04 November 2013

Copenhagen Election 2013 - Cars vs Bikes


It's election season here in Copenhagen - and the rest of the Danish municipalities. Last week the Mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration (Traffic Dept.) Ayfer Baykal called a "Bicycle Summit" at City Hall, inviting a group of players involved in bicycle related issues to the oval table. Apart from Copenhagenize Design Co., the Danish Cycling Federation (DCF) was, of course, in attendance, as well as various others, including Margrethe Auken, member of the European Parliament. Two Danish ministers - Ida Auken (Environment) and Pia Olsen Dyhr (Transport) cancelled at the last minute.

It was a chat among like-minded people with like-minded goals and the best part of it was the fact that Mayor Baykal wanted to meet and discuss. 

Being a Saturday, I brought the kids along and Felix and Lulu were loving the free juice and snacks. May have been a dull meeting for them, but it's cool for them to experience a snippet of political life in the City Hall.

One of the reasons for the summit is a strange development in the run up to this election. We have a Lord Mayor - Frank Jensen - who is desperately trying to turn back the clocks in Copenhagen. Even though he is from the Social-Democrat party who traditionally have had more focus on liveableness and public health.

One of the much-loved and oft-repeated stories about Copenhagen as a liveable city is that the City has removed 2-3% of the car parking each year for years, to make space for not only bicycle related infrastructure but also other important aspects of a liveable city. Frank Jensen has, in the last four years, reversed that tide something rotten by putting back in 1700 parking spots. Even though there are already 3.6 parking spots per car in the city.

Frank Jensen also has a political hard-on for the mammothly stupid Harbour Tunnel project. We've written about it previously: Outrageous Harbour Tunnel for Copenhagen and "Cars are here to stay..." and we've also described Frank Jensen as our age's Le Courbusier/Urban Hansen/Robert Moses. Rightly so. He so wishes to take us back to a scary place like this.
We have, of course, proposed how to spend 27 Billion Kroner properly - which is the obscene cost of the proposed Harbour Tunnel:
How to Spend 27 Billion Kroner properly.

The new Social-Democrat desire for more cars is as hopelessly old-fashioned as it is bizarre. In the rest of Europe, progressive cities are doing everything in their power. Visionary politicians in parts of Montreal just got reelected yesterday, due to their visions and actions for a more liveable city. I would even say that Montreal, due to the continued rise of the Projet Montreal party, now has the most visionary political landscape in the world, despite the fact that the main, newly-elected Mayor still has both feet in the last century.

Here in Copenhagen, the traditional and rational political desire for creating a better city is under threat.

The Rumour Mill is Spinning
Copenhagenize has it from a reliable, political source that Lord Mayor Frank Jensen is doing all he can to secure his traditional opponent Pia Allerslev from the right-wing party Venstre in the post of Mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration - the Traffic Mayor. It would seem to be an unholy alliance but he is keen to see this because it would be much more easier to push car-friendly politics through.

He is also afraid of other parties that are coming up strong, like Enhedslisten (Red-Green Alliance), led by Morten Kabell, who by all accounts will enjoy a record election. Whoever finishes in second place (the Lord Mayor will most likely retain his post) will choose the attractive Traffic Mayor post. If that ends up being the Red-Green Alliance, Frank Jensen won't have much luck catering to cars.

It's all very odd. The Red-Green Alliance are muc farther to the left than the center-left Social-Democrats but they traditionally share many of the same values and, indeed, are in the ruling coalition in the national Parliament together. As all of us who live in cities know too well, party politics are different from parliament to City Hall. Sometimes they're just plain weird.

Ideology Battle
It is also interesting to see how cars and motoring have entered the election debate. Right-wing party Liberal Alliance (poster above at left) declare they want a City for Everyone (including motorists). I guess they're banking on votes from the minority 29% who actually own one. A strange strategy. Red-Green Alliance cheekily copied the style of their poster (above right), writing Cars to the Back (meaning back of the line), on a photo of a bus.
If you make election posters, rule number one is to design them so that they make it hard to alter/vandalise. Last week all the Liberal Alliance posters were reduced in size and message with a deft flick of a packing knife.

Even the aforementioned Pia Allerslev and her right-wing cronies have put cars on the agenda.

They added this quote from Mayor Ayfer Baykal to their posters. It reads, "The annual price for a resident's parking permit must be raised considerably so we create incentive to use car share programmes instead of acquiring private cars."

It's a real quote, of course. And it makes a rational point. Kind of strange to advertise another party's rationality on your own posters.

They have other posters out there, too. Red Block Warns about Parking Shock. Meaning raising the parking permit prices.

A painted parking spot costs 50,000 Danish kroner, plus continued maintenance. A resident's permit costs 720 kroner. That is not cost-efficient. It's a massive subsidy for parking. That's not modern.

Pia Allerslev even started a new campaign called It Starts in Copenhagen (det starter i København) - whatever that means. In one of the articles the headline is Venstre in Action For Motorists. Featuring a photo of traffic gridlock. Which is amusing.

There is even a cute little poll on the right column. Should Copenhageners be forced to drive car share cars? 180 say yes. Only 72 say no. Oops.

It gets better. In another article on the website, Pia continued her Action for Motorists. Which features photos of her handing out flyers to ... cyclists.

I like a good election. Municipal elections are often fun. Involutarily silly politicians only make it better entertainment.

Another car-centric politician is Rasmus Jarlov. He states in an interview over at the bicycle NGO Cykelrepulikken that he doesn't support 30 km/h zones in Copenhagen. "Copenhagen is a big city, not a countryside museum", he says. Uh... Rasmus... does that mean that Berlin, London, Barcelona, Paris, etc etc are countryside museums because they all have many 30 km/h zones? I don't get it. Or rather, Jarlov doesn't.

So the City of Copenhagen has car-centric politicians for the first time in a generation. Bizarre. Just as bizarre is the independent municipality of Frederiksberg, in the middle of Copenhagen. For over a century, Copenhagen has been ruled by the Social-Democrats. For over a century, Frederiksberg has been ruled by the right-wing Conservative Party.

Conservative volte face
In Frederiksberg, however, the Conservative's are suddenly greenwashing themselves with bicycles. The Mayor Jørgen Glenthøj is seeing some stiff competition from Katrine Lester (Social-Democrat). His new poster is at right, above. "Frederiksberg is the City of Cyclists - It didn't happen on it's own". At right is his poster from the last election. "Families and businesses need parking spots." A goofy volte face from this man.

Under three weeks to the elections. As weird as it all is, the lines are clearly drawn up regarding traffic issues and the question of what kind of city we want to live in.

Want a more liveable city? Better air quality? Safer streets for our children? Reduced congestion? Lives saved? Injuries reduced?

Vote Enhedslisten or the Socialist People’s Party. Morten Kabell or Ayfer Baykal.

In Frederiksberg, vote for Social-Democrat Katrine Lester as Mayor.

I like clarity.

4 comments:

Andrew K said...

I am impressed that cyclist vs motorist priorities are actually discussed as a political issue.

In Australia, there is no contest, only the interests of motorists are considered.

Marcus said...

If you see him again, tell him, that a lot(!!) of people in my "countryside museum" think, that our place needs to be much, much more like Malmö, Copenhagen and A'dam than it is. Simply because we think that that whole car thing completely got out of hand.

Kind regards from Hamburg.

Emmanuel Marcel Favre Nicolin said...

Now, I think I understand why we got some stupid articles about bicycle problem about Copenhague, like this article: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2011/sep/09/copenhagen-cycling-congestion
What's all about of this article??

Is it because the actual mayor is a car lover and is trying to misinform peoples about the benefits of bike transportation in the city?
The problem is that now here we have also politicians using this to say that bicycle is not so good... This makes me nauseous!!

Lucas Roux said...

At least the silly flip-flopping shows that issues are still in the center of electioneering in Copenhagen. Projet Montreal, effectively the only party we have left in the city, fought a one-man battle on policy. Against them were "teams" (the new fashionable term) formed exclusively to back mayoral candidates with ostentatiously hollow programs. (Coderre, the new Mayor, is actually thinking of dissolving his own, now that he's been elected!) Fortunately the hard-won ascendancy of Projet Montreal in the central boroughs is heartening. It's nice to know that their work is recognized half a world away, by some folks who do good work themselves.