“Not bad for a country of 5 million people,” writes CityLab, the future cities news site from The Atlantic.
They’re reacting to the proposition in Norway’s new National Transport Plan to spend eight billion Norwegian kroner (almost one billion US dollars) building a total of ten bicycle expressways in the country’s nine largest metropolitan areas.
According to CityLab, though, Norway is “a mountainous country that is cold and dark for much of the year.” As dismal as that sounds, it’s certainly true that we may not have ideal conditions for cyclist commuters throughout the year. Only about five per cent of daily travels in urban areas are currently made by bicycle.
Norway’s transport agencies would like to see the proportion climbing to 10-20 per cent before 2030. Neighbouring countries like Denmark and Sweden can already boast such figures.
Still, the fact that the country might be willing to throw this kind of money on the table to make it happen is creating a bit of a stir – both at home and abroad. The CityLab article alone has been liked and shared over 17,000 times over the weekend.
The proposed bicycle expressways will run continuously along trafficked commuter routes, with two lanes of high standard that support speeds up to 40 kilometres (25 miles) an hour – all year round. It will make it safe and fast for commuters, who can then leave their cars at home.
“There’s a lot of awareness at the moment. More and more people choose cycling over cars, especially for shorter trips,” says Haaken Christensen, adventure tourism specialist at Innovation Norway.
“Also, the sales of electric bikes are growing rapidly. They’re a great option for getting quickly from A to B without necessarily getting sweaty and needing a shower,” he adds.
While the measure will primarily serve commuters working in the cities, he notes that the “bike highways” will also make it easier – and safer – for tourists who want to experience Norway by bicycle.
A lot is being done already to facilitate cycling in Norway, both inside and outside of the cities.
“There’s product development across the board at the moment, both for mountain biking and road cycling. At the same time, hotels are working to accommodate bicyclists, and the cities are seeing a number of new bike cafes,” says Christensen.
Still, the proposal is facing resistance – largely because some politicians want to see other priorities. In purely practical terms, it’s certainly feasible.
“If Norway can clear its roads of snow, it can clear its cycle paths, too, and Norwegians have an outdoorsy culture that carries on all sorts of open-air activities in the cold months,” writes CityLab.
“Equally northerly locations such as Oulu, Finland,and Edmonton, Canada, have kept up cyclist numbers in winter through carefully maintained infrastructure, so there’s every chance that the trend could catch on in Norway,” they point out.
It certainly could do a lot of good for both the population’s health and the environment. It remains to be seen, though, if the super bicycle highways will see the light of day.