On my 47th birthday I visited Stockholm, for the first time ever. The Swedish capital had been long high on our wish list with short breaks, so this was a very nice gift. As a Dutch consultant in the field of sustainable mobility and urban development, it is quite natural for me to explore the city on two wheels.
A good opportunity to discover the Swedish bicycle culture and a useful preparation for a workshop I’ll be giving at Göthenburg next May. But to my surprise I found out that the City Bikes in Stockholm stay in a long hibernation. What now?
Through my contact with the Dutch embassy in Sweden, I came in contact with my countryman Jeroen Wolfers and eventually ended up to Simon Bouloussa of Bicycle Factory. We were very kindly received by Simon in his beautiful bikeshop at Närkesgatan, where many special models are available in all colors. Simon is an enthusiastic entrepreneur with a special background. Born in Morocco, lived in Amsterdam for six years and ended up in Stockholm.
Here he is trying to get more people on the bike. A good aim, because with only 7% of the modal share Stockholm scores quite low. And while the possibilities seem quite good, with a high density in the city center, few large height in the city and many amenities within easy cycling distance. Because at distances up to about 7 km a bicycle is usually faster than car or public transport, there are many opportunities for cycling. Simon was kind enough to lend us two bikes, so that we could explore the city of Stockholm on two wheels – in winter!**What immediately struck us was that most of the cyclepaths were under a layer of snow**, while the lanes for cars were neatly cleaned. In many places the bike lane was even too bad to discover, and elsewhere the route ranged strangely from the roadway to the sidewalk and back. A more clear positioning for the bike would be very welcome.
And more space too: the width of bicycle lanes is often very limited, and must often also be shared with oncoming traffic and pedestrians. I consider it a poor choice to give cyclists so little space. Stockholm has lots of nice wide streets, there is really enough place in public space, but the division between lanes for cars, public transport and cycling is very unfavorable.We met few other cyclists. **Those who still bike are especially sporty types, and that is a big difference with the Netherlands.** With us, almost everyone gets on the bike for daily business. Children use it get to school, people go shopping with large panniers or on a ‘bakfiets’ and commuters cycle in their best suit to the office.
Even the Prime Minister can often be seen on his bicycle near our parliament. Cycling is part of our culture, an everyday activity, and the most practical way to get around. It costs little, you stay fit in there and it’s just fun! In most Dutch cities, over 40% of all trips are made by bicycle. This increases the liveliness on the streets, reduces CO2 emissions and is usually better for the local economy. In The Hague for example, the city has closed some main roads for cars and that has resulted in higher sales for many stores.**Unfortunately I don’t see that bike culture yet in Stockholm.** The Bianchi Cafe at Norrlandsgatan is surely beautiful, with delicious Italian coffee and snacks and great racing bikes on the wall and ceiling. But it also puts the emphasis back on the sports cyclist that dresses up in lycra to drop some performance.
While the bike is also and above all an excellent tool for every day driving to work. Whether for a relaxing ride to the magnificent Vasa museum on Djurgården, or for discovering the wonderful park-like island. If necessary, the bike fits perfectly on a small ferry. Try that with a car!
We really enjoyed cycling in Stockholm. It is a beautiful city and great fun to explore by bike. All major facilities are quickly and easily accessible on two wheels. It is time that the Swedes learn to love cycling more, and free the City Bikes from their hibernation. Or even better, buy a decent bike at Simon’s Fietsfabriek. It’s a way to honestly earn the title of capital of Scandinavia!
Tycker du som Erik, eller vill du fråga honom något om hans resa eller cykelsituationen i Holland? Ställ på engelska i kommentarerna, så kan han läsa och svara!