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences at NREL. And about three-fourths of trips in the U.S. are shorter than 10 miles, “a distance that is well within e-bike range,” explained Shankari, who developed OpenPATH, full name Open Platform for Agile Trip Heuristics. Then there’s the much lower sticker price compared to cars.

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The Denver results are highlighted in "Mobility Energy Productivity and Equity: E-Bike Impacts for Low-Income Essential Workers in Denver,” co-authored by Shankari and published in Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board .

“Tapping into OpenPATH data from nearly 50,000 trips, MEP calculations showed that several locations in downtown Denver provided time-, cost-, and energy-efficient access to opportunities using e-bikes compared to driving,” said Christopher Hoehne, NREL mobility systems research scientist, in a statement.