In a Danish cyclist’s perspective: What is wrong in Geelong

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Listen to Bethany, Heather and Maria in The Bicycle Show on 14 November 2015 on 94.7 The Pulse as they interview Mik Aidt, 53 – a cycling Viking, or an exiled ‘Biking’, as he moved from Copenhagen to Geelong, Australia in 2013.

He talks about the new findings and figures that show how beneficial cycling is to society, also financially – the sort of knowledge which Australian politicians, councillors and community leaders need to pick up. Like most Australians, they are in denial about considering the full cost of cars.  More writing on this topic further below.

Listen to the The Bicycle Show:

Download the audio file


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Mik Aidt is Danish, which means: he grew up on a bicycle. He moved to Australia in 2013 with an old, Danish ‘gentleman bike’ – 1950s style ice breaker – in the ship container. He is a father of three young cyclists, and a sixth member of their family unit is a cargo bike named ‘Mobii’. That cargo bike turned out be a great conversation opener in the streets of Geelong, Mik says.

The Bicycle Show on 94.7 The Pulse is a weekly community radio show about celebrating bicycle culture, from school kids riding bikes to school to the Pro Tour, featuring special guests every week.

» Read more about The Bicycle Show on www.947thepulse.com/program-guide/TheBicycleShow and www.facebook.com/thebicycleshow

» The Bicycle Show podcast feed: www.cpod.org.au/feed.php?id=231


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Eminent advantages of making a city bike-friendly

When Australian politicians and councillors ignore the economic benefits to society which active transport can create, it is not just a missed opportunity, it is outright mismanagement of taxpayers money.

Commentary notes by Mik Aidt

Better health. Faster and cheaper commuting within the city. Parking problems solved. Less noise and pollution of the air. Better options for socialising and communication with other citizens while moving from one point to another…

You would think that improving the road infrastructure within the city centre to invite citizens to use their bicycles and feet instead of isolating themselves in those polluting and spacious metalboxes we call cars would be a no-brainer.

Study after study as well as numerous Australians’ research trips to bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and New York, reveal the findings that when we transform our cities to become more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, they not only become healthier because of less air pollution from the cars, they also become more attractive to tourists and better for business. They become places people like to come to and stay. The transformation from car-city to people-city creates economical benefits and it raises our quality of life.

So why is there so little ambition among Geelong’s leaders to make our city a more liveable and sustainable place?

Australia is generally on the wrong track with cycling. In state parliaments and council chambers around Australia, new laws and rules are being implemented which will only keep more people away from cycling.

In Geelong in particular, cyclists and pedestrians are treated as second-class citizens. The concept of what a safe ‘Copenhagen lane’ bike paths looks like is not unknown to the city planners, but is still seen as an experiment rather than a vision – and so far the amount of ‘Copenhagen lane’ bike paths in Geelong can be counted on… not just one hand. One finger. The roads and roundabouts in this city are death traps for cyclists and pedestrians. In particular for school children.

Even at crossings with red lights, pedestrians are being humiliated. In order to be allowed to cross the road, they have to “apply” for permission by pressing a special button. And there are no zebra crossings. Cars have right of way – everywhere.

In Copenhagen, for instance, it works the opposite way around: green light always comes first for the pedestrians and cyclists, and cars are forced to hold back and give way. If there is a button to press, it’s function is to call for the green light to come sooner than it would have otherwise. 

In Geelong, cycling and walking is treated as a problem, not a solution.


Public pressure missing
How hard would it be to lower the speed limits for cars, put some more white stripes on the asphalt, remove those buttons in the crossings, and build some safe bike paths? It wouldn’t be hard at all, if only this was something the entire city – or at least the majority of its citizens – were in agreement about doing.

But there is no consensus on this topic. One tiny minority of professional sports-riders and another tiny minority of environmentally conscious ‘active transporters’ (mainstream Australians call them ‘treehuggers’ or ‘greenies’) are the only spokespersons for the need for infrastructural transformation. And not even these groups are united under one umbrella.

Cycling and walking is not seen as part of something which is much bigger. It is not recognised that there is a popular, global movement towards creating cities that are friendlier, healthier, more sustainable, carbon-conscious and as a result of it all: more liveable.

Some Australian city planners, politicians and community decision makers may have recognised this. After all, quite a few of them have been visiting or studying the bike-friendly cities in Northern Europe. But as long as there is no pressure for change from the public to make it happen, they have no incentive to take action or speak up about this. Politically, cycling is regarded a controversial topic, and in a democratic system, politicians generally don’t want to risk not getting re-elected.

In other words, nothing will ever start to happen until we manage to mobilise ourselves as citizens and create that public pressure which is needed – with meetings, petitions, lobby-groups, and by showing our numbers in the streets. The more the merrier, because as research has shown, this is really how it works: the more cyclists we are out there on the streets, the safer it becomes to be a cyclist.

To create real change, the kind of change we need to see when it comes to road safety for all citizens, including pedestrians and cyclists, then we need to talk with a big and simple brush. Instead of just continuing the path of doing minor patches and dots of adjustments and repairs, the ‘top’, which for us in Geelong means the Victorian government, needs to introduce and promote an entirely new way of thinking.


Rules of no cost could pave the way
Simple new rules could be established without investing much money. For instance: similar to a rule which says, ‘No new house can be built without solar on the roof’, another rule could be saying: ‘No new road can be constructed without both pavement and a bikepath’. And if there is to be room for car parking space, then the parking space much be situated between the bikepath and the car lane. 

A rule like that wouldn’t cost anything in the budget. It is simply a matter of making the decision and promoting it.

Another rule could say: ‘Whenever a road is repaired with new tarmac and white lines are repainted (as we have just seen it in Moorabool St) then the lines much be changed so that a safe bike path is established.’

With two rules like that in place, only talking about policy around new roads or new repairs, all the rest will – little by little – come by itself.

Demand zebra crossings! Demand lover car speed! Demand one-way roads combined with a separated two-way bike path.


Cost-benefit analysis of bicycle versus car
At the moment, I believe our leaders have not sufficiently been made aware of the obvious financial benefits to society there is in getting more people up on the bicycles. When Danish bureaucrats are able to understand this math, then why shouldn’t Australian and Victorian planners and councillors be able to as well?

I believe they are – but someone needs to tell them about it! For instance, dig this one:

“A cost-benefit analysis of a cycle journey of one kilometre in Copenhagen during rush hour shows there is a total socioeconomic benefit of 34 cents per kilometre (in relation to the journey not having taken place). By comparison there is a socioeconomic loss of 1.17 Australian dollar per kilometre driven by car (in relation to the journey not having taken place).”

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Climate and cycling

There is also the aspect of global warming. As far as climate change action is concerned, the European Cyclists’ Federation’s report, ‘Cycle more often 2 cool down the Planet’ adds another dimension to the discussion about cycling versus car driving.

“When you incorporate all factors in the calculations, a cyclist on average emits 21 grams CO2 per kilometer. A person driving a car emits 271 grams of CO2 per kilometer, or around 13 times more.”


Considering the full cost of cars
“Copenhagen is known as a cyclist paradise, a place where the bike is treated equally, if not preferentially, to the car. There are long-running cultural reasons for this — the Danes are into bikes, period — but also more structural factors as well. One of those is how the city justifies its cycling investments relative to other modes of transport.

In a new paper, Stefan Gössling from Lund University and Andy Choi from the University of Queensland take a look at Copenhagen’s approach and argue that it explains how the city has built out so much dedicated cycling infrastructure, including miles of uninterrupted and separated bike lanes, and even dedicated bike tunnels, bridges, and traffic lights.
When the city decides on a cycling project, it compares the cost to that of a road for cars, and it includes not only the upfront amount, but also things like the cost of road accidents to society, the impact of car pollution on health, and the cost of carbon emitted to the atmosphere.

After including these factors, it comes to a rather startling calculation. One kilometer driven by car costs society about 17 cents (15 euro cents), whereas society gains 18 cents (16 euro cents) for each kilometer cycled, the paper finds. That’s because of factors like the health benefits of cycling and the avoided ill-effects of cars.

“What we learn here is that society profits from people cycling. It’s better for society if people cycle from many different angles, from resource intensity to people’s health,” says Gössling, in an interview.”

» Excerpt from the article ‘How Copenhagen became a cycling paradise by considering the full cost of cars’ on www.fastcoexist.com


Practial and good for health and business
Understand the Danes: why do half of them cycle to work and school? Not because of environment, climate, even health reasons. No, they do it first of all because it is practical.

In a city like Copenhagen, it is faster. Cheaper. Nicer. And you don’t have to spend time and money on finding parking space.
So that is why more than 50 per cent of the city’s citizens ride to work or school every day.

In Australia, people are used to live far away from each other in rural districts. The Australian way of life has cultivated a kind of car dependency which means that 63 per cent of Australians are now classed as overweight or obese. Obesity has become the single biggest threat to public health in Australia, and 67 per cent of Australians perform little to no exercise. They drive anywhere they want to go. Even if it is just 500 metres around the corner to get a bread.

According to the OECD, an obese, or overweight, person incurs 25 per cent higher health expenditures than a person of normal weight in any given year. Health spending is increasing in Australia. In 2010, it averaged out to AUD$ 5,500 per person.

A study from Denmark shows that sick leave drops by one day per 1,200 kilometres travelled on the cycle track, and what is spent on improving conditions for commuter cyclists comes back to the municipality in saved sick-leave expenses and reduced CO2 emissions.

A study from New York, USA, investigates the economic benefit cyclists bring to a city, and discovers that when protected bike lanes were introduced in Manhattan there was an increase in retail sales of 49 percent.


» Bike Lanes May Be The Most Cost-Effective Way To Improve Public Health


Riding to school
What gives me hope for Geelong is that I see the young generation wants this. The don’t need to wait til they are 16 or 18 to get a drivers licence. To them cycling is about freedom and independence to move around in the city. And to go to school without the need of their parents driving them there.

Allegedly, just one generation ago, in the 1970s, over 50 per cents of students would be riding to school on a bicycle. Now, less than 5 per cent ride to school. Mums and dads drive them to school in a car, every morning. Again, at a huge cost to society.

The amount of hours per week per child which are wasted in this way runs up in millions and millions of dollars at a national scale. For instance, just a quick and rough calculation to illustrate the level: if we assume that parents in average spend two hours a week on driving a child to school, then that’s equivalent to a cost of $13,376,000,000 in lost work time per year, since Australia has 3.8 million school children and if we assume the average pay to be $40 an hour and that they in average go to school 44 weeks per year. A loss of 13 billion dollars a year because of inadequate, silly road planning.

How many safe bike paths could we build for 13 billion dollars a year?


Cyclists: Humble and oppressed
Some cities and towns in Australia have up to 10 per cent of people riding to work. Geelong less than one per cent. Since 2009, six cyclists have died here.

Cyclists and pedestrians in Geelong, and in Australia generally, are humble and oppressed as minorities often are. They will remain being treated as second class citizens until one day they learn to mobilise themselves – both commuter and sports cyclists – and speak up with bigger letters and stronger words.

The cycling groups of the city need to unite and become bigger in numbers. Find talented spokespersons. Write letters to the editor. Ask questions at council meetings at city hall. Participate actively in elections, asking questions to candidates.

We must understand how things work in a democracy: Politicians don’t listen to us if we don’t have the numbers. It is the exact same issue with climate change: as long as there is doubt and disagreement in the population about whether climate change even exists, politicians won’t touch it.


We’ve got work to do
We need to make our politicians understand the economical benefit cycling has to society. The fact that a cost-benefit analysis of a cycle journey of one kilometre shows a socioeconomic benefit of 34 cents compared to a socioeconomic loss of 1.17 Australian dollar per kilometre driven by car is something that needs to be mentioned, revisited, and mentioned again, over and over again.

But even if politicians do understand these economics, they still won’t lift a finger as long as their voters, in this case the car-driving residents of Geelong, don’t want cyclists in their city.

Focus should be on the happiness and fun that people are having with cycling in for instance Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Send more people on ‘cycling study trips’ to Copenhagen. Create forums to share the experience of increased quality of life that comes from living in a city where cycling, walking and active transport is the normal way to get from A to B. Find out and highlight all the details around why Oslo is closing off its CBD for cars entirely. Focus in particular on the freedom and independence that bike-riding gives to youth and teenagers who are too young to drive a car yet.


Mik Aidt is a member of Bicycle Users Geelong



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The drawing on top of this page was published with this article in The Guardian:

» The Guardian – 14 December 2015:
Are roads for cars or kids? My part in the fight to make people-friendly streets
“A Play Streets scheme that closes roads to cars opened Clare Rogers’ eyes to the idea of roads for recreation. Now she’s part of a grassroots campaign to revolutionise cycling in Enfield – but the battle isn’t over”






Our daily bike rides benefit the climate immensely

By Rune Monberg Dalhof | 20 October 2015

Exercise, comfort and an easier means of transportation are among the main reasons why thousands of Danes grab the bike and leave the car in the garage. But cyclists are also a contributing factor in limiting global warming. In relation to cars, cyclists emits close to no CO2 from their transport.

“The Municipality of Copenhagen has been conducting research and analyzed the level of cycling in Copenhagen. The amount of people who choose the bicycles in favor of car saves Copenhagen from 90,000 tons of CO2 emission annually. Compared to the total emission of 549,000 tons of CO2, this is a considerable reduction,” says CEO of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation, Klaus Bondam.

The emission from cars is 13 times higher than cyclists. When you incorporate all factors in the calculations, a cyclist on average emits 21 grams CO2 per kilometer. A person driving a car emits 271 grams of CO2 per kilometer, or around 13 times more.


Cycle and cool the planet
Cycling is immensely beneficial in fighting the climate changes according to the European Cyclists’ Federation’s report, ‘Cycle more often 2 cool down the Planet’.
In the report, the ECF compares the emissions from CO2 coming from cars and bicycles.

Cyclists are not 100 percent CO2 neutral the report concludes. The emission derives from the production of bicycles and maintenance of the bikes, building infrastructure and repairing roads. Even fuel is incorporated into the calculations. Furthermore, cyclists use their body and muscles more that motorists and for that reason, cyclists eats more than motorists. The level of CO2 emission from increased food consumptions depends on what the consumer eats where beef is one of the most CO2 emitting foodstuffs.

But despite filling your stomach with beef, using the two-wheeled as a means of transportation, you are saving considerable amounts of CO2 in comparison to driving your car.


Cycling on equal footing
One of the way of getting even more people to bike is to continuously improve the conditions for cyclists, says Klaus Bondam. “But it is also important to work on the image of cycling,” he says.

“We have to focus on the fact that choosing to cycle to work or other places is an equal means of transportation comparing to cars or public transport. Millions of Danes commute by bike every day, and it is not because we are poor or do not have a driver’s license. We do it because it is an easy and effective way to transport ourselves, and it gives us a good start on the day. It is refreshing and saves us the pains of traffic congestions,” says Klaus Bondam.


Electricity makes the bike more interesting
New technological developments can also contribute to increased use of the two-wheeler.
“Many people in the world of cycling are confident that the development that will occur the next few years in the technology concerning electric bikes will make cycling an interesting alternative over longer distances as well. The environmental accounts will continuously be in favor of bicycles, even the electric bikes. Much of the electricity used in Denmark derives from renewable energy,” says Klaus Bondam.

In their report, the ECF also calculated the effects of electric bikes and how much CO2 the production emits. The result is that electric bikes only emits a small fraction more than conventional use of bicycles and yet far less than cars.

» Rune Monberg Dalhof’s article was published in the Danish magazine Cykl Mere (Cycle More) and then translated to English and republished on www.cycling-embassy.dk


» The Age – 26 January 2016:
Cyclists are climate-change heroes but we are often treated as villains


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An inspirational cyclist ambassador: Marianne Weinreich

The chairman of Cycling Embassy of Denmark, Marianne Weinreich, gave a presentation in Sydney in spring 2015. She brought with her some new stats and figures from Denmark which are really interesting.

» Financial Review gave this report on her presentation:
www.afr.com

» ABC also interviewed Marianne Weinreich in Radio National:
www.abc.net.au

» and this was Mik Aidt’s radio interview with her for SBS Radio Danish:
www.sbs.com.au – in Danish language. The text on the page is in English language, however, including the mention of this new Danish study which convinsingly has shown the Danish politicians why investing in cycling-infrastructure is a sensible investment.


ABC: Cycling Cities

Could Australian cities learn about bike friendliness from our European counterparts?

European cities have been championed as the leaders in bicycle integration and promotion. Denmark even has its own cycling embassy which exists, as they say, ‘to encourage cycling all over the world by sharing our knowhow and expertise’. Most Australian cities have been designed with the understanding that cars are the principal mode of transport. What, then, can European experts teach us about how to make our cities more bike friendly?

» Download the audio file

» www.abc.net.au/radionational


Why mandatory bike helmets?

» Road.cc – 17 February 2014:
Chris Boardman: “Helmets not even in top 10 of things that keep cycling safe”

» The Guardian – 24 January 2016:
Wearing a bike helmet might make you more dangerous
Wearing safety equipment boosts appetite for danger, even in unrelated activities, a study has found







» Petition on Change.org:
The World doesn’t need it – We don’t need it – Australia’s Nanny-State Bike Helmet Law!


Copenhagen, Denmark: Most bike-friendly city

The Danish capital “is unrivalled in the world” as a cycling city according to a newly-released index of the most bike-friendly cities.
 
Seen through the eyes of a Copenhagener, order has been restored to the bicycling world. After coming behind Amsterdam the past two times, the Danish capital has claimed the title of the best cycling city in the world according to influential
urban consulting firm Copenhagenize.

Three new city bridges, including the much-hyped Cykelslangen, have opened since the last index and four more are coming. The city and its surrounding municipalities have also invested in a series of ‘bicycle superhighways’ meant to make long biking commutes easier and more appealing.

The top 10 cities in the 2015 Copenhagenize Index were:

1. Copenhagen
2. Amsterdam
3. Utrecht, Netherlands
4. Strasbourg, France
5. Eindhoven, Netherlands
6. Malmö, Sweden
7. Nantes, France
8. Bordeaux, France
9. Antwerp, Belgium
10. Seville, Spain.
 
» Source: www.thelocal.dk

Read more

Take a look at some of these blogposts about cycling:
» Climatesafety.info: Call for more cyclists in the streets

» Climatesafety.info: The real value of cycling

» Climatesafety.info: Cycling


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