We plan do a public presentation in Peterborough in mid to late September. If you are not already signed up to automatically receive new blog entries and you would like to know the date and time of the presentation, then click on the dark green FOLLOW rectangle at the bottom left corner of the green panel on the left side. You will be sent the info via blog entry in September.
Thirty-eight days and 1700+km of cycle touring in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and Denmark left us a little bit fitter and a lot more fired up about the possibilities of creative urban planning. We were impressed and inspired by the ubiquitous and well-planned bicycle infrastructure. I’ve been to Copenhagen many times and know that it has a unique and thriving bicycle culture, but this time, seeing it from the saddle of a bicycle was really eye-opening. Sometimes it was a little overwhelming to be on a downtown cycle path with so many other cyclists – I felt like a new driver who needs to be super vigilant about the surrounding traffic. Since there are often 2 lanes in each direction on the bike paths and many users, one has to be aware of oncoming cyclists, when and where to pass, making sure to follow traffic signals, and maintaining the flow of traffic (don’t just stop to look at a map or road sign because someone may rear-end you!) That said, our overall impression of cycling in all of these countries was that we felt SAFE. Why? Because the infrastructure was in place, often in the form of bicycle paths that are physically separated from the driving lanes and clearly paved in a different colour. When we needed to share the road, drivers were very considerate, leaving us ample room when passing. Probably because they are cyclists themselves and know how it feels to be the more vulnerable road user.
With so much emphasis on bicycles, there is of course a need for good and convenient bike parking facilities.
Many families in both Denmark and Holland own “cargo bikes” (50,000 in Copenhagen alone!) and about a quarter report that it is a direct replacement for a car. We saw many children being transported in the cargo area as well as dogs, groceries, and boyfriends!
Cam made sure we visited the planning departments in Groningen and Copenhagen to learn about their cycling strategies. Let’s just say they are light years ahead of anyone else in our part of the world.
Groningen is a city of about 225 000 in the north of Holland. It has a little more than twice the population of our city, Peterborough, but is similar in that both are university towns with vibrant art scenes. Groningen has a younger population than Peterborough and a long, strong history of cycling. A full 60% of journeys there are done by bicycle! (In our hometown, it’s only about 4%). This makes Goningen the unnoficial cycling capital of the world in terms of highest modal share of trips on cycle. The literature we picked up at the planning department revealed that the reasons for promoting cycling have little to do with the environment and mostly to do with health, quality of life, and the economy. Their stated goals are to:
- Create good conditions for the growth of the city
- Keep the city accessible (not clogged with traffic)
- Improve the health of inhabitants
- Ensure a viable and economically vital city
- Ensure a safe city
Of course, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through the use of bicycles and public transportation contribute to improved health of the citizens (and the planet). Nowhere does anyone suggest eliminating cars from the mix, just increasing the modal share of cycling, walking, public transportation, and carpooling. In that way, people who need to drive can continue to do so without requiring major new road constructions (because many people will choose the cheaper, healthier, more sustainable, and, in Groningen, more convenient options).
The following photos were taken in central Copenhagen at 4:30pm on a weekday. How many cars can you count?
In the Copenhagen cycling strategy, they share the results of a socio-economic analysis of different forms of transportation. I don’t know exactly how they calculated this, but they say that riding a bicycle downtown during rush hour results in a net profit for society of 0.49 Euro, whereas taking a car results in a net loss of 0.89 Euro. I assume it is based on the reduced wear and tear on the roads by bikes, reduced congestion, as well as the significant health benefits of active transportation. Conversely, obesity and its associated societal costs are notably higher among those who drive a car. Based on that, what city or municipality can afford NOT to promote cycling?
Every new development in these cities we visited (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Groningen and Copenhagen) takes into consideration the needs of citizens to get around quickly, safely, and comfortably. Transit and cycling infrastructure are key. There were some really amazing details in their planning that blew us away:
- Groningen has traffic signals that can detect rain. If it is raining, they give priority to cyclists by giving more/longer green lights to bicycles.
- They are also planning to build heated bicycle paths, using the heat from wastewater sewers. This will help keep bike lanes free from snow and ice.
- Freiburg, Germany, has “bicycle streets” where bikes have priority. Cars still drive and park on these streets, but the speed limit is 30 km/h.
- Recognizing that cycling is a very social activity and that many people prefer to cycle side by side, the goal in Copenhagen is to make all bike paths wide enough to accommodate 3 bicycle lanes in each direction!
- One of their maintenance goals is to have bike lanes smooth enough that one can ride along with a cup of coffee on the handlebars, and not spill!
- Copenhagen is planning to embed LED lights in the asphalt to indicate which forms of transportation have access to the lanes. The lights can change to accommodate the differing flow of traffic. For example, there can be more lanes of traffic and wider bike lanes going into town in the morning, but fewer in the afternoon, when the space is needed for traffic going in the other direction.
The level of cooperation and creative problem solving is phenomenal. All I can say is, “Wow!”
We are feeling motivated now to help BE THE CHANGE in Peterborough. Last weekend, there was an event called “Peterborough Pulse” and on Saturday morning from 9 until 1, they closed a 3km portion of our downtown streets to car traffic. Imagine that! For four hours, people strolled and biked along the car-less streets, and many community organisations set up booths with information or activities. Kaia volunteered to set one up to share photos and information from our trip and ask participants what they would like to see in Peterborough with respect to active transportation. Our whole family got involved! Kaia (and I) baked about 200 bicycle-shaped cookies which were given out in exchange for the ideas. We had icing and candies so kids could decorate them. Cam chose some of our best photos of cycling infrastructure, printed them, and made a binder. Jake was there on the day to help set up, elicit responses, and help kids decorate cookies. It was a great event and, we hope, a first step towards a more pedestrian and cycle friendly downtown.
Recall that back in September, one of our first stops was Portland, Oregon, a city that has become the most bicycle-friendly one in North America. Cam wrote a blog about our 2-wheeled experiences there called Pedaling in Portland. We certainly have many lessons to learn from them — not least of all, PATIENCE.
In her book about the process, former Portland Bicycle Program Coordinator, Mia Birk wrote, “Behavioural change takes time. It has taken close to a generation to teach people to place their bottles, cans, paper and plastic in recycling bins. It will take a generation or more to integrate bicycling and walking into daily life, but only if we get rolling.” (Joyride, p.144)
So… here’s to getting rolling!