Committee presents ideas for reducing Copenhagen’s congestion

The congestion committee admits that a harbour tunnel supported by the mayor may actually increase traffic and pollution in some parts of the city

The congestion committee released yesterday its first set of recommendations for tackling congestion in the Greater Copenhagen region.

Trængselskommisionen, established to find alternative solutions to the failed congestion charge proposal, released a long list of proposals that can be achieved in the short, medium and long term, though they emphasised that far from all of the proposals will be realised.

“The commission’s goal is to create a network that better connects the different forms of public transport together with individual forms of transport such as cars, bikes and pedestrians,” the report stated. “The commission will now evaluate and prioritise the proposals in order to create holistic solutions that strengthen infrastructure and mobility and improve the environment.”

Central to the report’s considerations was tackling Copenhagen's increasing car traffic and the fact that more and more commuters travelling across the city, rather than having the city as their final destination.

The car is still the most popular mode of transport in Greater Copenhagen. Two-thirds of all kilometres travelled in the Copenhagen area are made by car as well as just over half of all journeys.

Greater Copenhagen’s road network simply cannot cope with the number of cars, however, and according to engineering firm COWI, 29 million hours are lost every year in traffic jams with an economic cost of about 8.5 billion kroner a year.

Reducing car traffic requires convincing drivers to use other forms of transport and the easiest way to do this is by ensuring that public transport hubs are distributed evenly. The further a resident lives from a train station, the less likely they are to use it.

Public transport would need to be significantly strengthened if drivers do choose to switch to public transport, however. The report states that if five percent of drivers decided to choose public transport instead, the number of journeys made by public transport would increase by 20 percent.

The willingness of drivers to use other forms of transport if given the opportunity has already been demonstrated. When the Metro was first opened, car traffic into the city – both from Amager over Knippelsbro in the south and over the Lakes from the north – dropped by about five percent while car traffic in other parts of the city rose.

Among Trængselskommisionen's proposed changes for short and medium-term solutions are improving and increasing the frequency of the bus network, improving bicycle infrastructure and parking, building ‘park and ride’ facilities, building an additional Metro station at Ny Ellebjerg, extending the S-Train network to Roskilde and Helsingør, extending motorways and introducing car sharing networks.

In the long-term, the commission proposes moving ahead with the controversial harbour tunnel, automatising S-Trains and subjected car drivers to a road-pricing system.

The harbour tunnel was expected to be included in the list of proposals especially given the fact that the City Council last year voted to approve a 27 billion kroner proposal. This will see a tunnel dug from Gentofte in the north to join the motorway network in the southwest of the city. 

Proponents say that the tunnel will draw traffic that would ordinary cross the city and by doing so will reduce congestion. But the model that the city approved includes access ramps as the tunnel snakes beneath the city, meaning that it will essentially operate as an underground southern orbital road. The congestion committee acknowledged that this may end up increasing traffic both near the access ramps on Amager and in Gentofte, one of the likely reasons that the mayor of Gentofte did not join 13 other council mayors in greater Copenhagen who called for better cross-council transport planning and voiced their support for a harbour tunnel.

Copenhagen’s deputy mayor for technical and environmental affairs, Ayfer Baykal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), opposes the harbour tunnel due to the extra traffic and pollution it may produce.

Together with several prominent environmental and anti-traffic organisations, Baykal has established the Facebook group ‘Nej til flere biler i København (No to more cars in Copenhagen) to campaign against the tunnel.

“We want to talk sense to the people who have fallen in love with the harbour tunnel,” Baykal told Politiken newspaper. “We could use those billions of kroner to create alternatives to cars, such as digging a new Metro line from Hellerup to Copenhagen.”

Mayor Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne) replied by urging Baykal to contribute to the debate about finding holistic solutions to Copenhagen’s traffic problems.

“SF said no to the Storebælt bridge. SF said no to the Øresund bridge, SF said no to the first stages of the Copenhagen Metro and now SF’s deputy mayor for technical and environmental affairs is spearheading another ‘no' campaign,” Frank Jensen told Politiken.

Baykal is not alone in her opposition to the tunnel’s environmental and financial cost. Urban mobility consultants Copenhagenise argues the 27 billion could be more effectively spent on a range of alternative initiatives. They say that the city could instead use the money to invest in better bicycle infrastructure and super-highways, build an extra train tunnel on the congested section between central station and Østerport and convert 65 kilometres of high-density bus network into a light rail network, and still have around eight billion kroner left over.

The commission will present a more comprehensive appraisal of the various proposals by August 2013.