05 April 2014

Copenhagen - Is Cycling Up or Down or What?

SnowFall RushHour - Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen
It's all so confusing. Numbers indicating rise and falls in cycling levels. Although perhaps not as much as we think.

Firstly, back in 2009 I made a bet with anyone who would take it. Cycling levels in Copenhagen had been stagnant for many years. In 2008, a whole new kind of stupid showed up in Denmark. The Danish Road Safety Council (Rådet for Sikker Trafik - or Rodet for Sikker Panik if you like) decided to expand their ideological campaigns by promoting bicycle helmets. They convinced the Danish Cyclists Federation (DCF) to join the parade. To this day, the DCF remain one of the few national cycling organisations in all of Europe who support promotion of bicycle helmets.

Anyway, hardcore emotional propaganda hit the streets of Denmark in January 2008. As usual with such organisations, there was little science involved. An unsuspecting population were subjected to a one-sided view on helmets and not offered any balanced, scientific perspective. The Culture of Fear is powerful when applied correctly. Now, 17% of Copenhageners wear helmets on average. They are usually the ones involuntarily performing Risk Compensation studies. Keep a careful eye when cycling out there with them.

In this article from 2009 - Cycling is booming - just not in Denmark - I predicted that the rash of bicycle helmet promotion would not cause cycling levels to increase - despite the massive political will at the time. As I wrote:

Here's my bet. Because of the intense bicycle helmet propanganda in 2008:
- the percentage of cyclists in Copenhagen - 37% - will not rise. It will either fall or remain unchanged.

Few colleagues believed it. What happened?

Copenhagen cycling levels fell from 37% to 35% by 2010. That's a lot of people who hopped off the bicycle. The people who made that happen have blood on their hands.

In order to explain the drop, the usual suspects will tell you that it was because there were two hard winters in Copenhagen. So we looked at all the different factors involved, including the weather, and compared it all with Amsterdam. Amsterdam, and the rest of the Netherlands, suffered EXACTLY the same hard winters in the same period. Amount of snow, temperatures, you name it.

Cycling levels didn't fall in Amsterdam. They remained steady. Fewer people drove because of the winters, but cycling wasn't affected.

The emotional propaganda onslaught faded away and, as one would expect, cycling levels started to recover. We're now at 36% modal share of people arriving at work of education in the city and have lingered there for a few years.

The news today in Copenhagen is of a massive increase in cycling in Copenhagen. Numbers from travel survey data from Danish Technical University show the following:

- The average trip length for Copenhageners increase by a whopping 1 km since 2012.
- Copenhageners ride 2,006,313 km a day, compared to 1.3 million in 2012.
- Car trips are down 12%.
- Public transport also increased its modal share from 28% to 32% since 2007.

One of the newspapers in Denmark that is arguably the most anti-cycling - Politiken - try to wrap their pretty heads around why there has been an increase in this article, in Danish. They ask all manner of academics who offer up their opinions.

The journalists claim that the City of Copenhagen's focus on infrastructure is a reason for it. They mention, among other things, the bicycle bridges over the harbour but fail to notice that they aren't even finished being built yet. So that doesn't work. There have been infrastructure improvements on certain streets, sure, but nothing on a large enough scale to boost cycling levels this much.

It's all very simple if you want it to be.

Copenhagenize Traffic Planning Guide

Right here, in all its simplicity.

Copenhagen is one massive building site. 17 new Metro stations are under construction all at once. Last year, work was finally completed on the huge network of pipes providing central heating to most of the city centre, which only contributed to the chaotic construction in the city. In the above article, the DCF - to my delight - recognised this as the reason for the current increase.

If you want to encourage cycling and public transport, make driving a pain in the ass. It is the only way forward and the only way we know to get motorists to change their behaviour.

Trip lengths by bicycle are up in Copenhagen - and car trips are down - simply because it's a pain to drive in the city because of all the construction at the moment. That's it and that's that.

If the City wants to maintain these cycling levels, keep the current chaos, albeit in a nicer form, when the Metro construction is finished.

The new numbers are nice today, but if everything just reverts to the car-centric status quo when construction is finished (and remember that the Metro expansion is already projected to reduce cycling levels by 3%), the honeymoon will be over and it will be abrupt and shocking when it happens.
Mark my words.

It's all so easy if you want it to be.
Don't promote helmets.
Make driving difficult, complicated, expensive.

The homo sapiens of a city will always figure out the fastest A to B. We call it A2Bism. We are all like rivers, finding the easiest route. Make that the bicycle or public transport and you are halfway there.