Copenhagen’s bicycle mayor: Give back the space to the cyclists

| March 28, 2012

By Frits Bredal, Danish Cyclists’ Federation

Space is in great demand in the Danish Capital. And it takes political courage to take it away from the cars and give it to the cyclists. But the result will be better urban life for all, says Copenhagen’s Mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration.

As Mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration, Baykal is responsible for Copenhagen’s bicycle strategy, one of the highest-profile areas of the Danish capital. Both Danish and international media report directly from the Danish cycle tracks. Every day, 150,000 people bike to their place of work or education in Copenhagen. By any standards, this is an extraordinarily high number of cyclists, especially when compared to cities much larger than Copenhagen that experience much smaller numbers of daily cyclists.

Morten Rixen, Baykal’s Head of Press, joins us. Initially, I had talked to him about scheduling the interview at a time when the debate about Copenhagen’s planned congestion charge had come to a conclusion. But at the time of this interview, on Tuesday, 7 February, the ruling parties and the Red-Green Alliance have still not come to terms as to how to unfold the congestion charge. The question is whether part of the money from the congestion charge is to go to the Cycle Super Highways, which will be launched with the opening of the Albertslund route on 14 April.

Baykal pulls her chair close to the table:

“Ask away.”

Five sharp questions for the bicycle mayor:

1. Ayfer Baykal, what significance will the new Cycle Super Highways have for Copenhagen’s Bicycle Policy?

“Car drivers can go directly from the suburban municipalities and into the city centre. The Cycle Super Highways will give cyclists the same opportunity. Therefore, the Cycle Super Highways are an important part of Copenhagen’s bicycle strategy. We know that many car drivers will choose a different mode of transport in connection with the congestion charge, and here, bicycles and the Cycle Super Highways will be an alternative for many people.”

2. The Cycle Super Highways primarily consist of an upgrade of the connection between existing cycle tracks, but sometimes new cycle tracks take extra space. Do you have any good advice for politicians and public officers in other municipalities who want to develop bicycle culture and infrastructure?

“It is a political prioritisation. A question of political will. The public officers should not initiate it. They are to find the best solutions to realise it, but the ideas, the priorities, and the visions have to come from the politicians.”

3. That sounds easier said than done. What does it take?

“You cannot dream up more space. You have a certain amount of square metres to divide so they benefit the citizens in the best way possible. In Copenhagen, we have gone against the tendency you see in many other countries: the tendency for cars to be automatically allotted most of the space in the city. But if you want to extend the cycle tracks, you need to cut somewhere else.”

4. Where do you make the cut?

“You have to take part of the roadway, for instance. This takes political will and courage. Here at City Hall, we look into specific areas where we can take part of a street or a parking space and turn it into a cycle track.”

5. Does taking part of the street and giving it to the cyclists trigger resistance from car drivers?

“Through the years, cars have conquered a large part of the urban space. We are trying to re-establish a balance by giving some of it back to cyclists and pedestrians. As we have seen on Nørrebrogade [one of the busiest cycling streets in Copenhagen], this generates protests. At first! But now, most people see the advantages – because it is not just to the benefit of cyclists but of people, urban life, and shops. But there is resistance. And those kinds of decisions take political courage.”

After the interview, the government dropped the congestion charge entirely, replacing it with a commission and one billion kronor. The Danish Cyclists’ Federation is now advocating that part of the money be spent on the Cycle Super Highways.

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Category: Newsletter 6, Policy

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