By Steve Howell
On a visit last week to Ystad, the home town of fictional cop Kurt Wallander, it was amazing to see impact the ‘Nordic noir’ drama series has had on the Swedish town.
Ystad’s tourist information office was packed with people picking up Wallander tour maps and buying books by the series creator Henning Mankell.
Dozens of people were wandering the streets taking photographs of buildings used as locations for some of the most famous scenes.
And on the edge of town we found a mini-Hollywood of media facilities not only for Wallander but also for other productions, including the well-known Danish series The Bridge.
Wales is, of course, now making its own mark in the ‘noir’ crime drama boom with the success of Hinterland. And that makes me wonder if there are other ways in which we should be trying to emulate Denmark and Sweden.
The one staring me in the face in Ystad – as well as in nearby Malmo and Copenhagen – was the combination of high levels of bike usage with modern Metro systems and – as a natural corollary - a lack of congestion for car users.
Ystad’s railway station is surrounded by racks rammed with bikes and sees trains coming and going that are so sleek and silent they make some of our rolling stock look like antiques.
Wales’s urban centres have a lot of catching up to do. Copenhagen leads the way in cycling with a staggering 43% of people working in the city commuting by bike and 250 miles of cycle tracks and lanes.
The Danish capital is now aiming for more than half of all commuters to cycle to work by 2015 and to be the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025.
It is so far ahead of us there is a danger of it feeling like joining a race with Bradley Wiggins after the starter has fired his gun.
But Cardiff is pedalling furiously. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of people travelling to work by bike in the Welsh capital increased 65% to 5,791.
While that’s still only 3.6% of all commuter journeys, it’s above the UK average of 2.8% and near what experts in Copenhagen consider the crucial tipping point of 5%.
Once one in 20 commuters travel by bike, it seems there is a cultural shift away from the perception that cycling is only for Lycra-clad fitness fanatics.
The striking thing about Scandinavian towns and cities is the way in which cycling transcends age, class and gender.
In Copenhagen, the roads outside primary schools and nurseries aren’t gridlocked with Chelsea tractors – jeopardising the road safety of the children – because so many families have ‘cargo bikes’ to carry their little ones around.
But change won’t just come from altering people’s perception of cycling. There also needs to be a significant investment in cycling infrastructure and safety, including more physically-separate cycle lanes and traffic-calming measures prioritising cyclists and pedestrians.
The Welsh government has made a good start with its Active Travel Act and in allocating £5m of capital funding in 2014-15 for 20 local schemes across Wales.
But it has to be said that transport thinking in the UK generally is still locked in a car-centric time-warp that dates back to the 1950s.
Spending £1 billion on 14 miles of new motorway across the Gwent levels is often discussed as if it’s a no-brainer solution to the problem of road congestion in South East Wales.
But is it when nearly half the people using the M4 around Newport and Cardiff are driving to work or making journeys of 20 miles or less?
If we spent a tenth of that sum on dedicated cycle routes, we could make cycling so much safer and more attractive that we would pass the ‘Copenhagenization’ threshold of 5% much sooner.
The consequent reduction in car usage would relieve the M4 of congestion – and we would still have capital left to spend on a Metro.
Hinterland showed Wales at its best, on a par with Nordic noir. To be successful in competing with European rivals for investment, we need a similar dose of creativity in the transport genre.