I remember a soldier sleeping next to me

So I haven’t been around lately. I was in New York for a few days, London for a few days (for work), and then Copenhagen for a few days (for vacation).

Since I am mildly obsessed with public transit, a few comments about Copenhagen (population 1 million) in comparison to Atlanta: the transit options are much, much better. The city has a geographic advantage over Atlanta — it’s pretty flat, so bicyclers have an easier time getting around. The street that runs through the middle of town, Strˆget, is pedestrian-only (and the place to shop). And there are about eight rail lines that lead to the suburbs, as well as a subway system where two of four planned lines have opened so far.

To add to the general transit friendliness, every summer the city puts out a few thousand (I think) bikes that anyone can ride for a 20DKK (about $3.50) deposit. I wobbled down the street on one of them, though I had to quit after a few blocks: the lack of hand brakes and the non-adjustable seat meant I had to tilt the bike to get it to stop.

Some of y’all may be, at this point, drooling. It was fantastically easy for a non-Danish-speaking tourist to get around, though it should be noted that being in a mostly-walkable city on a cold, rainy day is not a whole lot of fun. But yes. In terms of transit options, central Copenhagen has central Atlanta beat.

What I don’t know is how much the Danes pay for all these lovely transit options. Car taxes are notoriously high there (when you have to go to Germany to get a break on buying a car, that’s saying something) and gas is expensive throughout Europe. A single ride within the central two zones on the subway/bus/rail system cost 17DKK, or slightly under $3. (By contrast, a ticket to go anywhere on New York’s subway/bus system costs $2, and in London the equivalent ticket is about $3.70.) But the metro is brand new and absolutely beautiful — clean and full of brushed silver. I tried to calculate the costs but my mind boggled.

As you can see from this outdated but interesting table, Danish marginal tax rates are significantly higher than American marginal tax rates, and I suspect that Copenhageners pay more than Danes outside Copenhagen. (In Helsingˆr, a 50-minute train ride north of Copenhagen, an ill-timed bus wait gave me MARTA flashbacks. But it should be noted that the Helsingˆr bus system was quite comprehensive.) My point is, it felt to me like the Copenhageners have chosen one way on the keep-tax-dollars (or krone)-vs-quality-of-life issue, and Atlantans have chosen another way.

And I’m not sure what influences groups to choose one way or the other — psychology? economic incentives? political influence? I posited earlier to The Mad Dater that part of MARTA’s long-running problem is that it was born at exactly the wrong time — in the early ’70s, when everyone (white suburban voters especially) was scared to death of cities. But if you could take Copenhagen’s transit structure and plop it down today on Atlanta, I’m still not sure Atlantans would be willing to pay for it, even if it did mean they could take a clean train from Kennesaw to downtown. And I’m almost certain having more bikes in this city would lead to an increase in the homicide rate.

My friend (and, it should be said, co-worker) Megan McArdle, NYC-born and bred, wrote earlier this month on “smart growth” and public transit. I would definitely encourage reading her post (and if you can get access to the New York Times Magazine article that inspired it, all the better), but one of her chief points is: outside of a few cities, in the US, public transit simply hasn’t been fiscally successful. Her analysis didn’t include cities outside the US, but I’d be shocked if Copenhagen’s various transit systems turn any sort of profit. I know that at least one European transit system that many American states would love, France’s SNCF, is a money suck so enormous they have to play hide-the-losses on their balance sheets.

So my (tentative) conclusion is, if you want lovely transit, you’ve got to be willing to pay — and pay, and keep paying — for it. And with as much griping as Atlantans do, I don’t think they are. But there might be a way to introduce small improvements, such as the Beltline Project (which I strongly support), without going the full-on Copenhagen route.

1 Comment so far

  1. salas (unregistered) on October 27th, 2004 @ 2:54 pm

    You might like this link:


    It has maps and information for all the urban subways in the world. Enjoy.

    Also, I was in Copenhagen in the summer of 2001. There were bike racks all over the city, but all the bikes were gone, presumably stolen. Who’d want to steal a crappy free city bike? Anyway, I’m glad to see they replenish them.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.