Every morning at around 7am Copenhagen comes to life. Men in business suits, women fashionably dressed in the latest styles down to their high heel shoes and parents carrying their children in a cargo bike all hop on their bikes and get off to work or school.
By Lasse Lindholm, City of Copenhagen
Actually, 37 per cent of everybody working or studying in Copenhagen prefers the bike in the morning - and the equivalent number of people living in Copenhagen is as high as 55 per cent. That makes cycling the most popular means of transport and 1.2 million kilometres are covered daily by cyclists in the city, where cycle tracks are an integrated part of the traffic design.
From A to B
While many guests in the Danish capital seem to think that Copenhageners must be really concerned with the environment since so many use a bike, it’s just not the reason why Copenhageners ride. Many Copenhageners are of course focused on environmental issues but, when asked, only 1 per cent of Copenhageners mention it as the main reason.
Cycling is the preferred means of transport because it’s the quickest and easiest way to get around town. It’s the glue that keeps our lives together – allowing us to connect our everyday tasks in a smooth manner. While this tells us a bit about the Copenhagener mindset it also demonstrates that given the right support, cities around the world can be modelled to be more sustainable.
Creating a city of cyclists
But how do you create a city of cyclists? First of all you need to make cycling competitive and safe, and a great point of departure is having city planners armed with political will who make access for bicycles in public spaces a priority. In Copenhagen there is a coherent network of segregated lanes designated as cycle tracks in all city areas. That means you can ride from one part of the city to another almost without leaving the cycle track, which in most cases also ensures less travel time than going by car or bus.
Surfing green waves and snow
However, you also have more low hanging fruit to pick – in terms of investment. Two good examples from Copenhagen are the green waves for cyclists and the snow removal policy.
Previously the traffic lights in Copenhagen were coordinated for cars. Now they’ve been adjusted to favour cyclists along many main traffic arteries. This means that at a speed of 20 kph, cyclists can surf a wave of green traffic lights through the city without putting a foot down. Efficient for car drivers? No. But definitely an advantage for cycling citizens.
Should it snow in winter, city policy mandates that snow be removed from the cycle tracks before it is cleared from the car lanes – with the exception of car lanes on the four largest roads, which are cleared at the same time as the cycle tracks. This top priority helps explain why 80 per cent of Copenhagen cyclists still choose bikes in January.
Perception is (also) reality
Creating viable infrastructure and policies is important, but these are only some of the elements in developing a more sustainable and living city. As long as the common understanding of mobility is connected to the concept of driving a car, the road towards sustainable urban mobility through cycling will not be an easy one. Hence part of the work is also to change public perception of which kinds of mobility carry the greatest benefits for both citizen and society. Fortunately cycling leaves plenty of facts on the advocate’s side – to be used in campaigns and other communication activities. Performing over the long haul has been the essence in the Danish capital.
Copenhagen – as a city of cyclists – wasn’t designed and constructed overnight. It has been in the making for decades and the consistency in prioritizing cyclists on the street scene goes a long way to explaining why there are more bikes than citizens in Copenhagen today.