Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Copenhagen vs Sydney

I read a few cycle blogs, and they all hold up Copenhagen as the model city for cycling. I visited Copenhagen for a day or two about 30 years ago, and I don't remember much about it. I think it was just after Amsterdam, and I was recovering from ingesting way too much space cake and pommes frites. You know how getting stoned gives you the munchies? Well, I had the munchies for about 3 days solid, and all I wanted to eat was chips and mayo. And more chips and mayo. And even more chips and mayo. I gorged myself stupid on them.

Which is probably why I got to Copenhagen and did nothing but lie around and recover for a few days from the chips and mayo binge from hell.

Given the circumstances, how long ago it was and the effect mayo has on the memory, I remember almost nothing of Copenhagen. But apparently it is flat and pretty compact, and about 35% of all trips are taken by bike. That's about 35 times more than Sydney.

Whilst I was wondering about this, I did a bit more reading and found some conflicting stats. One said that the average trip on a bike in Copenhagen is between 0.6 and 1.2 miles - between 1-2km. Another said that had increased recently to 4km.

That's not very far - that really is just pootling around your suburb - taking the kids to a local school; visiting the local shops; wandering off to a local pub or restaurant; travelling to work if work happens to be nearby. And to me, that makes perfect sense. Short trips like these are best done on a bike, and you can easily ride that far in a suit if need be, and you don't need a fast, fancy bike.

The contrast with the cyclists I know in Sydney is interesting. The shortest one way commute out of my circle of bike associates is 5km. The longest is 40km. The rest are in the 15-25km range, and most of them involve hills that range from painful to totally bloody horrible. Which is why we wear lycra and people in Copenhagen don't.

My simple explanation for this is that the residents of Sydney don't want to live like medieval peasants. By that, I mean they don't want to live in a small dwelling crammed into the area within the city walls. European cities (or at least the central bits) are old, and their buildings are a product of their past. The past was a very violent, murderous blood thirsty place, so people built walls around their towns to keep the bastards out. Walls are expensive to build and take manpower to defend, so you build the shortest wall possible - which means a small surface area inside them. Hence buildings, roads and people are crammed in. In such a place, cycling is a sensible way to get around as A is not far from B and the road from A to B is likely to be narrow and winding and possibly covered in blood.

Sydney was founded after there was a need to build city walls. We can thank siege cannons and mortars for that. But the old city was still pretty cramped, because it was built at a time when water had to be carried around because there were no pipes (if you've ever had to carry 2 x 20 litre jerry cans of water up a hill, you'll understand why it is a good idea to live close to your water supply) and only the wealthy had horses. Everyone else got around by walking at 3 mph - 5 kph. But once trams and trains came along, the city spread like crazy. If you look at a map from say 1940, the suburbs had spread along the train lines. People still had to walk to the train station, so most of the housing was within a few km of one. Once everyone could afford a car, the empty spaces between the train lines filled in.

So one reason we don't cycle as much is because we don't want to live like medieval peasants. We want a nice bit of land with a house large enough to swing several cats at once.

1 comment:

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