When a group of international experts reviewed Örebro, Sweden, as a cycling city earlier this year their conclusion was: “There are no reasons not to cycle in Örebro”. But even a good cycling city can become better – Per Elvingson takes a closer look at recent developments and upcoming projects
The citizens of Örebro city centre use their bikes for every third trip. This means that the people living here cycle as much as those in Copenhagen, one of the cycling capitals in the world. A good reason for using the bike in Örebro, a city of just over 100,000 inhabitnants 200km west of Stockholm, is that the city is flat and rather compact, which make cycling both fast and convenient. Nearly all citizens have access to a bike.
But it was not until October this year that Örebro got its first comprehensive cycling strategy. It was developed as a part of the EU-funded project CHAMP, which brings together European champion cities in the field of cycling.
“Thanks to the model developed in the CHAMP project the strategy is built on a solid ground. It started with a self assessment, followed by a peer review with experts from participating cities and consultancies. Thereafter we had internal workshops and consultations with both NGOs and regional bodies. Finally we got a decision in the City Executive Committee a few weeks ago,” so says Anna Åhlgren, project manager at the City Administrative Office.
Accessibility for car
Most of the shortcomings identified in the self-assessment and peer review process have been addressed in the new strategy. But it is also true that the strategy in itself will not be sufficient to get a big increase in cycling – it is also important to change the accessibility for cars.
Changes in the infrastructure are however on their way and the political signal is clear: The cars drivers will have to adapt to new conditions in the future. Central streets with many cars today will look different in the future and more space will be given to cyclists.
“Bikes are very space-efficient,” comments Lennart Bondeson, vice-Mayor responsible for sustainability issues. “Giving more priority to cyclists is a way to maintain high level of accessibility in a growing city. But equally important are the social aspects. We want to build an attractive city accessible for everyone, also for those who cannot afford a car.”
New cycling network plan
In a new cycling network plan the city focuses on four different layers to optimize the network and to meet the needs of different target groups.
- Main high quality cycling corridors – mainly for commuters travelling at high speed.
- City network and regional routes – high availability and secure travelling between different parts of the city. The regional routes are planned in cooperation with the Swedish Transport Administration and the Regional Development Council.
- Local network – designed for safe transfer to local destinations. Children and elderly are important groups.
- Recreational routes – leisure cycling for the citizens and visitors.
High quality cycling corridors
Örebro is the first city in Sweden to invest in this type of high-quality cycling corridors (i.e. cycle lanes). An extensive and innovative GIS-analysis is the basis for the network plan. The analysis consists of travel surveys and statistics presenting the location of residents and workplaces. Taken together, the 15 corridors will connect the most important locations and provide fast and comfortable cycling, especially for commuters.
These cycling corridors are distinguished by orange lines separating pedestrians and cyclists, and they also have signs in the same colour. The cycle paths run continuously along the cycling corridors, meaning that cars cross the cycle paths instead of the other way round.
In addition to the continuous cycle paths, the positioning of bicycle detectors, signal poles and push buttons has been reviewed at signal-controlled road junctions. Cycle route guidance and lighting have also been improved along the cycling corridors.
Five of the main cycling corridors have already been completed and more cycling corridors are in the pipeline this year.
“An evaluation shows that cyclists are on the whole satisfied with the cycling corridors. The continuous cycle lanes reduce the speed of motorists, thus reducing the risk of accident and injury to cyclists,” says Anna Kero, head of infrastructure at the City Planning Department.
But even more important for the city’s cyclists than an expanded cycling network is perhaps better maintenance of the existing infrastructure, not least during winter months.
Anna Åhlgren maintains that Örebro has a relatively high percentage of people who continue to cycle even during the winter. “When compared to a number of cities in Sweden and Finland, Örebro had the highest proportion of winter cyclists. More than half of the cyclists continue to cycle in Örebro despite it being winter and cold.”
Cycle paths are already given priority over roads, but the strategy also point to the need to raise ambitions regarding snow clearance and grit removal and to have a written maintenance plan for the bicycle network, and inspect the network regularly by bike.
Bike parking is another area in the strategy, where an important aim is to provide more safe and secure possibilities. An inquiry is running for the moment to find out what kind of bike racks is favoured among local cyclists and next spring a new storage facility will be inaugurated at the central station. It will be fully automated with an electronic access system and will include recharging possibilities for electric bikes. Commuters are the main target group.
Also the dialogue with the citizens needs to be improved. As a first step Örebro has developed a cycling account. It presents the result of the cycling measures completed during the previous year and includes several indicators, for example regarding bicycle traffic, infrastructure, maintenance, traffic safety, media and communication, citizens’ satisfaction and bicycle theft.
“We will do more marketing activities to certain target groups, but we also want a better dialogue with the cyclists. An advisory committee has recently been started, both to get input of fresh ideas from the users and to increase the understanding of what is possible to reach with limited resources,” Ahlgren adds.
Finally a few words about comparing the share of cyclist between cities. In the beginning of the article it is stated that the share of cyclists in the central part of Örebro is at the same level as in Copenhagen. It is true, in Copenhagen the proportion of cyclists on trips starting and ending in the city is 33 per cent.
But you can count this in many different ways. Most important is perhaps to develop methods where you can follow the trend in your own city, and also routines to make it possible to compare the result of different measures, projects and investments. This is one of Örebro’s pilot projects within the CHAMP project.
The final word goes to Anna Åhlgren: “If we can show results of our efforts it will inspire our own organisation to work even better, and also justify and encourage more investments in cycling.”
Per Elvingson is climate strategist for the City of Örebro
For more information, contact: Anna Åhlgren, the Municipality of Örebro, the Unit for Sustainable Development, Box 300 00, SE-701 35 Örebro, Sweden. Telephone: +46 (0)19-21 10 00. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about CHAMP at www.champ-cycling.eu. Here you can find a toolkit for making cycling strategies and examples from the participating cities, including Örebro. Örebro’s cycling account can be found here as well.