Cycling our way to planetary happiness
If the goal is a cleaner environment and healthier populace, look to the Danes
When we look at the urgent need to eliminate our carbon emissions, plus the end of cheap oil, and the benefits of being healthy and fit, cycling has to be one of the most important transport initiatives we should be investing in.
Coaches, transit, light rail, electric vehicles, ride-sharing, walking — these are all part of the answer for a world without oil. But cycling should have a special place on the list, because it brings so many benefits.
In Copenhagen, where 36 per cent of the population commutes to work by bike, cycling has developed such a style that they have even invented a verb for it — to Copenhagenize.
Just look at the economics. The Danes know from their health statistics that physically active people live five years longer and have four fewer years of lengthy illness than those who are non-active.
They know that cycling for four hours a week — 10 kilometres a day, a typical Copenhagen bike ride — makes a person physically active.
They know that if Copenhageners cycled 10 per cent more kilometres each year, their health system would save $12 million a year, and their economy would benefit from $32 million a year of production not lost to illness.
They know that each additional kilometre of bike lane attracts 170,000 more cyclekilometres a year, 19 per cent more bikes on that stretch of road, a 9 to 10 per cent drop in cars, accidents and injuries, $51,000 in saved health-care costs, and $134,000 in saved production costs.
For every $1 they invest in the bike lane, they save $5. Knowing this, Copenhagen has set a goal that 50 per cent of all work trips should be by bicycle by 2015.
They have a 36 per cent rate of cycle-commuting, while Victoria has only a six per cent rate — and yet we boast that we are the cycling capital of Canada.
What would it take for Victoria to reach the 36 per cent level, with all the multiple benefits it brings?
If I was the premier, I would ask all my ministries to adopt integrated long-term co-budgeting, so that a $100 million investment in cycling that was known to generate long-term savings of $500 million in health care and business costs would win immediate approval from the Treasury Board mandarins.
Second, I would ask every municipality to prepare a long-term plan to increase its commuter cycling rate to 25 per cent by 2020, drawing on the best examples from around the world.
What would such a future look like? Every major road would have a cycle lane, separated from traffic by a yellow rumble strip.
Throughout the region, there would be a network of safe cycle routes where most traffic was not allowed, using a mixture of railway rights of way, back lanes, and quiet residential streets. The Galloping Goose and the Lochside Trail are just the beginning.
At every major intersection, cyclists would be allowed to gather in front of the traffic, and given 30 seconds to advance with all lights on red, before cars were allowed to go.
All over the city, there would be safe, sheltered bicycle parking places.
There would be city-bikes for rent by the half-hour all over the city, using a smartcard, as there are in Paris.
Every community would hire bicycle planners.
For those not fit enough, or who can’t make the hills, electric bikes would become the norm, costing only a twentieth of a cent per kilometre.
Each school would have its Safe Routes to School, and parents would be strongly encouraged not to drive their kids to school.
The magic of this is that the more cycling there is, the safer it becomes, because — from Denmark’s experience — when motorists are also cyclists, they become safer drivers, better able to understand the cyclists’ needs.
When such a simple technology exists with so many benefits, how foolish could we be not to make the most of it?
This is Bike to Work Week. Let’s celebrate it, knowing that we are biking not just for our pleasure, but also for our planet, our health and our children’s future.