Norway Will Create Superhighways for Bicycles

$1 billion is pledged for “super cycleways,” from a country about the size of New Mexico.

byMichael Frank| PUBLISHED Mar 10, 2016 6:45 PM
Norway Will Create Superhighways for Bicycles

New York City has more residents than the entire country of Norway, which is about the size of New Mexico. Still, Norway is quite rich thanks to oil dollars, and is using that wealth to reduce carbon emissions (yes, this is ironic) partly via a new network of massive two-lane bike paths in and around its nine largest cities—most of which are located in the southern part of the country.

Norway, like the U.S., is a nation divided between urban and rural, with people in the north largely still relying on farmed fishing and extraction, and farther south, working in tech and service sector jobs.

The new (at this point only proposed, actually) bike paths will link urban and suburban areas for long-distance commuters to ease transit between outer suburbs and the good-to-excellent urban public transportation, and are part of a larger effort to cut commuter emissions by half. The effort follows a Danish model, where bike commuting is relatively popular thanks to safe and dedicated bikeways. There’s pushback from northern politicians, who would prefer road infrastructure improvements of a traditional sort, but it’s the powerful cities in the south that rule the country and they’re likely to get their way.

Building the bike lanes won’t be easy. Norway is quite mountainous, and making thoroughfares flat and straight enough is already a challenge—as is keeping lanes free of snow (although snowplows can be used on bikeways as easily as on highways). The bigger challenge, already acknowledged in the proposal, is getting commuters out of their warm cars and into the cold, on a bike. Norwegians are an athletic lot, skating and skiing all winter, but that’s for exercise, not for getting to the office. One way to spur this switch would include e-bikes, so that cycling would be quicker and less sweat-inducing.

And the bikeway proposal is in harmony with a larger effort to make more, better road and railway infrastructure. Yes, that means more driving, but since Norway has recently sweetened the pot for buying EVs, the idea will be that if you have to drive, you’ll be driving an electric car on a straighter route between city and countryside. So if (or when) the oil dough runs dry, Norway will have spent its windfall preparing for the carbon-free future. Unlike, say, Saudi Arabia.