By Thomas Lloyd....
Notoriously forward thinking, Danish town planning is among the most environmentally and user friendly in the world. With the recent opening of the first bicycle SuperHighway and construction of the extensive metro expansion underway, Copenhagen is leaving the competition standing in the green transport stakes.
Already considered to be one of the most ‘bicycle friendly’ cities in the world; Copenhagen is at odds with the accepted norm that cities are designed to be accessed by cars. Rather, in a revolutionary move, the city is applying this logic to the bicycle, as it rolls out a network of 26 SuperHighways covering more than 300km.
Brian Hansen, head of the city’s traffic planning department explains the ambition of the project: “we are very good, but we want to be better. A typical cyclist uses the bicycle within five kilometres, so we thought; how do we get people to take longer bicycle rides?”
Whilst a considerable distance of new road will be laid, the network will not be completely built from scratch, rather it will connect swathes of pre-existing cycle lane, making them wider, smoother, cleaner and easier to use.
Fritz Bredal, Head of Communications at Cyklistforbundent, the Danish Cyclist’s Federation said of the scheme: “there was a lot of backing in parliament for this move and it has been instrumental in making the funds available for the project. Each kilometre of track costs 8million kroner, so it is not cheap, but we think that it is certainly worth it.”
Intrinsic to society
The ongoing project forms part of the national psyche explained Bredal: “since the 1970s we have been putting our eggs in the cycling basket. It [the SuperHighways] is the result of many years of work to make the city and its suburbs friendly to cyclists.
“The bicycle is an icon for sustainable technology and construction, it is everything Copenhagen and Denmark wants to symbolise. Green technology and sustainable innovation will find a home in Copenhagen, not simply because of the cycling SuperHighways, but it does help promote such schemes.”
It is in this vein that the Capital Region of Denmark, a political body responsible for public hospitals as well as regional development, has stumped up in the region of €1.3 million for the project. However, this barely scratches the surface of what will prove to be a costly investment.
Estimates for the 300km network range from; 413million kroner for the base solution, to 875million kroner for the ideal one. Exactly where concessions to cost will be made remains to be seen, depending on financing from the Copenhagen and 21 other local governments that are working in partnership on this scheme.
It costs approximately 8million kroner to construct a single kilometre of SuperHighway. Whilst not cheap, it pales in significance to the 70-100million kroner that it costs to construct 1km of conventional motorway.
Stating the view of the Cyklistforbundent, Bredal said: “the way we see it is that it’s not a question of whether you can afford to introduce sustainable schemes such as this, but it is a case of can you afford not to?”
Aside from costing less than conventional roads, the bicycle SuperHighways bring a plethora of added value.
Danish statistics have suggested that increasing cycling by 30 percent in the city, CO2 emissions would be cut by as much as 7,000 tons per annum. This roughly equates to 3.5 pounds of CO2 saved for every six miles biked rather than driven. These are impressive green credentials, going a long way towards Copenhagen’s goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025.
What’s good for the environment is good for the people. In the same research, it was found that the increase in cycling would also deliver significant health benefits, with the reduction in pollution and the increase in exercise predicted to save in the region of €40 million per year in healthcare spending.
There are of course less tangible benefits to this scheme, most notably happiness. As Henrik Dam Kritensen, the minister for transport put it: “when you have been biking for 30 minutes you have a really good feeling about yourself, you can really enjoy a glass of wine because you’ve earned it.”
The bigger picture
In order to achieve the carbon neutral vision, it is vital that Danes continue to be converted to the cycling ideal. At the present, a third of all journeys made in the capital are by bicycle, with 100 percent increase in the areas that the SuperHighway has been unveiled.
In order to keep the trend moving, a number of biking innovations are being tested in the city. Footrests, air pumps and ‘green wave’ technology have already been implemented. This allows cyclist to surf a wave of green lights at busy times of day, avoiding traffic congestion and providing a further incentive to peddle on the commute. Other initiatives such as tilted rubbish bins and wider ‘conversation lanes’ have been mooted for future consideration.
The project has been run in conjunction with the vast expansion of the city’s metro network. Ultimately the scheme aims to promote a synergy between cycling and public transport, whereby cyclist can easily move between cycle lane and train, have secure parking for their bicycles and ample facilities to shower and change at work or school. This will hopefully alter perceptions explained Hansen, “We want people to perceive these routes as a serious alternative, like taking the bus, car or train.”