Lessons From Europe's Cycling Culture

Jamie Ulrich, spcial for GPA -- With the recent negotiations in Europe to establish the 2030 greenhouse gas reductions and commitment to renewable energy, the continent has placed itself at the forefront of the battle against climate change.

The proposed 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 27 percent growth in renewable energy have the potential to make a dramatic impact in the world of environmental conservation. While these changes will manifest themselves in several ways, one of the keys to Europe’s ability to become greener is based on its ability to utilize and support alternative methods of transportation. This article will take a look at how Europe has worked to separate itself from dependence on fossil fuel through the support of cycling culture.

Somewhat obviously, the first steps the greenest European states take to encourage people to ditch their automobiles involve taxation initiatives. For example, in the Kingdom of Denmark there is a tax on the sale of automobiles of 180 percent. Policies such as this strongly motivate citizens to explore other methods of transportation – specifically bicycles and public transportation. However, a massive influx of cycling traffic within a nation can pose problems if the state is not equipped with the proper infrastructure to handle it.

This brings us to the next step that European states take to encourage citizens to leave their car keys at home and pedal to their various destinations: improving cycling infrastructure. One of the leaders in this area is the Netherlands, specifically the city of Amsterdam. The Netherlands has over 35,000 kilometers of bike paths and consequently 60 percent of all trips made within the city limits of Amsterdam are made by bicycle. Improving the nation for cyclists is about more than just providing safe, smooth routes for them to travel on. The government in the Netherlands has had to boost its efforts to provide secure parking for the 18 million bicycles in the country. This number works out to about 1.3 bicycles per citizen old enough to ride.

It is not enough, however, to simply provide areas to ride and park bicycles for the citizens of Europe. An unavoidable reality of the comparison between bikes and cars is that automobiles have a much greater range with regard to covering long distances. European cities and nations respond to this shortcoming of cycling by improving the availability of public transportation. An expansive, efficient system of buses, trains and subways allows people to combine public transportation with cycling in order to get where they need to go. This allows cyclists to reach even their most distant destinations without ever firing up the ignition.

If the United States is going to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and become more environmentally responsible, it is going to have to follow in the footsteps of its European counterparts. The European Union has a department dedicated entirely to sustainable travel, creating a massive expanse of bike routes traversing the continent.

This article was originally published on Xootr Urban Transport’s Blog.

Image courtesy of Easier.com.