Monday, May 24, 2010

Politicians vie for "bicycle helmet liberals"

STOCKHOLM. We’ve heard of “latte liberals”, those modern urbanites with a keen eye on the trend of the day.
I hadn’t heard of “bicycle helmet liberals” before I read Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter this morning, where the culture editor used the term to describe an urban class with an interest in making minimal ecological footprints.
These people, constantly growing in numbers as the Swedish capital becomes more like its bicycle crazy Danish counterpart Copenhagen, are becoming an important group in Stockholm as Sweden heads towards national and municipal elections later this year.
Svenska Dagbladet, the other Stockholm morning paper, ran a big story this weekend on how the city’s politicians are beginning to look for votes from the bicyclist with promises of improvements in biking conditions.
The number of bicyclists on Stockholm’s street have grown rapidly in the last couple of years and almost doubled in the past ten years. City authorities encourage this and would very much like Stockholm to have Copenhagen’s reputation as a bicycle capital.
But the bicycle scene in Stockholm is much more chaotic. The paper interviews Lena Maria Hagensen, a Stockholm resident who lived ten years in Copenhagen and can compare the two cities.
In the Danish capital, Hagensen says, the bicycle is a form of transport equal to cars.
“As a bicyclist in Stockholm you are downgraded. Car driver’s awareness of bicyclist is non-existent. In Copenhagen bicyclists and drivers communicate”, says Hagensen to Svenska Dagbladet.
Bicycle planning in Stockholm has many deficiencies that are pointed out in the story. Politicians from the opposition leftist and green parties promise more money for investments in bicycle lanes and other improvements.
When Swedes go to the polls in September we’ll see if this is enough to attract the “bicycle helmet liberals”.