Justin Gerdes, 23/1/2012
For every kilometer traveled by bike instead of by car, Copenhagen saves 7.8 cents in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure. Credit: Justin Gerdes
Whenever I mention to Americans that I have worked in Copenhagen, I’m invariably asked (after an alarmingly large number confuse the Danes with the Dutch) about the bikes. For good reason.
Yes, the Danes love their bikes, as I came to love mine – even when peddling to work on dark, frigid, wet January mornings. Statistics only hint at the scale of the phenomenon (in 2010, 35% of all trips to work or school in Copenhagen were made by bike; for Copenhagen residents, the figure is 50%).
More persuasive than the data is experiencing yourself the exhilaration (and brief panic) that comes with merging into the peloton hurtling south along Nørrebrogade, Copenhagen’s busiest bike corridor, toward the city center during the morning commute.
I like to think of the ubiquitous bikes, however beneficial, as a symbol of much else that is right in Copenhagen on the sustainability front. A new report from *Green Growth Leaders, a Copenhagen-based global alliance of cities, regions, countries and corporations, collects data and case studies on the overlooked, but in no way marginal, benefits of Copenhagen’s environmental protection efforts.
Copenhagen – Beyond Green (PDF) illustrates the economic and social benefits that come with busy bike lanes, a swimmable harbor, and smart, integrated transit. Here’s the crux of the authors’ argument, from the foreword:
The environmental benefits of convincing commuters to choose bikes over cars – avoided carbon emissions and localized air pollutants such as soot – are obvious. The City of Copenhagen took the analysis one step further by comparing the money saved in the shift from cars to bikes.
Researchers found that for every kilometer traveled by bike instead of by car, taxpayers saved 7.8 cents (DKK 0.45) in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure. Cyclists in Copenhagen cover an estimated 1.2 million kilometers each day – saving the city a little over $34 million each year.
With so many residents commuting by bike, Copenhagen reaps additional benefits. The report authors cite one study which found that cycling for a half-hour daily increases mean life expectancy by 1-2 years. Not only can motorists who switch to a bicycle expect to live longer, they’ll be saving themselves (and other taxpayers) money.
The City of Copenhagen found:
Let’s take the analysis beyond the familiar bikes. Fifteen years ago, nearly 100 overflow channels carried wastewater into Copenhagen harbor after heavy rains. The water posed a serious health risk, and made the harbor not fit for swimming. The City of Copenhagen invested in infrastructure – rainwater reservoirs and conduits – that store wastewater until the sewage system is able to process the overflow. Seven years later, in 2002, the city had opened a public swimming facility in the harbor and closed 55 overflow channels.
In 1995, the water in Copenhagen harbor posed a serious health risk. Just seven years later, the city opened a public swimming facility in the harbor. Credit: Justin Gerdes
The Copenhagen harbor front today is some of the most sought after real estate in the city. The number of cafes, bars, and restaurants in the harbor area has increased 300% since the public bath opened.
Residents are increasingly choosing to buy homes near the harbor:
For those who can’t bike to work (or who might want to avoid peddling through the worst of the winter slush and chill), Copenhagen is served by an integrated transportation network: a driverless, punctual Metro (with one of the best airport connections in the world), regional trains, and buses.
Absent this network, residents would lose 100,000 hours each day. Lost hours valued at just under $1 billion (DKK 5.7 billion) annually.
The authors’ takeaway:
*Disclosure: I am a former employee of Monday Morning, the think tank that hosts the Green Growth Leaders secretariat. I have also worked as a writer and editor, on a freelance basis, for Monday Morning publications, including Guide to Sustainia, released in October 2011. I did not participate in the production of Copenhagen – Beyond Green.