The Norwegian capital of Oslo wants its city centre to be for bikes only. Like most other urban areas, the city has experienced rapid population growth – but Oslo has grown faster than almost any other European major city, due to a rising birth rate, longer life expectancies, and immigration. This has resulted in more cars on its streets, worse traffic congestion, and more greenhouse gas pollution.

An essential element of the city’s future plans is to gradually increase the number of bicycles among citizens and tourists alike. They plan to double the bikes’ traffic share to 16 % of all trips by 2025. Since 2016, the city has therefore been expanding its network of bike paths and, in 2016 and 2017, paid residents rebates of €500 and €1,000 to purchase e-bikes and cargo bikes.

Cyclists cycling past the Royal Palace, Det Kongelige Slott, Oslo © Profimedia, Alamy

Nearly 700 parking spaces have been eliminated, replaced – on an experimental basis – by public spaces, such as beer gardens, playgrounds, benches, and bike parking. As part of the plan, 40 miles (about 65 km) of new bike lanes will be built in and around the centre. The aim of the plan is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the city to 95 % of their 1990 levels by 2030.

Of course, Oslo is not the only city to regard the bicycle as an essential part of future mobility solutions to the problems of traffic congestion and emission-based pollution. According to a projection by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 68 % of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by the year 2050, compared to 55 % today. As a result, cities such as Oslo as well as national governments and the EU are working to transform urban mobility to reduce overtaxed traffic networks and to reduce pollution levels – primarily through reducing car ownership by encouraging alternative mobility options, such as car-sharing, car-pooling, public transport, and the bicycle.

The proposed Radbahn in Berlin

In Berlin, for example, a law was drafted in December 2017 to create at least 100 km of cycle superhighways across the city. In addition, the German capital will also establish 100,000 new bike parking spots – some of them in multi-story parking garages – by 2025. And the city’s existing bike-path network will be protected from automobile traffic by bollards, to increase cycling safety. Finally, Berlin’s network of roadside bike paths will be increased to cover a third of its streets, compared to today’s 18 %.

In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has proposed an ambitious plan to try to transform the City of Lights into the world’s cycling capital. The aim of her “Plan vélo,” or the Bike Project, is to double the length of bike lanes from the current 700 km and create 10,000 new bike parking spaces by 2020.

Cycling along the Bir Hakeim bridge in Paris. © Profimedia, Alamy

But Paris will have to go a long way before it surpasses Copenhagen as the ruling bike capital of the world. Over half of the Danish capital’s population bikes to work every day, thanks to the city’s construction of pedestrian-only zones, starting in the 1960s. As a result, some 1.4 million km are cycled on an average weekday in the city. Copenhagen now has more than 375 km of bike lanes and traffic lights that favour cyclists.

The city has also been expanding its network of superhighways for bikes, to make it easier for commuters to cycle into the capital from surrounding suburbs. The first of 28 planned routes opened in 2014. Eventually, this bike superhighway network will cover some 500 km and, in addition to further reducing the number of cars on the streets of Copenhagen, will also reduce public expenditure by some €40 million thanks to the improved health of the cyclists.

Many European cities are no doubt looking at Copenhagen and its dominant bike culture as a model of what a future city can and should look like. The process of bicycle becoming the major mode of transport even has a name: “copenhagenization”.

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