The Wheel To Succeed

Copenhagen is arguably the world’s most bicycle-friendly city, making it one of the most liveable too. Challenge meets up with its Mayor of Culture and Leisure to find out why.
The Wheel To Succeed

Imagine you’re driving a car, stuck in morning traffic and late for work. Meanwhile cyclists whiz past you in a separate bike lane. Wouldn’t you wish you were on a bike too?

In Copenhagen, this wish is reality: about 55% of the Danish capital’s 500,000 inhabitants use cycling as the main mode of transport.

Finding the easier way out

Copenhagen succeeded in creating such a strong biking culture, says the city’s Mayor of Culture and Leisure Pia Allerslev, by ensuring the safety of riders. For example, uninterrupted bike lanes are built 10-15cm above road level, which creates a physical barrier and protects cyclists from road traffic.

Trains and train stations have bicycle parking spaces that encourage rail commuters to hop on their bicycles when they alight, instead of relying on other modes of transport.

A city bike scheme now offers free bicycles at more than 100 bicycle stations in the city centre. Users pay a refundable deposit of about S$4 daily to use them.

When the city’s metro system is fully developed in 2018, 85% of citizens’ homes, workplaces and educational institutions will be within 600m of a station.

Although cars are expensive in Copenhagen and it is tough to find parking spaces in some areas, punishing car owners to reduce car usage isn’t the government’s priority, says Mrs Allerslev.

“If we tell people ‘you cannot go that way or you cannot do it like that’, people will just be angry and say ‘that’s not up to you to decide’. [But] if we can [provide] a solution that will make it easier for people to go from point A to B, they will choose that.”

A vibrant cycling culture is vital to Copenhagen’s sustainable future as it braces itself for a population increase of 20% by 2020 and aims to become the first carbon-neutral Nordic city by 2025.

The rocky road to success

Mrs Allerslev was here as a speaker at the World Cities Summit in July.

Copenhagen earned a special mention at this year’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which recognises cities worldwide for their achievements in overcoming urban challenges and promoting sustainable living.

This year, the theme of sustainability centred on cycling, with cities such as New York, Malmo and Vancouver sharing their success stories of extensive bike networks and plans to further boost cycling locally.

Copenhagen arguably leads the pack in being a bike-friendly city. Bicycles have even become status symbols in Copenhagen, thanks to campaigns that promoted the trendy image of cycling, and a flourishing industry of small bike shops selling “amazing, colourful… (and) the strangest bikes”, in Mrs Allerslev’s words.

But this was not always the case.

In the 1960s, the city was plagued by pollution and traffic congestion caused by cars. Some, including prominent city planner and architect Jan Gehl, were advocating a city built for pedestrians and cyclists instead of cars. The authorities soon realised they needed to plan the city not just for car-owners, but also for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport commuters.

Striking a balance between car and bike interests remains a tricky task today. “We just closed a central road in Copenhagen a few years ago and made it into a road for buses and bikes only. But it’s not working well [with car owners],” says Mrs Allerslev of the continuing challenges.

An uphill battle?

Though some cities are following in the trails of Copenhagen, many more struggle (or are reluctant) to popularise cycling as a main form of transport.

Mrs Allerslev admits that it is not easy fitting in cycling facilities into a city’s existing infrastructure. “It takes a lot of planning ahead and a lot of political courage to reduce roads for cars and make bike lanes. And it’s a huge investment (as) we try to build 15-30km (of new bike lanes) every year.”

She acknowledges that for Singapore, the humid climate is an additional challenge. In Copenhagen, men and women can cycle to work directly in their respective suits and dresses because of the cool weather. Here, cyclists may have to prepare extra sets of clothes to change into on warm days.

Still, as cycling continues to be a hot topic in sustainable living, Singapore may want to consider how it can make cycling safer and more convenient for its citizens – one pedal at a time.

Specialised Bike Lanes

Out of Copenhagen’s 412km of bike lanes, some are built farther from roads so cyclists can enjoy quieter, greener surroundings. Super bike lanes (highways for cyclists) are also being constructed for quick and easy journeys between the suburbs and the city.

Latest Milestones In Singapore's Journey To Boost Cycling

• The recently opened North-Eastern Riverine Loop enables cyclists to visit sites such as Punggol Waterway Park, Sengkang Riverside Park and Lorong Halus Wetland. Cyclists can also enjoy water views of Sungei Dekar and the Johor Straits along the 26km loop.

• In June this year, 300 cyclists took to the roads to share the message of safe cycling.

This is the first of a three-part series on the World Cities Summit that was held in Singapore in July 2012. Read the second part Lessons From A Park Ranger and the third part, Making A Sustainable Comeback.

    Nov 16, 2012
    Chen Jingting
    John Heng
  • link facebook
  • link twitter
  • link whatsapp
  • link email