Cycling against the traffic gridlock

Cycle-friendly urban strategies on the advance worldwide

During rush hour, motorists are regularly stuck in traffic jams. The world’s major urban centers suffer particularly from the daily breakdown of traffic that takes its toll on time, money and sanity. But cycle-friendly strategies for cities can help. More and more municipalities are investing in infrastructure to make metropolitan areas a better place to live.

Drivers in Germany spend 120 hours a year in traffic jams. And that’s just the average. According to the Global Traffic Scorecard, which INRIX, the US provider of traffic information, issues for more than 200 cities worldwide, drivers sacrifice 154 hours of their free time each year in Berlin, Germany’s congestion capital. All the same, they still score well by international standards. In the Colombian capital Bogotá, for example, which comes top of the list, commuters are stuck in traffic for 272 hours a year – more than eleven days of their lives. 

Rethinking urban planning 

Tailbacks gobble up working hours while damaging the environment and human health. According to INRIX, the economic bill in Germany alone comes to around 80 billion euros per year. In view of growing urbanization, action has to be taken, for by 2050, more than 70 per cent of the population is expected to live in cities. The future of megacities depends not least on sustainable urban and transport planning. Part of the solution for an integrated, smooth-running transport system is, alongside motor vehicles and local public transport, the bicycle. It is ideal for city mobility. Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VDC) says that 40 per cent of car journeys in cities cover five kilometers or less, and 10 percent not even two. Many motorists could therefore easily switch from cars to bikes for journeys within cities. This would often propel them to their destinations not only faster, but also quietly and sustainably – and would relieve the pressure on growing conurbations in particular. But this calls for a rethink on the part of city planners. 

Utrecht – a cyclists’ paradise

A fine example of this is Utrecht in the Netherlands. The city with a population of around 340,000 has been consistently promoting emission-free transport for several years now. Those responsible are convinced that this is the only way to ensure that the fast-growing university city in the heart of the Netherlands sustains a high quality of life for its citizens. That is why they are targeting investments on developing Utrecht into a paradise for -cyclists. Here, too, cars dominated the roads for a long time, with a multi-lane expressway passing through the city center until just ten years ago. In the post-war period, city planners drained a canal for this very purpose – just one of many waterways that had to make way for the growing flood of cars. 

Today, water and greenery have returned, and the medieval town center is almost car-free. Cycling in Utrecht is fun and the fastest way to get from A to B on many routes. There are currently more than 350 kilometers of cycle paths, lanes and roads within the city’s boundaries, making it easy for citizens and commuters to take to the saddle rather than the car seat. 43 percent of all trips under 7.5 kilometers are cycled, as are 60 percent of all trips in the center. In Berlin, on the other hand, only 15 per cent of vehicles used are bicycles. 

The world’s largest multi-storey cycle park

With more than 125,000 cyclists on the move in Utrecht every day, traffic on the main trunk road sometimes comes to a standstill. But cyclists, who often ride next to each other in several lanes, generally make good progress. So that they can sweep through the city with a succession of green lights, there are interactive information columns in front of many traffic lights showing bikers whether they need to speed up or slow down. For new residents, the city offers lessons from bicycle teachers so that they can quickly find their way around Utrecht. The tightly meshed network of cycle paths and footpaths also includes a bridge with a heated carriageway, enabling the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal to be crossed without the risk of skidding, even in ice and snow. 

On the subject of security, Utrecht currently provides a total of 13 cycle parks under surveillance, including the world’s largest multi-storey for bikes. Directly below the main railway station, it currently has 12,600 parking spaces on three floors, with 33,000 planned by 2020. Illuminated displays show how to get to vacant parking slots, and the first 24 hours are free. Sheer bliss for all those who have ever hunted for their bike or a parking space in the jumble of metal outside German railway stations. 

Cargo bikes for the final mile

No wonder Utrecht ranks third – behind Copenhagen and Amsterdam – in the Copenhagenize Index of the world’s cycle-friendliest cities. The Danish capital enjoys a global reputation as a bicycle city, closely followed by its Dutch sister, which has more bicycles than inhabitants. Since 2013, all three municipalities have held their own in changing positions at the top of the biennial league table. The only German city in the current top 20 is Bremen. The Hanseatic city made it into the Copenhagenize Index for the first time in 2019 and ranks eleventh just ahead of Bogotá. The Colombian gridlock capital rocketed to twelfth place from a standing start thanks to its commitment to cycle routes and the regular car-free Sunday. Urban planners and mobility experts around the world are increasingly relying on cycles to combat traffic jams, noise and smog. 

Cargo bikes are being promoted in many towns so that companies and tradesmen can also switch to bicycles on inner-city tours – Germany also offers purchase incentives for cargo bikes with electric motors. There are now even sharing schemes for these practical bicycles. Thanks to different superstructures, they can replace the car for many transportation tasks, e.g. for the last mile in parcel delivery, courier services and journeys by craftsmen. In Copenhagen, a funeral director even uses a cargo bike as a hearse. However, better-developed and wider cycle paths will be essential for the idea to work in the long term.   

Copenhagenize Index

The Copenhagenize Index shows how bicycle-friendly a big city is. It is conducted by the Danish Copenhagenize Design Company and awards grades to cities with more than 600,000 inhabitants worldwide. The cities are ranked every two years on the basis of 13 criteria such as bicycle infrastructure, political climate, traffic calming or the number of rental bikes.

Further information can be found at copenhagenizeindex.eu.