“BYCYKLEN” SUSTAINABILTY AND THE BICYCLE

8 12 2009

There are many faces of sustainability around the globe.  Each case will have its own advantages and disadvantages, and each case will be unique to it given social, economical and environmental framework.  Flipping through the National Geographic Changing Climate Special Report (2008), I notice that even the large Norwegian oil company, Statoil, is trying to put on the “environmentally responsible” face with the implementation of carbon dioxide capture and storage technology.  One has to be vigilant when judging the long-term sustainability of a project, idea, invention, action etc.

When we look at the urgent need to eliminate our carbon emissions, plus the end of cheap oil and the benefits of being healthy and fit, cycling has to be one of the most important transport initiatives we should be investing in. Energy and time efficient transit, light rail, electric vehicles, ride-sharing, walking – these are all part of the answer. But when it comes to those that are physically capable: when such a simple technology already exists with so many benefits, how foolish could we be not to make the most of it?

“Do you find it normal that in the middle of a snow storm a lady rides home with her groceries and a baby on her bike? Or watching a child alone in the fury of the city safely finding his way to his friend’s place? Danes do… Freedom to be liberated from the gloomy prospect of having to choose a form of motorized transport for lack of a better option… In Denmark, the cycling culture was revived in the 1960s and 1970s after a period of car dominion in the post-war era led to ever more American lifestyles” (Dreams on Wheel, 2008).

Perhaps it the Dane in me, here I go talking about Denmark again— in addition to nation’s success with using renewable wind energy as their main power source,  they also have a strong sense sustainability seen in their prominent bicycling culture.  Cycling, in addition to it carbon benefit, brings so many health benefits and increased social capital by connecting people with their community and other cyclists.  In Copenhagen, where 36% of the population commutes to work by bike, cycling has become such a style that they have invented a verb, “Copenhagenize”, to capture what’s happening.  In Copenhagen there are over 2000 city bikes, all government owned and maintained by 1 repair shop, in addition to 4 mobile city bike-repair shops.  A very positive social initiate is born from this service, improving quality of life for citizens who are struggling to find work, and overcome personal boundaries:

“Bycykelservice” is a department in the rehabilitation agency of Copenhagen. It trains around 30 rehabilitees. During a 6 month-training program the rehabilitee qualifies for a job on normal conditions. The program is a success. Around 80% of the rehabilitees get a job afterwards (Bicyklen, 2009).

Copenhagen has a 36% rate of bicycle-commuting, while Victoria has a 6% rate – and Victoria is the cycling capital of Canada. Copenhagen gets 71 cm a year; Victoria gets 66.5 cm.  So what would it take for Victoria – and other North American cities – to reach a 36% level of cycling, with all the multiple benefits it brings? To encourage even more citizens to use their bicycle for transportation, The City of Copenhagen systematically expands the net of bicycle lanes and routes. Hence, you can get faster around in City by bicycle than by car or bus.  Most North American cities are not structure for any type of transportation other than motor vehicles.  As infrastructure begins to fall apart due to improper maintenance and aging, now is the time to start replacing the old landscape design with a new one.  Many European cities and towns are designed in a radial formation, with many alleyways, side streets and walkways interconnecting the urban centre.  How can we convince the government that investing in well designed and planned bike lanes and walking routes is a good idea?  Here are some projected figures, money talks:

  • If Copenhageners cycled 10% more kilometers each year, their health system would save $12 million a year, and their economy would benefit from $32 million a year of production not lost to illness. Multiply this by 5 to obtain an estimated “savings” for Canada’s population  (Dauncy, 2009).
  • Denmark’s government knows that each additional kilometer of bike lane built = 170,000 more cycle-kilometers a year = 19% more bikes on that stretch of road, = a 9-10% drop in the number of cars = less accidents and injuries = $51,000 in saved health care costs and $134,000 in saved production costs. For every dollar they invest in the bike lane, they save 5 dollars (Dauncy, 2009).

A city with a strong bicycle culture usually has a well-developed infrastructure favoring bicycles, in­cluding segregated bike lanes and extensive facilities catering to a large amount of bicycles.   Several countries have estab­lished bicycle cultures, including Denmark, the Neth­erlands, Germany, China and Japan.  In Europe, bicycle culture is generally regarded as meaning citizens using their bikes for commuting, running errands and dropping off children at school or kindergarten.  How can we encourage bicycling within our communities? BC’s cycling advocates need to be far more pro-active and involved in promoting cycling as a solution to global warming. Every community should have bicycle advisors, and urban planners catering to human-mode transportation when planning new infrastructure and replacing old vehicle-centered systems.

References

European Cycling Federation: http://www.ecf.com/

Copenhagen “city bikes” web site:  http://www.bycyklen.dk/english/newsandfacts.aspx

Major pro-cycling culture traveling exhibit: http://dreamsonwheels.dk/bikes

http://dreamsonwheels.dk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/dreams-on-wheels.pdf

Cycling culture in Copenhagen, Denmark:  www.copenhagenize.com

Guy Dauncey: Local Author, Speaker and Organizer for Positive Sustainability Action:

http://www.earthfuture.com/

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