Pedal Power

January 4, 2016

How one European city conquered congestion one bicycle at a time.

The problem of congestion is one that extends to urban areas around the world both large and small. Some are choosing to re-engineer around two wheels instead.

One of the leading pioneers in the urban cycling movement is Copenhagen, Denmark. In fact, “Copenhagenize” has become a verb for any city trying to create a bicycle culture. In creating such a culture, cities are finding that cycling plays an important role in boosting urban mobility.

Copenhagen has been named the best cycle city in the world in each of the last two years by the American sustainability company, Treehugger. And with good reason.

Nearly 40 percent of Copenhagen residents choose to cycle to work each day — and at rush hour, that means there are more bikes than cars in the city.

Not only does that reduce traffic and boost commute times, it saves 80,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

The City of Copenhagen dug deeper into the socio-economic impact of cycling infrastructure development. In a 2010 report, they cite healthcare as a major area to benefit. When more people cycle, treatment costs go down and fewer illnesses means the city earns more tax. There are costs incurred due to accidents, but the gains outweigh the losses. The result is a net healthcare cost saving of 4.22 Danish Krone (or 63 cents) per kilometre cycled. Add all that up over a year and you can see how cycling has helped to save the city tens of millions of dollars in annual healthcare costs.

That’s money available for reinvestment into the city, and perhaps one the reasons that Copenhagen has been named in the top 10 of the world’s most liveable cities for over a decade.

As the Copenhagenise expert, Mikael Colville-Andersen, points out in this video, that’s not a coincidence either. He notes that all of the world’s most liveable cities, inside and outside of Europe, are bicycle-friendly.


But, what makes Copenhagen’s cycling model so effective?


The Copenhagen Cycling Model

Copenhagen aggressively promotes bicycle use in, tangible ways.

In the inner city alone you can find more than 350 kilometers of cycle paths and lanes. Some of the lanes are raised to keep bikes away from car traffic. To make cycling more appealing, Copenhagen has installed features such as handrails and footrests.

The region also has a system of traffic signals, known as the Green Wave, that are designed for cycle speeds. Accessibility is a key part of the plan as well. S-Passes allow cyclists to bring their bike on the train, and there are bike rentals and drop-offs all over the city. Copenhagen is also a comparatively safe cycling city, with only one fatality in 2012 and no more than seven in any single year between 1998 and 2012.

The bicycling culture there remains under construction, however. Copenhagen’s cycling goals for 2025 include reducing cycling travel times by 15 percent; increase the number of cycle tracks by 80 percent and reduce cycling injuries by 70 percent.

Taking the World by Storm

Copenhagen’s success is not isolated. From Geneva to Buenos Aires and New York to Stuttgart, governments are making it easier for citizens to climb aboard their 10-speeds. In Barcelona, for example, a new bicycle-for-hire scheme is predicted to help save lives on inner city roads. In London, the British Medical Journal estimated that the bike hire scheme improves the health of over 570,000 people.

Although Copenhagen still tops the official list of Copenhagenized cities – a measure based on 13 criteria such as cycling infrastructure and bicycle culture – the competition is getting tougher.

That’s a sign that the world is recognizing the value of cycling as part of a larger solution to the challenges of urban mobility. With an effective and broad-based program of initiatives, including cycling, cities can successfully reduce accidents, congestion and pollution while getting people and goods from point A to point B faster.

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