Adam Koniuszewski, The Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force Project Leader's Blog


Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force Project Leader

“Copenhagen – Where Bicycles Rule”

30 Dec 09 | 20 comments

Copenhagen – Where Bicycles Rule

Added 30 Dec 09 by the Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force Project Leader | 20 comments

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Bicycles offer a formidable carbon-free and economical alternative to cars. Yet, they are seldom considered by as a genuine solution to the problems of modern life in cities - traffic, parking, pollution and increasingly climate change. Copenhagen has a history of promoting cycling in its commuting strategy and has managed to solve many of the problems that are bringing most major cities to a halt every rush hour.

Road transportation represents 16% of all man-made CO2 emissions – 12% of EU emissions come from private car use. As the world prepares to cut down fossil fuels various measures are being evaluated including reducing the flow of vehicles through tolls, rush hour & congestion charges. Stockholm recently implemented such a scheme reducing rush hour traffic by 22%. Increasing the efficiency of driving - eco-driving can reduce fuel usage by up to 20% and more fuel-efficient vehicles are on the way. There are over 600 million cars in the world today – this number is expected to double by 2030. So regardless of the success of these measures, we need to look for other solutions – fast.

Cycling could be an option. It is fast, clean, cheap, healthy, the most efficient means of transportation ever-invented and also carbon free. Yet, it is rarely mentioned as a serious alternative to short car trips. Around the world there have been a several genuine attempts to promote bicycles. Holland (17 million) where cycling is the country’s most popular form of transportation is probably the most famous example. Amsterdam, the “biking capital” of the world has 800,000 bikes for a population of 750,000. A lack of parking and a clear priority to bicycles explain part of this success.

The COP15 conference gave the world an opportunity to discover another great biking city. The love story with biking in the Danish capital started long ago but in the 60s the city became clogged with car congestion just like other big cities around the world. It was the coming together of the energy crisis and the recession that ignited a spark in the collective soul. A massive public movement in favor of cycling emerged and protests put pressure on politicians to introduce car-free Sundays and improve conditions for cyclists. Major investments followed in the city and across the country. Denmark introduced the first national bike path network while bike couriers and bike-taxis have become part of the city folklore. Today, 55% of Copenhageners cycle to work or school every day.

A number of factors explain this success - biking is constantly prioritized in city planning. While many cities make such statements Copenhagen really means it. They introduced the concept of “GreenWaves” where traffic lights along the main roads are synchronized according to bike speeds - not cars - so that cyclists can surf through traffic during rush hour without putting a foot down. “GreenCycleRoutes” across the city allow cyclists minimal contact with cars. Bikes are also given the priority. At many intersections cars are pushed back 5 meters and bikes get the green light 4 to 12 seconds before cars. The results are clearly visible. During the 2 weeks of the climate conference and despite the massive inflow of people traffic was always fluid.

But what about economics? Does it make sense to invest so much in bike infrastructure? Traditional economic thinking in modern society links car sales, economic growth and progress. Have the Danes considered the true cost of their policies? They have - and realized that promoting cars and driving represents a drag on public funds. After taking into account all factors from travel time, safety and pollution (etc) they found that every time a person chooses to cycle society gains DKK 1.22/km vs. a net loss DKK 0.69/km for every km driven. When looking at health & safety the benefits of cycling are 7 times greater than costs. Not surprisingly riding a bike is much cheaper than driving (DKK 0.33/km vs DKK 2.20/km). (see

Studies in the UK confirm that for trips of less than 6 miles (10km) bikes are generally the most efficient and convenient option. With the average car producing 3 tons of CO2 and 60% of UK car trips being less than 5 miles the potential of cycling as a mitigation tool is enormous as the Amsterdam and Copenhagen experience confirms. Unfortunately few other cities have followe this path and cycling remains a low hanging fruit in the battle against climate change that cities are not taking seriously. Why remains unclear. Perhaps the lack of an economic benefit for vested interest groups is a reason. Unlike the car industry, there are no lobbyists in Washington to promote cycling. Like in Copenhagen, the initiative must come from the people. Perhaps the lighting spark can come from individuals like Kim Nguyen who cycled from Australia to Copenhagen to raise awareness about cycling and “break our dependence on fossil fuels to allow a brighter future for us all”.


Adam Koniuszewski

Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force Project Leader

Executive Director / COO of Green Cross International, Treasurer / Board Member of Green Cross France & Territories.

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There's a total of 20 comments for this blog entry. Have your say and add your own comment here.


A very good summary, Adam, of the case for bikes as serious urban transport. It is, as yous say, a mystery as to why they are not taken at all seriously, here in Australia, for instance. If readers were to google our Federal Govt's Green Vehicle Guide, for instance, they'd find bikes don't rate a mention. Part of the problem is that bikes are locked in a niche. All the oxygen around cycling is taken up by sport and leisure cycling. That flourishes with our roads sprinkled with hunched over riders, going very fast on ultra light machines. There has been no room in the public mind for the stately rider on a classic sit-up bike, just going from A to B. I feel the turbo booster for this other sort of cycling, will be Bike Share schemes like the Velibs in Paris, the Bixis in Montreal, and soon to arrive in London. Why? because they'll change both the convenience and status of urban cycling. They will get people trying sit ups and discovering that one can be comfortable on a bike in ordinary clothes. Bike share is the game changer, I'm convinced, and so argue in several movies on my blog; See especially, Bike share and helmets don't mix? Mike Rubbo

30 Dec 2009 - 12:07 GMT


Adam - thanks for initiating this conversation. Bike programs in Stockholm, Paris and soon in Montreal and Toronto are critical urban ideas for the future for so many reasons - as you have pointed out. The West has a long way to go to make bicycles the preferred choice of urban transportation but progress is being made. The big agenda is in Asia given the fact that countries such as China, Vietnam and India are already deeply invested in the bicycle culture. BUT I am very worried about the emerging hierarchy of the car in Asia. The automobile is fast becoming an accessible status symbol in Asia and this means that the bicycle culture is threatened. Can you imagine if all those bikes in China become cars? I think we need a big campaign in Asia that highlights (and elevates) the bicycle as the “better way”. It could make a profound difference if it can impact public opinion and city planners. I will add to this idea later – all the best in 2010 Adam. Geoff Cape

04 Jan 2010 - 17:09 GMT


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