With all the handwringing over aging infrastructure, rising energy costs, high speed rail and other public transportation projects that are spiraling in costs, cities and towns could look at solutions that can improve mobility and do not the bust the budget: bicycles and bicycle paths.
Studies have suggested that building bicycle paths can have a sizable economic impact especially when you look at the job-per-dollar ratio. To that end, towns and cities preoccupied with trying to improve their citizens’ quality of life and address metrics like their carbon footprint should take a look at what cities in southern Sweden are planning to improve their local transportation systems.
Malmö is a city of 300,000 just a short hop from Copenhagen but a city well worth visiting in its own right. Full of history, sports, museums, architecture and boasting its own token castle as well as a thriving theater scene, Malmö also hosts a booming bicycling culture that will give cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm a fierce bike ride for their money.
Malmö already has 255 miles (410 kilometers) of bicycle paths, outpacing Copenhagen’s network by a few miles. Bicycling has accelerated the past several years to the point at which 40 percent of all work related activities and 30 percent of all transports occurs via bicycles. Sensor systems at key intersections flip traffic signals to green if automobile traffic is light and a bicyclist approaches.
Now Sweden’s transportation authority has approved a four line bicycle superhighway (or a bicycle-bahn?) between Malmö and Lund, a nearby university town. The 10.5 mile link would be for the most part adjacent to rail tracks, feature exits but no intersections and offer wind protection from hedges. Bicycle service stations would also be included on this link. The proposed highway would also have links to bicycle and pedestrian paths to other towns in this southern tip of Sweden.
So far the barrier to the project has been funding. The cost is estimated at about US$7 million, and the city of Malmö has pledged about US$4 million to close the deal. Another hurdle will be time: it will take up to eight years to gain right of ways and move service roads to clear a path for this bicycle link. Nevertheless the superhighway is moving forward.
With the health, mobility and low cost benefits, cities all over may want to study how transit centers, central business districts and office parks could be linked by cost effective bicycle path like the one in Malmö. Long distance projects are easily ensnared in politics and are easily felled by budget paths, but municipalities should take a look at bicycling one approach towards improving air quality, business opportunities and mobility options.
Photo courtesy Malmö’s city government site.