Bergen 2017: UCI Road World Championships inspiring the next generation
The hosts of next year’s UCI Road World Championships are gearing up to put on a grand show. But the Norwegian city of Bergen aims not only to attract tourists during the event, it also means to inspire people to change their behaviour, get out of their cars, and onto bikes.
Bergen is a World Heritage city, but like many other cities, faces the challenge of a growing and physically inactive population. This, added to traffic pollution and congestion, is causing a reduction in the population’s quality of life. The more people who shift from their cars to bikes could make a huge difference to their health, as well of the health of others, and improve life in the city. At an individual level, not riding a bike is positively dangerous: regular daily cyclists are 28% less likely to die from major diseases than non-cyclists, equating to substantially longer, healthier lives.
It also makes financial sense for the city: if investment in the city’s bike infrastructure managed to shift 15% of short car trips to bike it would be worth three times the cost. Across Norway, 69% of short trips (3-5kms) are made by car, while just 6% are made by bike. Presently Bergen’s cyclists generate annual savings of 135m Norwegian Krone ($15m) thanks to lives saved across the population. Reaching Bergen’s target of one in ten trips made by bike by 2019 would save NOK450m (over $50m) each year, according to calculations made using the WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool for Cycling.
If you run a business, it makes sense to promote cycling as well: each regular cyclist takes 10-15% fewer sick days off work - which means a more productive workforce. Bike tourism also serves as a major earner in many parts of the world, with mass cycling events bringing thousands of people to a city or region.
Although a shift to cycling creates a huge opportunity to generate large benefits to individuals and to businesses, seizing that opportunity requires a coordinated strategy. The UCI Bike City project will recognise those cities that, as well as hosting UCI events, also have a solid plan to integrate those events into a wider strategy to increase cycling for transport and leisure.
Better bike routes for Bergen
Bergen’s bike network is already of a reasonable standard - there are dedicated bike lanes on most of the routes out of the city centre - but bike use remains low by European standards, at around 3% of trips by bike, below Trondheim (9%) or Oslo (5%). Hills and cobbles make for a potentially exciting World Championships, but aren’t so great for everyday cycling.
As part of a wider programme of improvements, the city is investing in new bike routes throughout the city, with 50km of bike route currently in planning or construction. From 2010 to 2013 the city spent NOK200 million on cycle routes, equivalent to $22.7m, or $20 per person, per year. As we’ve seen, the health benefits from existing cycling levels are worth almost this much alone.
Dozens more projects are in the pipeline: this year a new cycle bridge will be opened and there are plans for routes to follow new light rail infrastructure planned for the city. A dedicated officer runs a programme of events and activities to promote cycling as a means of transport.
Many trips are short enough for people to undertake by bike, but they need a little encouragement. And what better encouragement than having the world’s top riders riding through the city?
Racing for the future
There can be few things more exciting as a child than watching a major bike race come through your town. Many people will have been lucky, at some point, to have waited at the side of the road with anticipation as the riders surge through. For the children of Bergen, the annual spectacle of the Tour des Fjords, a UCI 2.1 event that snakes along Norway’s western coast, will be followed by the UCI Road World Championships.
But what happens then? Some of those children will be inspired to take up cycling as a sport, and, with supportive clubs perhaps they will maintain that in later life. Others may be inspired to ride their bikes to school, but that’s only possible if there is a strong supportive environment. Children need safe bike routes, a school which promotes cycling, and parents who are confident that their child will be safe on a bike.
Until 2015, it was the school that decided whether or not children below the age of 10 would be allowed to cycle to school. From now on, parents decide, and schools will need to do more to support those children who are cycling by providing facilities such as bike storage and, crucially, cycle training.
At a national level, Norway has a target of getting 80% of children to walk and cycle to school. Currently, 18% of 12-15 year-olds travel by bike and 36% walk - far below the target. Bergen 2017 is helping shift this behaviour by rolling out a programme of cycle training for school children, based on a model that the cycling federation, Norges Cykleforbund, pioneered elsewhere in the country 10 years ago.
Safe cycling taught in schools
The training is run with the local municipalities and the national road safety agency. Called Alle Barn Cykler (All kids ride) it is aimed at children aged 10 to 12. During four, 2.5 hour sessions, children are taught how to cycle safely, are taken out on the roads to test their skills and taught handling and control techniques. An obstacle course tests their ability to signal with one-hand while moving, and manage low-speed manoeuvres.
Schools are keen to support the programme, which has been oversubscribed. In 2015 the training team reached 13 schools around Bergen, teaching over 700 children the necessary skills to be able to ride a bike safely. In 2016 they want to go further, hiring more staff to deliver the programme, and aim to reach 1,200 children.
Cycle training is one of the core elements that make a UCI Bike City, but it must be part of a wider strategy to promote cycling. The UCI Bike City label recognises cities that not only host major UCI cycling events but also demonstrate outstanding commitment to cycling for all. Cities that earn this label work in partnership with the UCI to develop our sport among the population and get more people on bikes.
Bergen is well on the way to becoming a true Bike City - hosting a Road World Championships, building new bike routes, and promoting cycling to both adults and children.