Copenhagen Cycles Toward A Car-Free City

“It’s not a human right to pollute the air for others.” – Frank Jensen (Mayor of Copenhagen)

“It’s not a human right to pollute the air for others.” – Frank Jensen (Mayor of Copenhagen)

Ever since the 1970s Arab oil embargo that plunged Denmark into an energy crisis, the country has put the environment at the top of their agenda. In addition to building large-scale offshore wind farms, big cities such as Copenhagen have implemented a new set of urban planning laws that promote cycling and walking over driving. Former parking lots were turned into public spaces or pedestrianized zones and a whopping 180% sales tax was placed on new cars. By 2011, car ownership in Copenhagen had fallen from 25% in 2009 to a mere 18%, and in 2016, bikes actually outnumbered cars by 13,100.

But the success of these policies would not have been possible without parallel efforts in building protected infrastructure that give people a safe and efficient alternative to driving. Since 2005, $115 million USD has been invested on cycling infrastructure, from new bike and pedestrian-only bridges such as Cykelslangen (“The Cycle Snake”) to the recently opened Kissing Bridge. These have resulted in 68% increase in bicycle traffic in the last 20 years and brought down vehicle traffic significantly.

Though these figures are likely to fall when the metro extension opens in 2019, this is not altogether a bad thing, as the new transport system is not only fossil-free and public, but also helps alleviate congestion and pollution, especially as the city’s population steadily grows.

And it doesn’t stop there: as part of a proposal to address Copenhagen’s air pollution problem that kills around 80 people each year, mayor Frank Jensen plans to improve air quality by banning new diesel cars from entering the city by 1 January 2019. He’s also pushing for further law changes, such as speeding up transition to electric buses and forcing cruise ships docked at the city’s port to run on electricity instead of diesel.

However, lead researchers in air pollution at the Copenhagen Institute for Public Health have called the proposal weak and unambitious – a testament to just how far ahead the city is in terms of its environmental achievement and how much megacities such as London and New York need to catch up.