The Cycling Authoritarians

Austin Troy of Slate is smitten by Copenhagen’s bicycle riders and can’t figure out why Americans (especially in nice weather places like LA or San Diego) have not embraced cycling in the same way. According to Troy, Copenhagen has made investments in bicycle infrastructure with stunning results, leading 37% of Copenhageners to make their daily commute on bikes. And the people who run Copenhagen aren’t content with 37% and so the goal is to get to 50% by 2015.

In addition to using a “carrot” of incentivizing bicycle commuting, which apparently refers to the infrastructure, Troy does admit that Copenhagen also uses a “stick” of policies to discourage car use. And some stick it is – in fact, it might be better viewed as a baseball bat to the ribs. For example, the sales tax on the purchase of a car is 180% (that is not a typo). Copenhagen is also removing 2% to 3% of the parking spaces in town every year and parking is $5 per hour.

Moreover, the infrastructure includes the synchronization of rush hour traffic lights for the benefit of bikes on main arteries, which Troy praises as an “innovation.” The speed? About 12 miles per hour for a stretch of almost four miles. And the city closed one of the busiest routes for the exclusive use of cyclists. Copenhagen also expects its commuters to ride their bikes year round (yeah, how pleasant), but don’t worry, the city gives priority to the bike lanes when clearing snow in the winter.

Troy claims that Copenhageners use their bicycles because it’s the quickest and most efficient way to get around. Well, of course it is, when your  government hates cars and rigs it so that cars can go no faster than 12 miles an hour. There’s no point in owning a car when the government is working to reduce the quality of life by recreating Saigon circa 1940.

The authoritarians are forcing Copenhageners onto bicycles and it’s no surprise that such an approach is unlikely to work in the U.S. Even if the population is willing to dance to the tune of an authoritarian government, Denmark’s cycling “paradise” is feasible only if there is room for infrastructure and commuting distances are short (unlike LA and San Diego) in the first place.

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