Picture these images: 11 miles of graceful, winding highway, uninterrupted by traffic jams or lengthy red lights; foot rests along the street for your tired heels; solar-powered lights above a smooth forest pathway…
We at Dickinson may find this alternative utopia difficult to picture— and that’s probably because we’ve never seen it before. Here in the U.S., highways are meant for cars and trucks. Non-renewable energy cannot be found in the middle of a forest, and there is no such thing (ask anyone) as an uninterrupted ride to work. In the Netherlands, however, and in the city of Copenhagen, city planners have drafted a different vision for society.
The Capital Region of Denmark, a political body that presides over regional planning and funding for public hospitals, recently granted Copenhagen 1.6 million for a superhighway project. Recognizing the link between environmental health, public safety, and social well-being, officials on both ends of the European political spectrum passed the initiative. Upon the project’s completion, 11 routes will span the capital. The superhighways are meant to link the city to its surrounding suburbs, like the municipality of Fureso, which will soon connect to Copenhagen via a route through the trees. After sunset, riders heading home to Fureso can take advantage of organized “bike buses” and solar-powered lights above their heads. Most importantly, commuters everywhere are giving up their cars completely, realizing that a 7-mile ride to work on a biking superhighway will actually prove much faster than the drive through traffic. Everything else they need—entertainment, their child’s daycare center, the grocery store, the hospital—is also within biking distance.
In the Netherlands, biking highways have been popping up for a few years now. Both regions are actively encouraging a culture of biking, installing safety lock stalls by train stations and air pump stops along the superhighways. Why is it so important that these countries have embraced sustainable travel? According to Danish statistics, every 6 miles on a bike instead of a car saves 3 ½ pounds of carbon dioxide from the air, and 9 cents in health care costs. Biking commuters are not only mitigating climate change, but doing something good for themselves. Riders report an increased sense of well-being and personal accomplishment. The city enjoys better air quality, decreased traffic congestion, and happier residents.
Besides making us incredibly jealous, news from Denmark should fill us with hope. Maybe in time, the world we live in will resemble this one. Maybe, many years from now, gas stations will have given way to more sustainable alternatives, and the word “fuel” will make us think of air and sun, not oil.