Karsten Marhold, ECF, 17/5/2013
For many years until 2007, less and less Danes were cycling. The downward trend ended up alerting the Danish government. They decided to invest 133 million Euros in the ‘Bicycle fund 2009-2014’ in order to help local governmentsto improve conditions for cycling. In 2013, Denmark is one of the three most cycling-friendly countries in Europe, together with the Netherlands and Hungary.
Cycling policy is often regarded as a matter of local interest only, managed by city officials or local administrations. Yet it is no coincidence that the national governments of countries like Denmark all have developed strong national cycling strategies. And as another common feature, their governments are all co-founding, not replacing, the local efforts to improve cycling.
Next week, when all OECD transport ministers convene at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, ECF will ask them to do just that: co-fund local cycle projects from national budgets.
In the Netherlands, for example, the Dutch government currently invests 21 million Euros in a network of cycle highways, while local authorities contribute 80 million. Cycle highways are long-distance bike routes that often cross regional borders, so they are unlikely to work unless there is some help from the central administration. By 2020, the Dutch government hopes to create 16 such highways. Since 1999, the government has also been funding a project by the Dutch national railways to create 300,000 new bicycle parking spaces at train stations. 121 million Euros have been invested from 2007 through 2012, and a further 107 million are planned until 2020.
It can also work the other way round, though. In Hungary, local authorities are struggling to make ends meet, which is why the national government is investing the lion’s share into cycling infrastructure there. Within the frame of the Hungarian national cycling strategy 2007 – 2013, the national government spent 75% of a total 45 million Euros, while local governments contributed the other 25%.
Until now, not many EU countries have started copying their example. Yet, improving bicycle infrastructure is good for the economy. In Germany, for example,increasing walking and cycling by 10% in the modal split could add €29bn, or 1.1%, to the German GDP by 2030. Not to mention reduced air pollution, less noise, better quality of life, and lower carbon emissions.
For the Danes, at least, it seems to work. In 2012, as one of the countries with the highest share of cycling, the Danes topped the list of the world’s happiest people.