Friday, April 23, 2010

Marooned in Malmö

The eruptions of the Icelandic volcano known as -- cut, paste: Eyjafjallajokull -- caused a good deal of misery throughout Europe and beyond, but I can't count myself as one of the most hard-hit victims. Last week I was on a work trip when the fireworks began. But while other travelers languished in airports and train stations with nothing but cups of Nescafe and CNN to while the hours away, I was peddling around in cycling nirvana.

My work trip was in Malmö, Sweden, a former industrial port that's refashioned itself as an intellectual centre and forerunner in urban sustainability. Cycling has a 24% modal share there (Wikipedia, 2004), one of the highest in Europe, so when our return flights to Budapest were canceled for a second time on Saturday, I rented a bike from my hotel for about EUR 10, and checked it out.

One thing they do in Malmö is separate infrastructure -- similar to what I saw in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin. On streets that were wide enough, including major thoroughfares, separate, wide bike paths are provided between the sidewalks and carriageways. Where there's street parking, the cars are lined up on the curb with a metre-wide buffer between cars and bike path. That keeps the cyclists out of reach of opening car doors. I didn't get a photo illustrating this, but I got one of separate infrastructure on a bridge across a canal.

There's an impressive floating bike park on the canal between Malmö's Old Town (Gamla Staden) and the central rail station (Photo taken from Photomath? at

On a few stretches outside the centre, I encountered streets without separate infrastructure, where you had to ride unprotected down the side of the road (as below). These streets were an exception, though.

Aside from the great infrastructure, there are some beautiful seaside vistas to take in. On a bridge crossing into the new city extension, the Western Harbour, there was this scene:

Then there's this bicycle counter along a bike highway near Malmö Town Hall (Stadshuset). It apparently starts from zero every morning. On the Saturday that I took my big ride around town, it was about 3 or 4 p.m. and I was rider number 3,050. Then I turned around and became rider 3,052, as well.

As a longtime Budapester, I have a hard to sympathising with this -- but in some places Malmö has the problem of too many bikes. In a part of Old Town that's reserved for pedestrian traffic, city authorities are trying to bring some order to bike parking. Most people put their bikes in racks, or near racks, but sometimes they overflow and get in the way and create what some people perceive as an eyesore. As our guide, an officer for Malmö City Hall's transport department explained, "We Swedes like our order." In the near future, the city may restrict bike parking in pedestrian zones.

Malmö is a city of about 300,000 people, so it doesn't have as large a population as Budapest's, or the same level of traffic or space restrictions. Nevertheless, it's inspiring how aggressively and effectively they've dealt with the transport problems they do have. Years ago, they headed off congestion as countless other cities have -- by building a ring road. When that filled up, they built a second ring road. Now Malmö's trying a different tack: rather than making more space for cars, it's making more alternatives to them. Among other things, Malmö is reintroducing trams to its public transport network. And it's following the example of its Danish neighbour across the water, Copenhagen, by finding ways to get even more people onto bikes.

I'll try to write something about my side journey to Copenhagen soon.

1 comment:

Jelica said...

"Marooned in Malmo," "stranded in Spain"--it is very right of you not to expect any compassion whatsoever :)

I only ever passed through the city of Malmo on the way to Lund but Lund definitely has the same "problem" of overflowing bikes. Or, as they say in Bulgarian, "I wish I had your problems!" :)))