Day 1 in Copenhagen: Despite massive jet lag, we had a fun bike tour of the city that proved a revelation in bike-centered city planning. 37% of all commuters use bicycles to get into the city and that number is set to grow to 50% by 2015.
Meet Lise Pedersen. She is the lead political lobbyist for Danish Cycling Federation or Dansk Cyklist Forbund (DCF), a cyclist advocacy group that has been working since the '70s to create the hundreds of miles of bike paths that connect every corner of Copenhagen.
Lise is a mother of two, has no car, and commutes every day on her bike. When it was time to have her first baby, her boyfriend drove her to the hospital in the front of his cargo bike. Her response to our shocked expressions: “It was only 3 kilometers.”
Yes, she is a hardcore cyclist.
And two weeks ago after a year of hardcore policy work, Lise won a major victory for bicyclists (and what may be the largest government infrastructure subsidy for bicycles in history) -- $200 million for expanding bicycle lanes and greenbelts across Denmark.
The money will provide matching funds to local municipalities seeking to improve biking infrastructure for a total of $400 million invested over the next five years. The goal in Amsterdam is to bump up the already astonishing number of bicycle commuters from 37 percent to 50 percent.
That sounds like an act of benevolent grace on the part of the Danish government, but it is important to point out that the $200 million is in fact a great financial investment.
In addition to making the city more eco-friendly, the funds will also make its population healthier, and for a country with nationalized medicine that means major economic paybacks.
According to Project Leader Kristian Simonsen, who led our bike tour this afternoon, studies have shown that regular bicycle commuters have less health problems and smaller medical bills. So the $200 million in bike investments could be recouped in two to three years from reduced medical payouts alone.
Though the Danes have always been avid cyclists (DCF was actually founded in the early 1900s when a band of bicyclists reclaimed Copenhagen’s abandoned horse paths) growing the ranks of regular bike commuters has been hard-won.
DCF led dramatic street takeovers in the '70s, and after winning the right for bikes to share the roads in greater measure, it has steadily worked to improve those roads for bicyclists and pedestrians. One great example of this on our tour were the elevated bike lanes which allow cyclists, pedestrians and cars to all safely coexist even during rush hour:
A couple of major take-aways from our visit with DCF:
It is entirely possible to get half your population to commute on bikes, and it makes for a much more livable city.
Really great bicycle infrastructure is required, which means really great investments by the government.
Those investments are easy to justify when you have a socialized medical system.
Oh, and did I mention that there is an 80 180 percent tax (that is not a typo) on automobiles and gas is about $7/gallon?
Ultimately, though biking through a city is fun, the real reason people in Copenhagen do it is because it is the cheaper and more practical method of transport ... by far.
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