It made it to the news and I suppose I should be celebrating with my fellow bike commuters: in May, almost a million cyclists rode by the 6 counting stations located in central Stockholm1.
But I’m not going to. The City of Stockholm seems to be content with the 3% increase compared to May last year but is the cycling modal share really up? It’s not good enough to just look at one figure and get all excited. A truly serious study would look at other parameters such as weather conditions which, at this latitude, have a huge impact on bicycle usage.
I’m on the saddle pretty much every day all year round and I am pretty sure May 2013 was dryer, warmer & sunnier than May 2012. Can’t that alone explain part if not all of the increase? I’m sure it can and if I were a politician I’d say – just by throwing the weather parameter in the equation – we’re actually seeing a decreasing growth.
But that’s not what annoys me the most in the article. What does annoy me the most is the repetition of the amount of money that is being put into the cycling infrastructure: on billion Swedish Kronor. It does seem like a lot and it is actually a lot of money but once again a number means anything and nothing at the same time if it’s out of context.
The one billion Swedish Kronor is the budget for improving and developing the cycling infrastructure over 7 years and that means roughly 150 million a year (I’m generously adding 8 million a year here to prove I’m not just bitching around). Let’s say – to the cycling community disadvantage – May 2013 was an anomaly and the average number of cyclists is closer to 500,000 a month over a year. That’s 6 million cyclists and a budget of 25 Swedish Kronor per cyclist and per year ($3.75).
At the same time we are shamelessly upgrading, for 16 billion Swedish Kronor, a 5 kilometre long portion of a motorway to solve traffic problems in the region and to gain a better environment in the inner city2. Yes we do things differently up here: more and bigger roads solve traffic problems (unlike everywhere else Sweden is immune to the induced demand phenomenon3) AND we do build roads that make the environment better. 16 billion Swedish Kronor. That’s the budget for one single road project and if every single Swede (babies included) owned a car it would represent 1,685 Swedish Kronor per human being ($252). For 5 kilometre of asphalt (and a box around it, a concrete coffin if you will).
Put like that one million cyclists in the city in May and one billion Swedish Kronor don’t look that impressive anymore and that’s what I’d like to read in the newspaper more often. I’d like journalists to do their homework, try out basic mathematical operations (multiplication and division are a good starting point) instead of just throwing figures at readers along with a picture like if they could only post embellished PR from politicians.
Now I have an idea and I’ll give it for free to the City of Stockholm. You know what bike commuters would really appreciate in the next thank you for cycling bag?
It’s within budget and it’ll help them accepting they’re being treated like second-class commuters. Just make sure you buy the natural kind because you know it’ll help gain a better environment. I am so definitely not celebrating.