I’ve been in Lund for a week and it’s given me an opportunity to think about the differences between Red Deer and Lund.
Back in Red Deer, many people say they don’t oppose cycling merely because resources devoted to cycling don’t go to motor vehicle facilities: more roads, more parking. Rather, they claim, it’s a question of practicality: cycling doesn’t work in a city the size of Red Deer; our winters are too long, and cycling is too dangerous on streets. Dedicated motorists sincerely think they understand what’s best for cyclists, without doing any research or even trying cycle commuting for themselves.
So Lund is a good example of how different things could be different. It’s about the same size as Red Deer (85, 000), located in a developed country, and highly technology dependent, so there are parallels with our city. But it faces challenges we don’t: it doesn’t have the luxury of great and easily exploited oil reserves, and the city is old – parts of it date back about a thousand years. Its streets are narrow, not designed for such a large urban population, and city planners have dozens if not hundreds of historically significant buildings which require preservation and restrict planning options. Critics in Red Deer argue that our streets weren’t designed for bikes (as if they can never be repurposed), but Lund’s streets weren’t even designed for motor vehicles, if those streets were even “designed” at all.
Still, Lund has overcome these handicaps and seems to have an adequate transport system including 180 km of bicycle lanes and over 45% of all trips are done by bike. (I’m guessing a large portion of the other 55% of trips are done by walking or by public transport.) In North America, the average is closer to 1%, and my guess is that Red Deer is close to this average, even though the average trip in Red Deer is a single-occupant 5 km jaunt. And 5 km is an easy bike ride for almost anyone. So what explains the difference?
Here’s the view from my fifth floor hotel window, overlooking a typical street. It’s full of people, but no motor vehicles. At night, I can hear chatter and laughter wafting up from a nearby sidewalk cafe but rarely any vehicle noise. And this street is no mere exception.
Weekends and weekdays alike, the streets are (to my ears) uncannily quiet – but full of people. My guess is that a high density of bike and pedestrian traffic decreases crime and improves trade for the many small businesses in the downtown core.
Moreover, sidewalk cafes have proliferated along the many wide sidewalks of the city. People enjoy eating outside where there is no traffic noise to destroy the ambience and cafes provide blankets to patrons to ward off evening chills and extend the al fresco dining season.
Traffic controls reflect the prevalence of cycles. Many streets are closed to cars, or special lanes are provided for bikes alongside pedestrian sidewalks. I saw few stop signs or traffic signals: my hunch is that the paucity of cars simply renders traffic control almost needed, except on large arteries.
So far as I could gather, the major public transport hub, composed of a multi-rail train station and an intercity bus station immediately beside it, marks the trafic centre of town. And the vast cycle parking lots reflect this.
There are a few of these, some nicely landscaped with hedges. But they’re always overflowing, no matter what day you arrive.
On the other hand, here’s a shot of the half-full motor vehicle parking lot alongside the stations, taken about nine a.m. on a Monday morning. As a transit official pointed out, there are only 0.6 parking spaces per residence in Lund. Parking does exist (mostly paid), but I never saw it filled, so people have just found a way to get around the city without diesel powered four wheel drive crew cabs or SUVs.
One recurring problem in encouraging cycling in North America is that women are typically underrepresented. Not in Lund. Cycle users seemed to represent every demographic and cyclists rode with a confidence I don’t usually see in Red Deer, since they just assume cars will yield right of way. Sometimes while riding in Red Deer, I’ve thought I’m engaging in a political act. But in Lund, bikes are so commonplace, they are barely noticeable (as Ford F150s are in Red Deer.)
Most strikingly, people treated streets as if they were conduits for human travel, and not the exclusive domain of motor vehicles, which is the way things seem to have come about in Red Deer.
There are problems though. Bikes clutter sidewalks and roads and some are just abandoned. But, given the huge size and cost differential between cars and bikes, overall, the problems of providing parking for cars dwarfs the problems associated with cycle parking.