Norwegian News site VG announced on February 29th a massive NKR 8 billion plan (£662 million) to build 10 super cycle highways in to the 9 largest Norwegian cities, with capital city Oslo getting two.
Stung by the fact that their Danish rivals are years ahead of them, and show a massive difference in the proportion of people cycling, the Norwegian minister for roads and transport has opted for this plan to try to catch up in the new “Nasjonal Transportplan” (National Transport Plan) for 2018-2029. Only 5% of Norwegians cycle, compared with 17%of all Danish journeys being by bike. Even neighbours and sometime friendly rivals Sweden manage 12%. The plan is to see the level increase to as high as 20% by 2030.
The NTP says “The experience from typical cycling cities in other countries shows that it is necessary to have a comprehensive cycle network along major routes, but also a more fine-meshed net in the centre and in residential areas. Safe and attractive bike parking at public transport nodes and larger hubs are important to facilitate cycling.”
A key driver is the desire to reduce Norway’s fuel bill and the resulting emission levels. Another aspect of the plan is to get 75% of the country’s buses and 50% of its trucks to be low emission, along with 40% of ferries and coastal ships also being low emission or using bio fuels. The Norwegian track record is good in this area, as they already have the highest proportion of zero emission cars in any country – though this doesn’t stop congestion and noise, and there is still some pollution from tyres, brake pads and dust.
If the plans are adopted, NKR 36 billion will be spent on road repairs and NKR 18 billion on railway upgrades. As usual cycling infrastructure comes in lower down, though the NKR 8 billion remains an impressive figure, especially when related to the 5 million population: a spend of £132 per capita.
Not surprisingly, the plan has its anti-bike opponents. VG News quotes Lars-Svein Drabløs as saying “I’d prefer that money goes to strengthening public transport rather than bike routes in major cities. We are limited with our Norwegian winters in terms of in which months we can cycle. I think it’s too much to spend 8 billion on bike super-highways.” Leader of the Oppland Centre Party Bengt Fasteraune objected that “using 8 billion is the wrong prioritisation when the Intercity line to Lillehammer needs funding and the E6 motorway through Gudbrandsdalen is not completed”.
Labour politician Kjell Idar Juvik from Nordland sits on the Transport Committee. While generally a supporter of cycling, he is concerned that it is the big towns and cities that get all the funding, saying “it is important that the NTP doesn’t compromise good initiatives in rural areas. There are few measures in the NTP for Northern Norway. Right now in the winter people are less inclined to jump on a bike, it’s more than enough to get out and clear snow off your car”.
But Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen believes that the growth in E-Bikes will get more people on to 2 wheels in the future. His view was backed by Liberal Abid Raja of the Transport Committee, who also happens to be a keen cyclist, who has cycled the length of Norway: “Bike Super-Highways are the right commitment, although this must not be at the expense of public transport and other initiatives in rural areas.” He also responded to the claim that you can only cycle outside the long Norwegian winter by saying that “cycling has become an all-year-round activity using e-bikes with studded tyres. Biking is trendy and cool. It has a tremendous public health impact. So cycle super-highways make sense, and should be added in more and more towns.”
That’s yet another country and another government that is seeing the light and putting their money where their mouth is. Let’s just hope it is infectious.
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