Posts Tagged ‘Sweden

26
Aug
11

Cycles for a richer society

When it comes to promoting cycling Sweden ranks fourth best in the world. Is this something to be proud of? Maybe, but its not very ambitious. Fourth best might be OK. I mean we’re not the worst, yet.

The annoying thing is that the knowledge base needed to be the best or as good as the best exists in Sweden, both among some politicians and many planners. Examples of how the urban environment can be improved for both pedestrians and cyclists is close at hand in those countries that are better than us. Investments to promote walking and cycling are not expensive. They provide great value for money when compared with other infrastructure investments. The missing ingredient, the one that means that Sweden doesn’t quite achieve the same high standards as lets say Holland for cyclists is lack of political will. The right noises are made but not implemented.

The main difference between cycling policy in Sweden and the Netherlands is quite simple. In Sweden you can easily and safely cycle around the cities. In Holland urban planning in recent decades, has made the bicycle quite simply the easiest way to get around in cities. Although it is easy to get around by bike in Sweden the easiest way to get about is often by car. For some reason, people choose to travel by car more often than necessary probably just because it is so simple. In Holland city planners have worked actively for years to give cycling a comparative advantage.

Why is this important? Is not it enough with the attitude we have now? The answer is no. for several reasons, but here there is only place to name a few of them. Each journey by bike gives an economic gain to society. Where as every trip by car is subsidized, heavily subsidized if it occurs within an urban area. Congestion charging at the levels presently discussed hardly affects this. If we want people to use one mode of transport over another, subsidies are a policy tool that demonstrably work. Although its important to subsidize the modes that you want to promote. Climate change, poor urban air, noise and insecurity are all external costs that are wholly or partially incurred by car traffic in cities. It is through taking care of the car’s victims that society subsidizes cars.

Most of the problems facing cyclists in Sweden are caused by cars. Cars travelling at unacceptably high speeds in urban areas and cars parked on narrow streets. On urban streets where people live and go about there business, the maximum speed should never exceed 30 kilometres per hour. Today many of our streets are empty, so why reduce the speed on a deserted street? Simple, when the speed of the traffic is lower, people start using street spaces again.

There is a much livelier street life in Holland than there is in Sweden. The Dutch initiative where cyclists are given a comparative advantage over motorists have benefited everyone, including the small minority who do not cycle. Dutch cities are pleasanter places to be in. And because it’s pleasant, people spend more on the street. They’ve managed to put life back into the cities, which among other thing increases personal security. Dutch cycling policy has had a variety of positive social feedback.

This said Holland has not declared war on motorists. The number of cars per thousand inhabitants is only marginally lower in the Netherlands than in Sweden (457/475). The difference is that in Holland motorists are also cyclists. Dutch motorists take the bike in the city because it is the fastest and easiest way to travel. All places are still accessible by car if you have to unload something. But its not that simple. Cyclists and pedestrians have the space they need in Dutch cities, cars get the space that’s over, and not vice versa as in Sweden.

Fourth best is pretty good but not good enough.

Ian Fiddies
Friends of the Earth, Transport Committee

This is a translation of the original article first published in Swedish in Göteborgs Fria Tidning

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15
May
11

Västsvenska paketet är ett svekpaket

Jag vet inte vem jag ska rösta på i omvalet den 15 maj. Mitt problem är att jag är orolig för klimatförändringar. Lyssnar man på de olika partierna så är de grönare än gräset på andra sidan allihopa. Ser man på de planer som de stora partierna enas om, verkar alla partier vara lika svarta. Det hade på något sätt varit uppfriskande om ett av partierna hade gått till val under rubriken ”Det är viktigare att de som redan är rika tjänar mer pengar nu än att vi bevarar planeten för kommande generationer.” Men ärligheten i politiken verkar vara utrotningshotad.

Det som gör mig förbannad är det så kallade ”Västsvenska paket”, svekpaketen som jag föredrar att kalla det för. Svekpaketets tre huvudingredienser är: Västlänken, en tågtunnel under centrala Göteborg; Marieholmstunneln, den mycket omtalade Älvförbindelsen; samt trängselskatter.

Enligt Annelie Hultén:
Det Västsvenska paketet …ska bidra till att skapa en större arbetsmarknad och främja sysselsättning, tillväxt och minska trafikens negativa påverkan på miljön .” (Göteborgs stad, Årsredovisning 2010, s. 5)

Hon börjar rätt, folk kommer att tvingas pendla ännu längre sträckor om paketet genomförs. Paketet kommer att möjliggöra en ökad exploatering av tidigare ointressanta ytor för småhus, som är i för sig tillväxt och dessutom en sysselsättning. Men att påstå att paketet skulle ”minska trafikens negativa påverkan på miljön ” har jag mycket svårt att svälja.

Västlänken är den del av paketet som jag har en försiktigt positiv inställning till. Om vi ska kunna minska personbilismen måste kollektivtrafikens kapacitet utökas, men om man bara ökar kollektivtrafiken kapacitet kommer fler att resa oftare och längre vilket är negativt ur miljösynpunkt. En miljövinst får man endast om de nya kollektivresorna görs av någon som annars hade kört bil. Västlänken kunde ha en mycket positiv effekt på miljön om vägkapacitet i regionen samtidigt minskades.

Paketets andra ben, och det är här sveken kommer, är Marieholmstunneln. Den är en gammalmodig ”betongsosse”, vägkapacitetsökning av det absolut sämsta slaget, en stadsnära motorväg. Det är en försök att bygga bort trängsel med mer väg. Varje försök hittills, och jag menar varje, att bygga bort trängsel med mer väg har lett till en kraftig trafikökning och försämrad framkomlighet. Vist kan den möjliggöra en utökning av kollektivtrafiken, men till vilken miljönytta om personbilstrafiken också ökas? Vist är det bra om överviktiga människor börjar äta råa grönsaker men de kommer inte att gå ned i vikt om de samtidigt äter ännu mer skräpmat än tidigare.

Och slutligen den stora heta potatisen, trängselskatter. Trängselskatter skulle kunna användas för att ”minska trafikens negativa påverkan på miljön” men de kan lika gärna användas för att försämra läget, vilket är fallet här när de ska finansiera svekpaketet.

Påståendet att det Västsvenska paketet ska ”minska trafikens negativa påverkan på miljön” är helt enkelt falskt.

Som sagt, jag vet inte vem jag ska rösta på. Är miljön en viktig fråga för dig kan jag som miljöaktivist inte ge dig något råd utöver att använda personröstsmöjligheten och rösta in individer som är beredda att trotsa partilinjen. Just nu är det min bedömning att alla partier i regionvalet är lika vidriga i trafikrelaterade miljöfrågor. Fast förbannad är jag bara på de partier som jag själv tycker borde veta bättre.

Ian Fiddies

Göteborg 6 maj 2011

Först publicerad i Göteborgs Friatidning, 14 maj 2011

14
May
10

The look of hate

To say that most of us want to be loved is hardly controversial. There is a joy in being loved but there is also an immense satisfaction to be had from being hated. The satisfaction of catching someone’s gaze across a crowded room and meeting a look of absolute loathing directed singularly at me and only me. A look of such detestation that the memory of that moment will almost certainly stay with me for the rest of my life and rekindle a warm and poignantly pleasurable sensation every time I think about it.

The moment I have in mind happened at one of the many sideshows at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen last December. I think the correct term was “side event” but I prefer to call them side shows. These side shows were a varied distraction from the main conference and to a large extent organised by representatives of big businesses, usually on the theme of how big business was going to save the environment by getting bigger and doing even more business. The event that I will always remember was organised by ACEA the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. The subject was how the car makers were actively working for the good of the planet or some such greewash.

The look of direst loathing I received was from no other than the illustrious representative of ACEA during the questions and answers bit at the end. To be honest I hadn’t really been on my best behaviour, not that I’d been heckling or anything, that’s not my style. I fell asleep. Worse I fell asleep while the illustrious representative of ACEA was speaking and woke up again when he stopped. This was not done on purpose but with reflection it could have been. There is hardly a better way to disconcert a speaker than by starting to snooze during their oratory. No my sleep was genuine, probably brought on by the string of very late nights and perilously early mornings that accompanied the Copenhagen conference. The free wine at the walking buffet before the show may have also played a part in my uncontrollable drowsiness. Having said that, a speaker, who with passion, presents a subject that they totally believe in and burn for will always keep me awake. Unfortunately nothing of that kind was on the menu that particular evening in the Bella Centre.

Dropping off during the show was of course not enough to generate that look of hate. No no, to gain my status as the most despised person in the room I had to wake up and ask a question. The look started to form on the man from ACEA’s eminent mug when the bloke who’d been snoring at the back during his discourse stood up and introduced myself as a representative for Friends of the Earth Sweden. (I’m not sure if I really was snoring but one can always hope for the best.) I explained that I was based in Gothenburg. At the very heart of the Swedish car industry and that some Swedish trade union members were expressing a fear. A feeling that the motor industry was in a state of decline and that some of the most advanced industrial technology and skills would be lost unless production was redirected to produce something that the world needs more than just more and more cars. The loathing grew visibly when the greeny mentioned trade unions.

My question was simply this. What message should I take back to Sweden with me for my friends in the car makers union. The answer I got was a look of hate. A look of hate accompanied by a reassurance that the car industry has a bright and rosy future. That there always will be a rising demand for more and more new cars and that anyone who even considered anything else was quite simply naïve.

I hope that this is a comfort and a reassurance to the crew at Volvo.

09
May
10

Guerilla gardening on a Sunday afternoon

The biggest problem I’ve found about starting a blog is not having anything to write about. Just now I have a spare hour before a dozen local activists turn up at my house to learn how to reclaim urban wasteland and I feel that I should try and write something, but what? Nothing interesting ever happens around me. Ok I’m helping to run a training camp for radical horticulturists in my spare time but I have to do something. I don’t have a telly.

Gardening, guerilla or otherwise has never been one of my big things. Its one of those blind spots in my patchy education. That is one of my main motives for getting involved with a gardening course, whatever comes up I’m sure of learning something. And what knowledge could be more valuable nowadays than knowing how to grow my own food?

Gardening can be seen possibly as a natural reaction to what happened at COP15 in Copenhagen back in December. That last sentence could be interpreted as a bit gloomy and in some ways it is very gloomy but that is not the whole picture, on the whole I think I’m more optimistic now after the Copenhagen disaster than I was before. Before Copenhagen I was hoping for an international agreement and a great deal of my time last year was spent in the build up to the Copenhagen summit. This hope was to be honest, conscious self delusion. I knew there was no hope of those men in grey suits ever reaching a consensus for the common good over their short term interests. It was pretty obvious.

All the while I was concentrating on Copenhagen I felt that I was neglecting my home patch. I think most of us environmentalists did that. We all focused our attention on the United Nations while at home we did less than we could have done. After Copenhagen I think many people, myself included, realised two important facts. One that we need to focus on a climate cleansing of our own cities. And two that people with that shared attitude were going home to cities all around the world. Stopping global warming is a global struggle but the real battle ground is here on our doorsteps.

This brings us back to guerilla gardening, it’s about more than just the food. Locally sourced food from, what is today, urban wasteland is clearly an important part of the way forward but that is not best bit. The best bit is that twelve people who previously didn’t know each other are getting together on a hillside in Sweden with the shared dream of wanting to make their city a better place. Isn’t this how powerful grass roots social movements are formed?

Gothenburg 9 may 2010




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