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UN organisations call for Copenhagenization of major cities

If cycling were as popular in every Western capital as it is in Copenhagen, the benefits in healthier population and side effects such as reduced emissions would save 10,000 lives a year, according to a new study from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe.

And that’s not all. The organisations say that they have been able to estimate for the first time the economic benefits, which they put at the equivalent of 76,600 new jobs in bicycle retail and maintenance, provision of clothing and accessories for cyclists, urban development and new mobility schemes.

The findings have been released during the Fourth High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment, currently in progress in Paris and organised by UNECE and WHO. The meeting brings together European ministries of transport, health and the environment to examine how innovative transport policies can create employment opportunities, along with healthier and greener societies.

“An efficient transport system is vital for the functioning of modern economies. However, transport can greatly damage environment and health. That is why we call for a bold Paris Declaration, urging government investments in green and healthy transport,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The pay-offs from these investments are enormous and include new jobs and healthier people from more physical activity, fewer road traffic injuries, less noise and better air quality.”

Pro-environmental and pro-cycling campaigners are often painted as being anti-transport. But the report acknowledges that transport provides jobs and access to leisure activities and livelihoods.

However, it points out that there’s a huge cost to those benefits. Across the region, air pollution, largely caused by traffic, results in almost 500,000 deaths annually, according to new evidence. Road accidents kill 90,000 people prematurely each year. Exposure to excessive street noise affects almost 70 million people. Transport adds 24 percent to total greenhouse gas emissions in Europe and North America. When it discourages physical activity, transport contributes to nearly 1 million deaths per year.

WHO and UNECE see cycling as an essential part of reducing these costs. If 26 percent of all journeys in the region's capital cities were taken by bike, as they are in Danish capital Copenhagen, the benefits would be immense: 10,000 fewer deaths per year and 76,600 new jobs. Extend that beyond the capitals and you’d be talking hundreds of thousands of lives and perhaps a million or more jobs.

To bring it closer to home, the figures for London alone are startling. WHO and UNECE estimate over 500 lives would be saved every year in London. The Greater London Authority (GLA) estimated that in 2008 there were 4,267 deaths attributable to long-term exposure to small-particle air pollution.

The Copenhagenisation of London would also create over 8,000 new jobs.

Active travel organisation Sustrans welcomed the findings.

Sustrans’ London director, German Dector-Vega, said: “The evidence that cycling keeps the wheels of the economy turning and is essential for our good health is now beating us over the head and cannot be ignored.

“We must act now to end car dependency and make cycling a safe and convenient choice by lowering traffic speeds, creating more dedicated space on our roads and by improving education for drivers.

“Cycling is a silver bullet that could rescue the UK from the physical inactivity crisis, the economic downturn and dangerous air pollution.”

For those who love a good table - and who doesn’t? - here are the organisation’s estimates for the benefits by city across Europe and North America.

Potential results of increasing cycling modal share in major cities

Country

City

Population

Current cycling modal

share (%)

Estimated number of existing jobs associated with cycling

Potential number of additional jobs created

Additional lives saved

Albania

Tirana

536,998

3 a

73

562

33

Andorra

Andorra La Vella

22,256

3 a

3

23

2

Armenia

Yerevan

1,121,933

3 a

153

1,175

119

Austria

Vienna

1,721,573

6

470

1,568

106

Azerbaijan

Baku

2,122,300

3 a

290

2,223

167

Belarus

Minsk

1,885,100

0

17

2,215

454

Belgium

Brussels

163,210

5

37

156

12

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo

305,242

3 a

42

320

30

Bulgaria

Sofia

1,170,009

1

53

1,332

195

Canada

Ottawa

1,239,140

2

113

1,354

100

Croatia

Zagreb

792,875

5

181

758

77

Cyprus

Nicosia

55,014

3 a

8

58

3

Czech Republic

Prague

1,241,664

1

57

1,413

143

Denmark

Copenhagen

549,050

26

650

0

0

Estonia

Tallinn

401,072

4

73

402

50

Finland

Helsinki

595,384

7

190

515

42

France

Paris

2,234,105

3

305

2,340

174

Georgia

Tbilisi

1,167,600

3 a

159

1,223

147

Germany

Berlin

3,501,872

13

2,073

2,073

151

Greece

Athens

655,780

2

60

717

47

Hungary

Budapest

1,740,041

1

79

1,981

298

Iceland

Reykjavik

117,980

3 a

16

124

6

Ireland

Dublin

527,612

3

72

553

29

Israel

Tel Aviv

404,543

9

166

313

13

Italy

Rome

2,761,477

0

50

3,219

154

Kazakhstan

Astana

661,700

1

30

753

131

Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek

889,600

3 a

122

932

121

Latvia

Riga

650,478

3 a

89

681

92

Liechtenstein

Vaduz

5,207

3 a

1

5

0

Lithuania

Vilnius

552,008

1

25

628

102

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

99,852

3 a

14

105

6

Malta

Valletta

6,221

3 a

1

7

0

Monaco

Monaco

36,371

3 a

5

38

3

Montenegro

Podgorica

180,810

3 a

25

189

20

Netherlands

Amsterdam

1,068,724

33

1,606

b

b

Norway

Oslo

599,230

5

136

573

36

Poland

Warsaw

1,710,130

5

374

1,651

194

Portugal

Lisbon

474,696

1

22

540

45

Republic of Moldova

Chisinau

789,500

3 a

108

827

283

Romania

Bucharest

1,937,421

1

88

2,205

132

Russian Federation

Moscow

11,541,000

3 a

1,576

12,085

2,912

San Marino

San Marino

4,479

3 a

1

5

0

Serbia

Belgrade

1,639,505

1

75

1,866

255

Slovakia

Bratislava

411,884

3 a

56

431

51

Slovenia

Ljubljana

272,554

10

124

199

17

Spain

Madrid

3,265,038

1

149

3,717

211

Sweden

Stockholm

864,324

1

39

984

54

Switzerland

Bern

124,381

11

62

85

5

Tajikistan

Dushanbe

704,000

1 a

32

801

82

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Skopje

316,849

3 a

43

332

33

Turkey

Ankara

4,890,893

3 a

668

5,122

565

Turkmenistan

Ashgabat

637,000

3 a

87

667

111

Ukraine

Kyiv

2,772,736

1 a

126

3,156

613

United Kingdom

London

7,826,000

3

1,069

8,196

542

United States of America

Washington, DC

617,996

3

84

647

36

Uzbekistan

Tashkent

2,296,500

1 a

105

2,614

197

Totals

76,658

9,401

a Assumed modal share – likely to be an overestimate.

b No additional jobs or lives saved are projected for Amsterdam, as its cycling modal share is already higher than that of Copenhagen.

Source: UNECE

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

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