Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Building a better bike lane
The WAll Street Journal
By NANCY KEATES
May 4, 2007; Page W1
COPENHAGEN -- No one wears bike helmets here. They're afraid they'll mess up their hair. "I have a big head and I would look silly," Mayor Klaus Bondam says.
People bike while pregnant, carrying two cups of coffee, smoking, eating bananas. At the airport, there are parking spaces for bikes. In the emergency room at Frederiksberg Hospital on weekends, half the biking accidents are from people riding drunk. Doctors say the drunk riders tend to run into poles.
Flat, compact and temperate, the Netherlands and Denmark have long been havens for bikers. In Amsterdam, 40% of commuters get to work by bike. In Copenhagen, more than a third of workers pedal to their offices. But as concern about global warming intensifies -- the European Union is already under emissions caps and tougher restrictions are expected -- the two cities are leading a fresh assault on car culture. A major thrust is a host of aggressive new measures designed to shift bike commuting into higher gear, including increased prison time for bike thieves and the construction of new parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes.
The rest of Europe is paying close attention. Officials from London, Munich and Zurich (plus a handful from the U.S.) have visited Amsterdam's transportation department for advice on developing bicycle-friendly infrastructure and policies. Norway aims to raise bicycle traffic to at least 8% of all travel by 2015 -- double its current level -- while Sweden hopes to move from 12% to 16% by 2010. This summer, Paris will put thousands of low-cost rental bikes throughout the city to cut traffic, reduce pollution and improve parking.
The city of Copenhagen plans to double its spending on biking infrastructure over the next three years, and Denmark is about to unveil a plan to increase spending on bike lanes on 2,000 kilometers, or 1,240 miles, of roads. Amsterdam is undertaking an ambitious capital-improvement program that includes building a 10,000-bike parking garage at the main train station -- construction is expected to start by the end of next year. The city is also trying to boost public transportation usage, and plans to soon enforce stricter car-parking fines and increase parking fees to discourage people from driving.