This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 97.
An EU project to encourage more use of cargo bikes.
Last month I was lucky enough to visit the cycling capital of the world as a lead partner in an EU-funded project to promote cargo bikes across Europe. I have returned from Copenhagen amazed, inspired and with a new spring in my step.
The descriptions in past Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletters of some of the best examples of cycling in Europe really didn’t prepare me for the mind-blowing experience of cycling in Copenhagen. Half a million people take to their bikes each day. Five-metre-wide cycle lanes with as many as five cyclists abreast. Priority for cyclists everywhere and car drivers who appear to be happy with this! And if you don’t adhere to the very strict etiquette (as I mistakenly didn’t once) you get screamed at by your fellow cyclists. It’s not just ordinary bikes transporting people about town, there are 35,000 cargo bikes delivering everything from toddlers to the weekly shop; apparently it’s not so unusual to find a family moving house by bike!
With this wonderful cycling culture, a multitude of businesses has sprung up; bikes selling crêpes, carpenters’ bikes, bikes that bring you cocktails in the park and bikes that bring fresh coffee to your office. There was even a giant ‘sperm’ bike that had a specially adapted box full of liquid nitrogen to keep such essential cargo at the right temperature. The streets here are alive with the quiet buzz of whirring wheels; it’s a world away from anything that I’ve experienced in the UK.
So how did it happen?! Last year Copenhagen spent £40 per head on cyclists despite cycling already accounting for nearly 40% of journeys. There’s certainly no let up in the investment and the newest problem has been how to tackle the problem of where to park your cargo bike. There have been similar levels of investment in many other European countries and this has been consistent for the past 40 years. In contrast, the UK average is a paltry 70 pence per head. It’s no wonder we are a little way behind.
Anyway, more to the point, what was I doing there? Well, Copenhagen was the venue for the kick-off meeting for a three-year project, CYCLE Logistics, whose aim is to reduce energy use by getting more freight bikes doing the sort of deliveries that many of us are used to doing by car or van. Outspoken was asked to be involved through our experience as one of the largest cycle courier operations in the UK: our main task will be leading in trying to promote other operations like ours. We’ll also be involved more generally in lots of activities promoting cargo bike use throughout the nine European countries that are involved in the project.
There are ten project partners in total that range from transport and energy consultancies to cycling groups and government departments. One of those you may have heard of is Copenhagenize, the marketing company that brought us Copenhagen Cycle Chic. The CTC is also heavily involved and Roger Geffen, who talked to the Campaign just a month or so ago, will be one of its lead people. The European Cyclists Federation will be giving advice and La Petite Reine and Gnewt who use large electric-assist trikes will give ‘on the ground’ experience. We will be meeting twice a year to talk through what we are each doing in our own countries and to share best practice.
There are a number of areas of work which include encouraging tradespeople to adopt bicycles as a means of transporting themselves and their equipment to their customers – and prompting individuals to use their bikes for shopping trips by showcasing appropriate baskets, bags, trailers and specialist cargo bikes such as our own 8-freights. We will keep you updated on all the activities of the project and meanwhile, do look out for various press releases from the other partners.
Cambridge leads the way
It’s great to have Cambridge in the limelight for this and it is fair to say that we are already a leader in the UK for the take up and use of cargo bikes. Hugh from the Dutch Bikes behind Limoncello in Hope St Yard has been doing a roaring trade over the last few years. Cambridge mums have been flocking to use the Bakfiets bikes to transport their children, shopping and other goods, as they realise it really is the most sensible way of moving most stuff around our city. The project partners will be coming over to Cambridge next April, so it will be a good opportunity to show off our great cycling city and showcase what can be achieved even with more modest levels of investment. Cambridge has been lucky enough to have European levels of funding in cycling for the past three years, and the Cycle Cambridge project has highlighted the many benefits of this. But three years isn’t the sustained investment that’s needed to really grow cycling, so let’s hope that our own council will continue to prioritise cycling.
Rob King, Outspoken