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Considering the rapid growth process of cities, mobility has become one of the main challenges for public administrations. Currently, transport represents about 1/5 of the world’s energy demand and 1/4 of the CO2 emissions related to energy. Pollution, traffic and noise are considered some of the challenges that have driven the development of innovative solutions and the integration of public, private, civil society and academia to improve citizen mobility.
In this context, it is remarkable the case of Copenhagen, Denmark, that set a target to become CO2 neutral by 2025. One of the main goals in its development plan is that no more than one third of trips that start and/or stop in Copenhagen should be by car, with bikes and public transport accounting for the rest. Including pedestrians, the target is for 75% of all trips to be on foot, by bike or via public transport. On the other hand, in Latin America and the Caribbean, transportation is a key element for the regional determined commitments on climate change: 14 countries in the region have established specific goals in the transport sector as mitigation strategies. The transport sector accounts for more than 20% of total regional emissions producing more emissions per unit of regional GDP in the transport sector than other countries: 30% more than the US and 80% more than all OECD countries.
Copenhagen: the city of the bicycle
Within these new, greener and more flexible transport models, the bicycle is considered as an alternative for economic mobility that helps mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy consumption and make better use of road space. Additionally, as part of the positive externalities of the bicycle, the highest level of citizens’ quality of life is highlighted by promoting their physical health and environmental awareness, achieving an impact on both the individual and collective welfare.
In 1910, Copenhagen inaugurated its first bicycle lane. Since then, most of the lane network and infrastructure dedicated to this means of transport has been developed during the last 25 years. Currently, all metro and bus stations have parking for bicycles and the city has extensive signage for cyclists. The center of Copenhagen has a greater number of bicycles than citizens: 520,000 inhabitants and 560,000 bicycles and it is expected that by 2025 the city will become the first capital in the world with neutral carbon dioxide emissions.
As of 1962, parking in 18 town squares has been eliminated to give space to more life in the city. The expansion of the system of car-free spaces in the city has had some great advantages: Residents have had time to develop a completely new urban culture, discover and develop new opportunities; car owners have had time to get used to the idea of not driving and parking in the city center, and using public transport and bicycle; as a result, people have had time to change their habits and patterns of mobilization.
Gradual investments in bicycle infrastructure have been made over the years. Investments have resulted in a steady increase in the number of cyclists since the 1970s. New initiatives in the city seek to maintain and improve the use of bicycles. Green lanes have been established for the exclusive use of cyclists, creating an ecological environment for the city. The main routes have been established to “green waves” to synchronize the flow bicycles with traffic lights so that the cyclists maintain an average speed of 20 km per hour.
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However, the success of bicycles creates new challenges, mainly from the increase in congestion in bicycle lanes. This challenge has been addressed in recent years through extensions in the lanes and roads; this has in turn resulted in the arrival of cargo bicycles. Freight bicycles are present in at least 6% of all households in Copenhagen and are used to transport goods and children. 25% of all families in Copenhagen with two children have a cargo bicycle. The long-term goal of the city of Copenhagen is that 50% of the population would travel by bicycle.
During 2009, the Danish Cycling Embassy was founded with the aim of facilitating access to technical knowledge, helping to promote a cycling culture in cities around the world as the main means of transport for inhabitants. Members of the Danish Cycling Embassy are a network of representatives from the private, public and civil society sectors representing the cutting edge in all areas related to cycling, from urban planning for bicycles and friendly cities, to the creation of synergies between cycling and public transport, the construction of safe infrastructure, and the development of successful campaigns and municipal policies that motivate people of all ages to use the bicycle in the city.
Currently Copenhagen is one of the cities in the world known for the use of the bicycle as the main means of transport for its inhabitants as well as tourists. According to a report from 2017 about nine out of 10 Danes have a bicycle for their mobility needs, and only four out of 10 have a car. Annually, in Copenhagen, inhabitants travel by bicycle about 1.2 million km, which is equivalent to two round trips to the moon, while only covering 660,000 km by metro.
The case of Latin America and the Caribbean in urban cycling
In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) there are many examples of how this means of transport has transformed cities and communities in a positive way. According to the Biciciudades study developed by the IDB during 2013, among 19 LAC cities, Bogotá is the capital in Latin American with the most road infrastructure for bicycles with a total of up to 376 kilometers of lanes exclusively for cyclists. Montevideo, on the other hand, has 11.3 kilometers of permanent cycle path and about 2.5 kilometers of recreational bike paths.
Currently, as part of sustainability and equity policies, there are several cities in Latin America that have implemented programs or campaigns to promote this means of transport through public bicycles and thus offer greater access to all citizens and increase bicycle travel in the city. Guadalajara has an average of 212.000 bicycle trips per day, Rio de Janeiro around 217.000, Mexico City 433.000, and Santiago de Chile is close to 510.000 trips per day. Other cities, such as Mexico or Buenos Aires, have become bike friendly cities not only because of the development of infrastructure but also due to investment in innovative furniture, pedagogical strategies for citizens, and security policies on both roads and parking lots.
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Despite the efforts that some local governments and civil society groups have made to promote the bicycle as a means of transportation, in most cities in Latin America there are still many challenges facing the road infrastructure and the demand for the bicycle on the part of the citizens. In cities such as Asunción, only 5% of the population use bicycles as regular transportation, and in other cities such as Bogotá, Barranquilla, Mexico City and Montevideo the figure is approximately between 2% and 3% of the population.
In this sense, it is necessary for governments to improve incentives and policies for the use of public and sustainable transport such as the bicycles. Increased signage, training on traffic rules, road planning that integrate the public system of the city with bicycle lanes, are some of the factors necessary to increase and improve the service. Additionally, awareness-raising among the inhabitants that highlights improvements in citizen security could reduce the obstacles and negative externalities of why a limited number of inhabitants use the bicycle as their usual means of transportation.
Electric transportation as a sustainable alternative
Another sustainable transport model being implemented which seeks to reduce the adverse environmental effects of noise and diminished air quality is the electric transport system. This alternative to fuel also represents a more economical solution with an efficiency of approximately 90% by requiring less energy to perform the same work as traditional engines.
Since 1983, in Copenhagen, electric transport is exempt from vehicle registration tax (VRT) and there are approximately 400 electric cars in the city. In addition, the local government is seeking to encourage more users and service providers by promoting the development of infrastructure, charging stations and the offer of free parking. The city is also working on the developing standards and legislation so that the city of Copenhagen can offer concessions to both car manufacturers and service providers that can contribute to creating a public infrastructure for this transportation system and that in the long term can ensure large-scale deployment in the city.
Considering the challenges of both infrastructure and climate, the city of Copenhagen is cooperating with other municipalities and companies both nationally and internationally. Within the European Union the city is participating in three projects with the aim of promoting electric vehicles and developing a common European cargo infrastructure, and a project with the aim of promoting hydrogen cars. In addition, Copenhagen is part of the C40 network that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In the Urban Workshop, participants will have the opportunity to take a guided bicycle tour through the city of Copenhagen and learn how to approach cycling in relation to sustainable mobility and climate objectives, infrastructure design and road safety, multimodal transport among others. The tour will also discuss some of the education tools and promotion that the success of cycling culture has achieved in Danish cities and how citizen participation is an integral part of urban renewal and development.
Urban workshop: learning from the Nordic experience
Taking into account these lessons learned from Copenhagen in sustainable urban transport, the IDB Cities Network organized a knowledge exchange meeting, in which mayors and technical officials from sixteen cities in Latin America and the Caribbean learned from the Nordic urban experience. The urban workshop took place from 27 to 29 May 2019 in the cities of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and it was developed in joint with the Nordic Development Fund, the Confederation of Industry Danish, an the Cities of Copenhagen and Malmö. Based on the Nordic urban experience, we intend to facilitate learning in terms of sustainability, competitiveness and inclusion for a better quality of life in Latin American and Caribbean cities.
The IDB Cities Network is an institutional platform for knowledge, relationships and solutions at the municipal level that aims to socialize knowledge, lessons learned and good practices in environmental, economic and social sustainability of more than 160 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. We provide support through meetings that promote institutional support, innovation, good practices and the exchange of knowledge between the public sector, the private sector and civil society to boost the demand and capacities for urban loans and investments able to solve the main challenges of cities in the region.
Learn more about the Nordic urban experience!
- Public space for all: what makes Copenhagen the city for the people?
- Urban recovery and planning: the case of Western Harbor, Malmö
- Integrated urban development: Copenhagen and its Nordhavn case
Edition: Tomás González Ginestet