June 30th, 2015

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A happy rider in Copenhagen / Copenhagenize Design Co.

As we approach another 4th of July weekend in the U.S., many of us will get in our cars to enjoy the holiday weekend. If we lived in Copenhagen, it’s likely we’d be choosing two-wheels instead of four to get around. Recently Copenhagen surpassed Amsterdam in the top spot for the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.

This Copenhagenize Index ranking by is no surprise to anyone who has visited this wonderful European city in recent years. Copenhagen’s public streets and spaces are filled with two-wheeled transportation.

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Rush hour in Copenhagen / Copenhagenize Design Co.

Copenhagen is a proof that “if you build it, they will come.” The city’s heavy investment in bicycle-friendly infrastructure makes this mode of transportation easy and accessible for people of all ages.

About 50% of residents commute by bicycle every day in Copenhagen. By comparison in the U.S., about 6% of Portland residents and about 4% of Minneapolis residents commute by bicycle. These cities are considered two of the most enlightened American cities when it comes to bicycling.

One of the biggest reasons Copenhagen’s leaders justify significant investments in bicycling infrastructure is because their policy and political decisions are guided by different methods of accounting for the full social costs of various modes of transportation.

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Clever transportation / Copenhagenize Design Co.

The article “How Copenhagen Became A Cycling Paradise By Considering The Full Cost Of Cars” summarizes this best: “Cars pollute and cause more accidents. So when deciding whether to invest in roads or bike lanes, Copenhagen calculates all of the social costs involved—and bikes win out.”

In addition, as Ben Schiller from Co.Exist writes, “As well as costs and benefits to society, there are also personal costs and benefits, including the time lost or gained from taking a bike or car, and the impact of noise and pollution on quality of life. When these are included in the analysis, cars cost 57 cents per kilometer while bikes come in at 9 cents per kilometer, the paper finds.”

Imagine if we applied a similar approach in the U.S.? Citizens and leaders would be better informed about the significant public subsidies that support our predominant car culture – and the disproportionate, costly impacts the motorized vehicles has on our public streets and spaces. And of course, we know non-motorized transportation is better for the planet and public health.

So as we approach another 4th of July weekend in the U.S. where many of us will get in our cars for weekend getaways, let’s recognize that there’s a higher cost in pursuit of some of those freedoms.