Kan også læses på: Dansk
What’s all that fuss about bicyclism and bikes in Copenhagen?
These years when Copenhagen has mentions in international media – which is very often considering it’s size – bikes are almost always mentioned, as if the bikes in Copenhagen was some kind of new revelation. Bikes has existed for well over a century in its present concept, but – in fact it IS a revelation, even so if delayed. From the perspective of urban planning, personal transportation by bike offers a variety of benefits that has never really been seriously considered before the turn of this century.
In this post I’ll give my comment and explanation on one of the special features of Copenhagen that is one of my personal favorites, if not actually my favorite favorite.
Bicyclism has all kinds of more or less obvious benefits to a community within areas of finance, social life, health, sustainability, quality of local air and water, noise, space consumption, transportation efficiency, safety – and many more if you go into detail.
Copenhageners don’t consider all these benefits one second when choosing the bike over the car. The one reason that make us ride through rain or snow is convenience! Getting on our bikes is so much easier and faster than going by car, being stuck in traffic and desperately trying to find parking!
All the above benefits have never been on the minds of the thousands of Copenhageners that unintentionally have been front runners in the development, and it still is only side effects of what is completely natural behavior and considered a necessity of daily life in our little big city.
One side effect that I personally regard really high is the sense of personal freedom to go anywhere anytime. Like most Danes I had my drivers license (for a car) when I was 18. I felt a great potential of freedom, but when I finally owned my own car and while using it I soon felt trapped by it. Of course very literally when trapped in morning and afternoon traffic, but also in general by the cost and the care I had to take to keep an old car running. My bike(s) is ready to go anytime in my court yard, or I can fix it myself when needed and it’s cheap. That’s why when someone’s bike is stolen, they feel completely paralyzed and emprisoned.
In addition to that, in Copenhagen cars move around with many restrictions. A few pedestrian streets or busses-and-bikes-only-streets and lots of one way streets makes it a true maze to go through central Copenhagen by car. Consequently car traffic congests in few bigger streets that cyclists can avoid completely, since bikes are allowed almost anywhere.
This leads to another side effect: the social life on the streets. One attraction to get on the bike is the feeling of taking part in urban life in the smaller streets you choose to take. These have few cars but pedestrians and bicyclists that you can observe and communicate with. You’ll meet people of all ages, incomes, fashion styles, job types and of both gender on the bikes, and you’ll find them 24/7 all year round. Once in a while young mothers or impatient suits will snap at you for not keeping in line, but mostly urban biking enriches your day, and you learn what kind of small or large events that are taking place in your city: flea markets, street musicians, demonstrations, open street parties or festivals, bike races, marathons and the list goes on.
The new new? Not really. At all!
Bikes ARE essential in Copenhagen, but now that it has become ‘a thing’ we are actually forgetting that it is not merely a hyper modern phenomena. Even before second world war the bikes flooded the streets, and more dominantly then, since there were only very few cars compared to present day.
This 1937 American travel report shows very picturesque Copenhagen but
with a great deal of interest in the bicycles. Especially from 6:10 the clip demonstrates that the bikes are nothing new.
The benefits of biking is pretty much universal, so how come Copenhagen is so much different from other cities? Of course there is more than one reason:
- Denmark is a very flat country – and Copenhagen is more flat – to cyclists an obvious advantage adding to the decisive convenience
- The size of Copenhagen allows us to go from one end of the city to the other in 30 minutes
- Cars are expensive! We have a luxury tax on cars (up to 180% – before paying the general 25% VAT), probably because we have no car industry lobbying against it
- We are informal by mentality and wear casual clothes, so it is OK to show up at most work places in a casual outfit after a light workout
- To be honest our viking cultural heritage is mostly gone. But we are still farmers and sailors and fishermen by heart – we don’t mind too much being outside in most weather conditions. At lease not as long as we have a warm house with candle lights and our legendary ‘hygge’ to go home to afterwards.
These are some of the circumstances that makes Copenhagen the right place to start with. But talent alone doesn’t make a world champ. Grass root organizations and receptive politicians have together worked for decades to improve what was already pretty great. Today we have:
- First of all: separated bike lanes – tons of them!
- Bike and pedestrian bridges connecting the city across the harbor and the canals
- Super bike lanes – special routes connecting the whole city optimized for cyclists convenience and safety
- Wider bike lanes on the busy stretches to avoid bottlenecks
- Dedicated traffic regulation, right turn lanes, light signals
- ‘Green waves’ for bikes (traffic lights are synchronized to the speed of bikes – when you cross at a green light the next light will also be green)
- Many smaller experiments improving the physical equipment, such as lights in the asphalt, garbage bins, foot rests, bike pumps, and so on
These are some of the reasons for Copenhagen to be the more successful as a bike city than any other city in the world. And that is not an opinion, it’s a scientific fact: http://copenhagenize.eu/index/
Btw: The term ‘Copenhagenize’ were coined centuries ago, after Lord Nelson in 1801 seized the Danish fleet of warships and invented a strategy of war, named Copenhagenizing. Today it’s quite another strategy or a set of planning strategies of cyclism that has become a valuable exported know-how – by the office also carrying that name – from Copenhagen to many other metropolises in mostly western cities.
Danes and especially Copenhageners bike a lot!
Not only adults are commuting, many kids are biking to their school as well. However, in Copenhagen, the police advice that kids should be 12 before hitting the streets by bike on their own. Not because they are in danger from the cars, but because the hordes of bike commuters sometimes come in 50 or 100 in a group with varying speed. And not all them equally patient and attentive on the young and small ones, not all of them equally law abiding. This complex situation can be overwhelming to brains that are not fully developed and with limited perceptive abilities.
To meet this all children are trained in school in traffic rules and riding in the traffic. In Copenhagen we have a public (free), theme playground, ‘the traffic playground’, where kids love to ride the different bikes and pedal cars around small lanes with lights, signs and yield lines. A very recommendable place to go to entertain and train your kids to get the most of the potential of the Copenhagen bike infrastructure.
It’s located in Fælledparken:
Just do it!
If you are visiting Copenhagen, you’ll miss an essential part if you are not going around by bike! Rent a bike and go around as you please, or take one or more of the sightseeing tours that are offered.
It could be any tour, OR it could be one of the tours, I conduct myself with beCopenhagen:
- Architecture and urban spaces, 3 hour tour
- Essential Copenhagen, 2 hour tour
- ‘Hoods of Copenhagen, 4 hour tour
We have several organizations for different aspects of biking, and the ‘Cycling Embassy of Denmark’ is offering all the numbers that changes each year:
Thanks for reading, please comment or let me demonstrate the phenomena in real life for you and your colleagues, family and friends or soccer team. You are all welcome on bikes in Copenhagen!