Denmark's International Model of Excellence
By Allie LaForce
Edited by Yacong Yuan
Twenty percent of energy consumption in the United States comes from the transportation sector. With the ongoing concern and debate over climate change, the U.S. is looking to follow Denmark’s lead in reducing its carbon footprint.Denmark has reduced transportation consumption by turning to a much cleaner mode of transportation - cycling. As home of the world’s most livable city,Denmark prides itself in its innovative urban planning that takes advantage of cycling as its main form of transportation.
According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, roughly half a million bikes are sold in Denmark each year and 90% of all Danes own a bicycle. The MunicipalityofCopenhagen indicates that Denmark’s capital enjoys 350 kilometers of cycle tracks and 40 kilometers of green cycle routes. These green cycle routes allow the city to remain a minimal contributor to carbon dioxide (co2) traffic emissions. “When we reach the stage that over 50% of commuters choose to cycle to their place of work or education, then Copenhagen traffic will be able to save an additional 80,000 tons of co2 per year,” according to Denmark’s national website.
In most developed countries however, motorized vehicles remain at the forefront of transportation. The United States, China, Russia and India are among the top contributors to co2 emissions and the U.S. has a national average of at least 2 vehicles per household.
“The problem is we are creating an automobile friendly environment,” saysGeoffrey Buckley, Associate Professor of Geography at Ohio University. “Landscapes are not very dense so public transit systems and biking don’t make sense in the United States.”
Limiting co2 emissions is only one of the reasons Danish citizens buy into the cycling lifestyle. Biking to work, school and sporting events also serves as a daily dose of exercise.
“I used to bike everyday for going to work and picking up the children. I do some running as well, but I did get 45 minutes of exercise everyday on the bike from going to work,” says Mats Hansen, Team Manager for the Technical and Environmental Administration in Copenhagen, Denmark. “It was an important part of my daily exercise and I do feel a difference now that I do not bike to work.”
“I bike to the station everyday,” says Lars Benjaminsen, Borgerservice Assistant. He adds that “Twice a week it is my source of fitness and it includes about 30 minutes of exercise going 4 miles each way. It is not a part of my social life. I just exercise because it is the easiest way to get to the train station. I feel very safe biking and can exercise at the same time.”
While Benjaminsen feels safe traveling to work, many Danes are fighting for safer transportation structures. An urban plan that incorporates cycling as an environmentally friendly mode of transportation and a form of exercise is beneficial. However, developing a safe cycling environment has been an on-going challenge. A typical cycling track is 2.2 meters wide with a curbstone edge to protect cyclists from cars, but the Cycling Embassy of Denmark reports that 54 deaths and 561 people were seriously injured from bicycling accidents last year.
“The bike paths are quite structured. However, there are many times when there is not enough space or when you are traveling with cars it can be very nerve-racking and dangerous,” Danish citizen, Jonny Rainton says.
“Our institute has found that close to half of Copenhagen cyclists feel safe and over half of those who feel unsafe say that cars are the cause of their anxiety… When drivers are asked the same question, 61% feel cyclists are an irritating factor,” Says Hansen.
American Cross-country cyclist Brian Barnhart, who has cycled through Europe, says the problem happens when city planners do not consider the challenges of having cars and bikes share transportation routes. “There are huge differences between communities depending on whether or not the city is fit for bicyclists and it is extremely frustrating,” says Barnhart, adding that communities that have separation of driving and cycling lanes in Europe, make it more safe for cyclists and drivers to travel at their own pace.
U.S. transportation authorities are now encouraging more people to cycle. The New York Times reported on December 15th, 2009 that Mayor Bloomberg of New York City earned the first Award of Leadership for Cycling Promotion by the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. The city has added 350 kilometers to the cycling system. This helped to increase cycling by 26 percent in 2009.
Barnhart says “The traffic would be far less if even ten percent of the people would take bicycles. You hear complaints about sitting in traffic when biking would take the same amount of time and general congestion in the city would be better.”
Earlier this year, Los Angeles began to address the issue of cycling and public safety. Police Department Chief Charlie Beck became the first top LAPD brass to publicly address the rights and protection of cyclists. According to journalist Ari Bloomekatz of the Los Angeles Times, Beck’s statements come amid growing complaints from cyclists that drivers make it difficult for them to ride of narrow streets.
“It is going to take citizens who are able to lobby and promote the ideas among politicians. It will take a full renovation to be successful. The cities are going to have to start providing storage for people when they bike in as well as a way for them to freshen up with they get to work after a ride,” says Barnhart. “It will not be an easy transition but its impact on health and the environment would be significant.”Photos courtesy of seattletimes, sightline and maddaps