Making politicians invest in bicycle infrastructure

| June 30, 2015
Photo: Mikkel Østergaard

Photo: Mikkel Østergaard

How have Danish city planners managed to convince politicians to spend money on bicycle infrastructure? The answer partly lies in the way the Danes do economic analyses. After all, calculations and numbers are the politicians’ best friend.

By Christian Tang Jensen, The Danish Cyclists’ Federation

Advanced analyses including more parameters
The high bicycle mode share among Copenhageners is believed to be a combination of culture and a political tradition for structural solutions in favor of cyclists. Besides that, the fairly flat terrain and the old city center with its narrow streets also bears part of the responsibility for keeping the Copenhageners on their bikes while most other large cities have experienced a boom in car traffic during the last 50-70 years.

As to the political tradition, part of the reason why Danish politicians have been willing to invest in cycling is simply that they see it as a good investment.

Unlike most other places in the world, Denmark has a tradition for including many more and different parameters in economic analyses of infrastructure projects. They include regular parameters like construction costs and changes in congestion, travel time etc., but what really makes the analyses interesting is that they include the true benefits of cycling.

First of all, it is important to develop a traffic model that is able to project future traffic flows across transportation modes, including cycling. Secondly, you need to calculate unit prices per kilometer covered by bicycle for a range of parameters like pollution, health etc. By including more parameters, cycling gets a larger advantage over e.g. cars than what is normally the case in economic analyses.

Major health benefits
A major but often overlooked advantage is the health benefits that arise when people leave their car at home and ride their bicycle instead. Physically, it prevents obesity and the long list of related illnesses and early death. This means huge savings for a society like Denmark where healthcare is paid via taxes. Converting motorists into cyclists also leads to less particle pollution and hence better air quality which reduces illnesses and early death which is also a risk for inhabitants in modern polluted cities.

Mentally, the increased level of physical activity affects ones wellbeing by reducing stress leading to increased productivity at work. On top of that, fewer cars reduce noise pollution levels, also a mentionable stress factor in cities.

Moreover, studies clearly indicate that children riding their bike (or skateboard or similar) to school concentrate much better throughout the day than children who are driven to school. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that when you bike as a child, you are also more likely to cycle as an adult as well.

On the downside, cyclists in Denmark are involved in more serious accidents than car drivers. Fortunately, the more cyclists a city has, the fewer accidents per kilometer covered, and Copenhagen is working hard to keep serious injuries at a minimum by for example redesigning big intersections. Injured cyclists contribute with a small increase in public health expenses on its own. However, taking all health parameters into consideration, cycling leads to enormous savings on the health budgets when people choose the bicycle over car or public transportation.

Many cyclists create a good city image
Converting motorists into cyclists reduces congestion on the roads which saves travel time and increases productivity. Fewer cars also lower CO2 emissions leading to climate change mitigation. Furthermore, fewer cars improve the urban environment as you get less noise, less pollution, and a calmer and more inviting urban space.

More cyclists on the other hand open up opportunities for more local shops and a more rich local life. The city will hence get a reputation for being attractive to live in, and will attract highly-educated people and thus investments. All this helps give the city a good image that attracts tourists.

Once you have included all these extra parameters in your cost-benefit analysis, you also have to make sure to have considered the actual costs of car traffic. E.g. it should be included that cars in them self leads to insecurity among cyclists which is the single most important factor for keeping people off the bike.

Cycle projects give a high return on investments
Even though Copenhagen have a lot of bicycle paths, bridges, tunnels etc., the profitability of new projects like the network of super cycle highway network being constructed these years is very high compared to other infrastructure projects when considering all the above-mentioned parameters.

So, in order to move your politicians towards increased investments in cycling, make socio-economic analyses and ensure that they take all relevant parameters into consideration. This gives a more real picture of what cycling can do for their society – and their budget. Being confronted with significant societal savings will increase their willingness to give cycling higher priority than they do today.

Read more
Here we have collected other articles from the website that can work as inspiration in relation to cycling investments
New bicycle account from Copenhagen
Danish regional bicycle account
Copenhagen Most Liveable City 2013
Cycling is healthier than you think
Good signals – for safety’s sake

Category: Danish Cycling Know How, Economy, Health, Planning, Policy, Politics