What all urban planners should be asked: would you let your child cycle here?
- For generations, Danish urban planners have made it a priority for children to be able to ride to school alone. The result is more social, cheerful, and healthy adults
Jun 17, 2017-
I love to cycle. I’ve got no clue why,” says Emilie, a six-year-old Danish girl. She is with her friend Vilja, who’s the same age. “When I cycle, I can go to new places faster,” she says in a recent Danish campaign for cycling.
Even though it’s almost half a century ago, I would have said exactly the same at that age. When I was a child, my bicycle gave me freedom to move around with speed, ease and lightness. It gave me the feeling of being independent from my
parents, as I did not need to ask them to drive me to my friends’ place or to school. I could just jump on my bike, and off I went. My childhood wasn’t very different from that of most other Danish kids.
Studies show 99% of the Danish population consider themselves to be cyclists and learned to ride a bike before they were 10 years old. In other surveys, 96% of Danes believe we need to take active steps make it possible for more children to cycle to school.
Are Danish parents more irresponsible compared to other nationalities? I don’t think so. It is simply that freedom for children is a huge part of Danish culture and, when designing our streets and neighbourhoods, our urban planners have always asked themselves the question: “would I let my children cycle here?”
Connie Hedegaard, former Danish EU commissioner for climate action, puts it this way: “One might say that Europe faces a choice. Do we want to pursue an American-style approach where kids depend on their parents to take them to school for many years? Or do we want a Nordic-style approach in which mobility considerations are integrated into urban planning, and where the necessary infrastructure is provided so kids can bike to school by themselves? I know which I prefer.”
The secret behind this Nordic approach is simple: segregated, curbed bicycle lanes, where the layout of every inch has been taken into consideration—such as covering intersections with traffic lights, integrating retracted stop lines for cars and having pre-green lights for cyclists. Give-way lines (“shark teeth”) where smaller roads join bigger ones mean that everyone—including other cyclists—must make a full stop before they move on to a main road. In most places, pavements and bicycle tracks run down smaller side streets as well, illustrating how we give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.
As most people know, Denmark has a very strong bicycle culture. In Copenhagen, the capital, 41% of all trips to work or study in are made by bicycle every day, all year round. Across the city you’ll see a lot of children in cargo bikes, and kids from the age of six or seven riding their own bike in the company of their parents.
I am convinced that Denmark’s unique bicycle culture among children is the cornerstone of this very sustainable form of urban mobility.
Parents and teachers alike support cycling, because it is good for children. The Danish Health Authority’s surveys show that children who bike to and from school, and to after-hours activities, have improved self-esteem. They are more social and self-reliant; they have a higher threshold for stress; they concentrate better; they are more cheerful and healthy—and of course have a lesser risk of lifestyle diseases. This is the future that we need for our children—and all the adults are more than welcome to join in.
If you implement safe bicycle routes to school, make bikeable residential neighbourhoods, and start connecting infrastructure street by street, then you are on the right track. But I urge decision-makers to be patient: in 15 to 20 years there will be a new grown-up generation of cyclists and an extensive network of bicycle infrastructure.
It does take investment and, more importantly, the political will to continue to allocate funds.
In Denmark, our cycling has created a form of mobility that helps improve public health, and reduce CO2 emissions, noise and air pollution. It contributes to a better and more liveable urban environment, where people meet and see each other in the streets instead of through car windows. And, of course, bicycles take up much less space than cars.
As a citizen, one should ask any urban planner to take the mobility of children in cities into constant consideration. In the words of Danish urban planner and architect Jan Gehl: “It is a huge quality for a young human being to be mobile from an early age.”
Would your let your children cycle here? If not, then it’s an unsafe and insecure environment for cyclists. Children will not cycle there—and nor will most adults. v
Klaus Bondam is chief executive of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and a member of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. He was the technical mayor of Copenhagen from 2006 to 2009.
—©2017 The Guardian
Published: 17-06-2017 08:31