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Can we keep travelling?

So, what can we do to reduce the carbon footprint of travelling?

We could use our own muscles to get around by walking or pedalling, but this active travel requires safe networks to make it an easy and pleasant alternative to using a car. This people-powered travel also needs to be better connected to public transport, so it’s straightforward to move from one mode to another.

And as our climate changes, it’s important to maintain and improve our roads and travel networks so they are more resilient to the extreme weather we are predicted to experience in the future.

Carbon emissions from international flights more than doubled from 1990-2019
Carbon emissions from international flights more than doubled from 1990-2019.
UNDG 11 aims for safe, affordable, accessible & sustainable transport systems
UN SDG 11 aims for safe, affordable, accessible & sustainable transport systems for all.
Electric motors are 3 times as efficient as petrol
Electric motors are 3 times as efficient as petrol.

Source: Department for Transport, Transport and Environment Statistics 2021 Annual Report & National Infrastructure Assessment, National Infrastructure Commission. 

Engineering a net zero world

Civil engineers are designing, building and maintaining the infrastructure to allow us to make greener transport choices.

They are constructing the network of charging points needed to allow us to move away from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles.

You’ll find them creating new cycle lanes and paths, building bridges and tunnels around obstacles, planning more bus routes and tramways, upgrading train stations and railways to accommodate modern electric trains to carry more passengers, and collaborating on new technologies to decarbonise air travel and airports.

It’s not just people that move, but things – and civil engineers are also playing their part to clean up the freight sector – from things like increasing rail capacity to take lorries off the road to improving ports and harbours so more goods can arrive by sea.

And all the while, civil engineers are finding ways to cut down on the carbon they use in construction, or prolong the life of existing structures, like bridges, so they don’t waste carbon building something new when they don’t need to.

Ask an engineer

“Transport is the highest pollution sector in the UK. The private car is the biggest culprit, but interestingly, the vast majority of car journeys are less than five miles – a distance covered without too much difficulty on a bike for many people.

There is, therefore, huge potential to convert car journeys into cycling, walking and public transport trips.

Our duty as civil engineers is to design infrastructure that integrates cycling and walking appropriately into the transport network, making short journeys by bike and on foot more pleasant, cheaper and quicker than the private car.

High quality infrastructure can make it easier for people to make the right choice when it comes to travel."

Rhiannon Evans

Project case study

The NI Multimodal Transport Hub (North-West)

This major transport gateway in Northern Ireland promotes active and sustainable travel, bringing together a wide range of transport modes and providing enhanced facilities for both customers and staff.