Cyklar i Sverige (Bicycles in Sweden)

In the US environmentally-friendly life styles are considered to be optional – something that consumers can select in a largely unregulated market. Although people here in Sweden certainly have the ability to make their choices, for example, between organic and non-organic food products, and between driving and biking, the State and other institutions in Sweden seem much more interventionist when it comes to shaping the landscape of choices and influences the economic and normative conditions under which people make their decisions. For example, instead of getting a few cents back for bring you bag to grocery store as is generally the case in the US, here in Sweden you need to buy any store bags you want – they are right at the checkout in a variety of sizes and materials. Your standard plastic and paper bags will run you about 30 cents – a price much more true to the actual cost of the bag. Given the fact that people place greater value on what they already possess (money to buy a bag) than what they do not yet have (a rebate on their bag), the Swedish model should definitely lead to less disposable bag consumption. In this and many ways the “right” choices are supported.

Växjö has worked for over 2 years on its environmental initiatives. The city has earned an EU recognition as “Europe’s greenest city” on account of its continuing efforts. A look at these 2010 environmental targets demonstrates the extent to which the city’s efforts are directed at changing the behavior of people:

  • Fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions shall be reduced by at least 55% per inhabitant by 2015, compared with 1993. Växjö shall be a fossil fuel free city by 2030 at the latest.
  • Consumption of electrical energy shall be reduced by at least 20% per inhabitant from 1993 to 2015.
  • Cycle traffic in the City of Växjö shall increase by at least 20% by 2015 from 2004.
  • Public transport as part of city traffic shall increase by at least 20% per town inhabitant and for country traffic by at least 12 % per county inhabitant from 2002 to 2015.
  • Energy consumption shall be reduced by 15% per inhabitant between 2008 and 2015.

The city backs up these specific targets with action directed at changing behavior. For example, both Växjö and in Malmö do great work supporting a culture of non-driving. The mass transit systems are comprehensive and affordable – cheaper and often more convenient and quicker than driving. In addition, walking and cycling routes are prioritized. Pedestrian and cycling paths are generally not intermingled with or even adjacent to car traffic and they are often more direct than vehicle routes. In addition to an infrastructure that encourages cycling and walking, there is explicit approbation offered to folks who choose cycling:

Malmö sign that thanks cyclists and tells the number of cyclist who have passed that day, the day before and the year-to-date.

Similar sign in Växjö – sorry that I couldn’t adjust the shutter speed enough to get it.

So here’s is my question: Why don’t we generally have these things in the US (yes, I now they have them in some places but they are not the norm)? Would it be so detrimental to the fabric of the nation to develop infrastructure that supports sustainable and healthy lifestyles? Why do we place more faith a market in which corporations have considerable freedom to manipulate our preferences and choices instead of building and believing in governmental and social institutions held accountable to a prosocial bottom line?

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