Extract from the interview with Steen Møller, Vice Mayor of Odense, Denmark

23 September 2016

Kloss: How do you get people on bikes in Odense?

Møller: The first bike path in Denmark was constructed in Odense, around 1895, and it is still here. Why did they build a bike path in 1895? The reason was that the ladies who went on the weekend to the nearby forest outside the city didn’t want to get their bikes in the horse dumplings. So they wanted a separate bike path where they could go by bike. So this is how it all started in Denmark. Since then we have been focusing on separate bike paths. We have at the moment 550 km of designated bike paths, not just stripes on the road, but really separate bike lanes, just for bikes. To have a number to compare with, we have around 1.000km of car roads. So it is quite a big number. Every time we plan for a new road, we also plan bike paths. For instance when we built a bridge over the canal, it was not a question, should we also have a -, of course we should! And it’s even a part of the cycle highway system that we are developing, which is also one way to get people to use the bike. We opened the first leg of the super cycle highway system three years ago, to not have only the major roads bringing cars into and out of the city, but to have at the same time also fast bike routes, where you don’t have crossings where you have to wait at traffic lights but where you can go fast by bike on a straight line from the suburbs to the city. There’s enough space, we have pumps, we make sure that the lights are not just good but perfect so you feel safe and we are building more and more legs for the super cycle highway system.

When the kids go to the kindergarden, we start already there teaching them how to use the bike, taking them out into the traffic to teach them how to behave in traffic, making excursions on bikes. It’s a natural part of the upbringing that you should bike. We have the ambition that every pupil uses the bike to go to school, from the 3rd grade on they should go by bike – the last figure was higher than 80% in that respect. We have some schools where the parents don’t really feel safe to let their kids to bike, so we have solved that in some places with forbidding it to come there by car in the morning, 15 min before and after the school starts. Because in most cases it’s the number of cars of parents bringing their kids to school that makes the situation dangerous. Just to give you an idea of how many different measures we use in order to make it happen to get one day to the 100%. Of course we are focusing on safe bike routes, we know where the pupils come from, we know the black spots we need to work on, we built a lot of tunnels and bike paths to make sure they are safe around the schools. It’s things like that we do in order to get more and more people to use the bike.

Kloss: How high is the share of cyclists in the modal split?

Møller: The last number for the whole municipality was 22-23%, but if you look just at the inner city it’s more than 50%. Odense is a large municipality so if you live 15 km away from the city center maybe it is not so easy to use your bike, but if you life in a more populated area it is easier. My guess would be that the last figures are higher because we are really rebuilding the city center so there are a lot of road works going on at the moment because we are preparing for the tram system until 2020 where you can also bring your bike – just another example how we integrate the bike in all things.

Gruszyk: Why did you decide to build the tram line?

Møller: Because we could see how the car traffic is rising and rising and if we did nothing we would have to build larger roads, but we are a medieval city, 1000 years old, and we don’t want to tear down the buildings or change the way the roads have always gone through the city center. And at the same time we are building a new university hospital next to the university that is becoming bigger and bigger. So from 2022 you have 60.000 people going back and forward to this area every day. So we need to do something now. And just two years ago we abolished a highway going right through the city center. In the 50s and 60s everything was just for the bikes so they tore down a big part of the old city and built a four lane road that connected the south part of the city to the harbour. Now we decided to tear down this four lane road to make space for the tram. To make the city more people-friendly instead of car-friendly this is an answer to the challenges we face.

Kloss: We are speechless. This is amazing. The thinking in Eastern European cities is so different. We heard so many arguments why it is not possible to build bicycle infrastructure. The car is a symbol of status and they kind of accept this motorization. Or often mayors would like to change it but they don’t know how to communicate it or convince people.

Gruszyk: And often in post-communism countries there is no cooperation between municipalities and citizens, and also no trust, because the citizens always were against the authorities, so it is hard to establish this trust again.

Møller: We really try, but I have to say, yeah for instance the closing of the road, it was the city council who made this decision but then people were protesting and there was a poll in which more than 50% were against it. The last election was more or less about if we should stop or continue to close the road, fortunately we continued and now there is no debate anymore because people could see that the other roads can handle the traffic.

Kloss: We saw cities in Eastern Europe building parking garages around the old town in the city center. We also asked what the cities are trying to reduce the number of cars in the city center but also in suburban areas, which are extremely car dependent. That’s why it needs the axis of bicycle highways from these suburban areas to the city center.

Møller: We have tried to find a balance, in which we don’t push the car away but to make it so much easier and healthier to use the bike and public transport. People here have a real choice. It shouldn’t be that they feel they should not have a car. If we just get them one day a week to leave the car at home and use the bike, we don’t have to build bigger roads.

Gruszyk: Exactly, and if you use the bike one day a week, I think you probably get addicted to it because you see the advantages.

Møller: Exactly! And to learn your kids to do that as well… it is actually very popular to use the bike and a lot of people are doing it also in the winter and for longer rides. And concerning the status symbol, I experience when I come by bike, people say: “oh Mr. Deputy, on your bike?