The social dimension of cycling

What is more important: to fight climate change – or poverty? For Erik Pelling, the answer is clear: you need to do both at the same time. “We can’t tackle the climate challenge in an efficient way, if we don’t have all the people with us,” he says. “We can’t continue to exclude a great part of our population and expect them to take responsibility for the climate challenge, if we forget about them in all other aspects.”

Erik Pelling is mayor of the city of Uppsala in Sweden. 150,000 people, more than 40,000 students at Sweden’s oldest university, a tourist destination and fast growing city. With the same challenges as all cities: too many cars in the streets, air pollution, neighbourhoods which are left behind, areas of poverty, criminality and social exclusion.

Some of those quarters in the South of Uppsala will now get a tram line. This will help both the climate and the quality of life, Erik Pelling says. “If we can connect that part to the inner city and also to the national rail, to the national airport, to the capital and all the opportunities that we have there, that will be a great opportunity. They will no more be excluded.”

For Erik Pelling, it’s all about connecting. “If we can connect people with a better mobility, we also tackle the poverty problem.” Good connections attract investors and create jobs, he expects.

With a better mobility, we also tackle poverty
— Erik Pelling, mayor of Uppsala

At the same time, the mobility has to be sustainable. “We promote walking and cycling,” Erik Pelling says. For obvious reasons: it’s good for the environment, it’s cheap, and it makes people “healthy and happy”.

At least 75% of all trips in Uppsala should be done by walking, cycling or public transport, says Erik Pelling. “That is our goal, and we are heading towards that.”

To make cycling safer and more attractive, the city is building protected fast lanes for bikes, connects different cycle tracks and has now invested in a huge bicycle garage at the central railway station, opened a few months ago, in September 2019. “We have parking houses for cars, why not for bicycles,” Erik Pelling says.

All glass and wood, the two-storey garage with space for 1,200 bicycles now dominates the station square.

​A cool building – and all for bikes

“It’s a cool building,” Ellinor Wik says. While the traffic planner in Uppsala’s city administration is demonstrating the equipment, cyclists go in and out with their bikes all the time. “It’s great to see that many people are using the bike garage daily.”

“A cool building”: Ellinor Wik is proud about Uppsala's bicycle garage.
“A cool building”: Ellinor Wik is proud about Uppsala’s bicycle garage.

The test phase shows the great demand: the ground floor is almost always full, the number of bikes is increasing since the opening of the garage a few months ago. Parking is initially free for up to nine consecutive days, booking is done via an app.

Now the city thinks about additional services like bike cleaning or rental buggies, so people easily can take their babies when they go shopping, Ellinor Wik says.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to combine bike and train or to cycle into the city.” Ellinor herself works right next to the station, so she doesn’t need a bike. “But if I did, I would park it here.”

Sweden’s best bike-city

Ellinor Wik is proud to report that Uppsala has been elected twice in a row as best bike-city in Sweden.

Mayor Erik Pelling is also proud – and happy to see that more and more people in Uppsala are cycling. For him, the role of the municipality is “to invest and build infrastructure”, like the bike garage at the station.

1,200 bicycles can be parked in the garage.
1,200 bicycles can be parked in the garage.

But the concept of connecting, to fight both climate and poverty, must not end at the city limit, Erik Pelling says. He wants to see more initiatives on national and European level. “It’s about connecting the systems,” he says. “In Uppsala, we can build this bike garage. But if it’s not well connected with the national and European rail system, it won’t work. You need to see the whole chain.”

It’s all about connections. Like the one between mobility and the fight against climate change and poverty.