Copenhagen: high ambitions for green transportation

The city makes big investments in metro lines and bike paths to be both green and efficient

Deep beneath the surface, a part of Copenhagen’s future is under construction. Three new metro lines are being built, with the first to be inaugurated in 2019 with 17 stations. The Danish capital is rather small with only 580,000 residents, while the greater area has 1.77 million. So the city’s size makes the investment in the three lines appear to be a great one. But Copenhagen is expanding, so the investments will not go to waste. The investment in new metro lines is ambitious because of its cost. The first metro line alone, Cityringen - which is being constructed by Italy's Salini Impregilo - will cost around €2.95 billion.

According to a 2014 report by Siemens entitled “The Mobility Opportunity”, Copenhagen is one of the most efficient cities in the world when it comes to public transportation. And it sees this investment playing a large role in making the city even better.
«Copenhagen might be a bit small to have a subway, but it is very ambitious and it contributes positively in many ways,» says Kurt Othendal Nielsen, city account manager for Siemens Mobility.
He says public transportation will become a more attractive option as the new metro lines will make it possible to move around Copenhagen in every kind of weather. It's an important step towards a multimodal transport system, which means offering residents not only one but several options for the same route. According to Metroselskabet, the company responsible for running the metro, Cityringen is expected to more than double the amount of passengers compared with today.

Citizens living outside the city centre will soon benefit from the new metro lines. One of them is 19-year-old Suvi Dammeyer, who cannot imagine her life without public transportation. It is crucial for her to have a frequent and efficient service to downtown. «Just the thought of driving a car makes me anxious and I have no intention of ever getting one. I could not live without public transport, since I use it nearly every day».

Being space efficient

The metro extention is only one of several investments in better transportation facilities. Due to population growth and development, it has been crucial for the municipality and the Danish state to create greener and more varied options. According to Per Homann Jespersen, an associate professor in traffic issues at Roskilde University, public transportation and especially bikes are crucial in avoiding more congestion as the city grows.

The challenge for bigger cities is the lack of space for the amount of traffic people are demanding, and we need to consider that. Bikes are 10 times as space efficient as cars and the metro takes up much less space than roads,» says Homann Jespersen, who is a former board member of Metroselskabet.  Space is not the only challenge in a growing city. As the streets turn even busier, air pollution becomes a serious issue. However, cycling can become part of the solution, a new study shows. In a 2015 study, the European Cyclists’ Federation observed a reduction in typical transportation pollutants like NOx, NO2 and PM10 in five cities - Antwerp, London, Nantes, Seville and Thessaloniki - after they encouraged cycling as an alternative to driving.

The study concluded that getting more people on bikes was a realistic way to cut air pollution. Copenhagen has had difficulties reducing urban pollution to live up to European Union regulation. Bicycling and other measures must be followed by more initiatives that can reduce emissions from the remaining traffic. As examples of such initiatives, Homann Jespersen suggests higher prices on residential parking and environmental zones where only newer and less polluting cars are allowed - a measure inspired by those successfully implemented in Berlin.

Six times cheaper

Jens Borges is a professor in accounting at the Niels Brock business school. He bikes every day. When it rains, he relies on the metro since having a car in the city is too expensive.

"If you can afford parking in Copenhagen, then you simply earn too much money", he says with a laugh. "The public transport is good and stable, almost as good as bicycling". A study of Copenhagen made by Stefan Gössling from Lund University and Andy S. Choi from the University of Queensland in 2014 concludes that cars have a greater negative impact on the economy than bicycles.

The study shows how one kilometre by car costs €0.15, whereas society earns €0.16 on every kilometre cycled. In total, it is six times as expensive for society if a person chooses the car over a bike. The study considers how bikes compare economically to cars in terms of travel routes, road wear, health, air pollution and congestion in the city. The methodology it used is the same as the one used by Copenhagen to decide on new cycling infrastructure.

Taking bikes seriously

Copenhagen stands out internationally because of the dominating biking culture, where more than 50 % of the residents ride their bike to work or school every day. In fact, the city was awarded this year first prize as the most bike-friendly city in the world by U.S. technology magazine Wired, with Dutch cities Amsterdam and Utrecht running second and third, respectively. What makes it even more extraordinary is the role that the city plays: cyclists are highly regarded and with more and wider bike lanes, new bicycle bridges and bike friendly speed of traffic lights, the city has been rebuilt to accommodate them.

The Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen is proud of the infrastructure as well as the public transportation system, but more investments and innovative solutions are needed in the future. One of his ambitions is to build a harbour tunnel, that would lead traffic from Amager in the southern end of the city to the northern suburbs outside Copenhagen and thereby ease the traffic in the centre of the city, where cars would normally drive through. With the new metro stations, the city aims to provide all residents in the central areas with a station less than 600 meters from their homes.

«Copenhagen is a growing city, with the population rising by 10,000 a year. Therefore, there is a need for us to think ahead and create a smart city, where the new urban areas are connected to new metro lines, bike lanes and roads,» Jensen says in response to emailed questions. In his function as Lord Mayor, Jensen is proprietor of Metroselskabet.