I don’t own a car. In the United States, people are often surprised that I am able to live without one. I am a minority. Especially in western cities like Tucson, the necessities of life are too spread out to make this way of living common. It takes me extra effort to do simple things like buying groceries, and stormy days can be challenging. Traveling long distances means sharing a vehicle with friends. But the rest of the developed world is not necessarily like this. I am in Denmark for the year, and have been deeply impressed with the potential of leading a truly car-free life.
Bicycling is the key. The country has an extensive network of local and national cycle routes – paved roads given over entirely to bicycle traffic that connect most major cities and little villages. They are marked and maintained well. Some are old royal roads, others converted railways, and others new developments. I don’t think the United States, with its car-centric infrastructure and support for private property laws (eminent domain not frequently being applied to cycling), would be able to build such a network now.
But it is a beautiful system when it works. Here is a small intersection near the western coast of Zealand. Small distances as well as large ones can be crossed by cycle.
And here is an example of a cycle path crossing Amager, an island to the south of Copenhagen. Paved and well-used. More than 50% of people cycle to work every day in the capital. Here the minority are car-users. For me, it is a refreshing contrast. Bicycle-linked communities seem to be far less affected by the blight of sprawl that affects many of the United States’ western cities.
And a culture of cycling builds innovation – here is a conceptual design for a bicycle-powered mobile kitchen that I saw at an art institute last week. The United States has such an investment in car-based infrastructure and cultural enthusiasm for the same, as well as broad expanses of sparsely populated areas, that such a vision is unlikely to succeed at home. It is still refreshing to see an alternative.I am beginning to think carefully about issues of urban development – how to build cities, and how to move their flows of resources and people. In many ways it is an ecological question. Perhaps another post on that topic soon!