“See, in 1994 or 5, the city of Reykjavík had 430 cars for every thousand inhabitants. Today, there are over 700 cars for every thousand inhabitants. This means that instead of being like most Scandinavian and European cities we like to compare ourselves to, cities with beautiful and vibrant centres, we’re becoming more like a US “car-city”. And this is bound to affect the quality of our life here in a negative way, it will colour the way we interact as citizens. It’s happened in many American cities that totally succumb to the automobile as sole means of transport and organise themselves around it.”
Reykjavík city councilman Gísli Marteinn Baldursson is answering the Grapevine’s question of how he would like to see Reykjavík’s transportation system evolve in the next decade. He is doing this over the phone, as he is currently on a cycling tour of France with his family. This is not surprising, as he is an enthusiastic biker; in fact making cycling a viable alternative to motorised forms of transport has been a part of Baldursson’s agenda as head of the city’s Environmental and Transportation council.
“We need to ensure that the conditions for alternative modes of transport, such as bicycle paths or the bus system, are attractive and maintained enough that car ownership becomes an option rather than a necessity. We do not want to be a “mall city” that’s castrated and devoid of character in every way. We want to make a lively and vibrant city atmosphere and correctly organising commuting and transportation is a big part of that. Less space is wasted on freeways and parking, pollution is minimised and culture is enriched. And I’ve done the math: this way is cheaper for everyone in the long run. Fortunately, there is a great unity over this vision in the city council so it should come to fruition soon.”
This year, Baldursson says the focus is on making cycling a more attractive means to travel. “What we are working on right now is a path that goes from the west side of town and all the way east, so that a person can easily bike to the university area from Breiðholt. We’re talking about a real transportation vein that will have lights and will be ploughed if it’s snowing, just like any highway. Our end goal is to offer an infrastructure for cycling in Reykjavík that will make it an attractive choice for year-round transportation, a series of well maintained biking paths that will circle and cross the city for maximum accessibility. Presently, 2% of every journey made in Reykjavík is on a bike, our long-term aim is to greatly multiply that number.”