Friday, January 15, 2010

Copenhagen: The world's best city for cyclists

A bike in Copenhagen, March 23, 2008, by Kai, Flickr Creative Commons.

The Danish capital was endeavouring to be pronounced the world's best city for cyclists in 2015. The bicycle is already considered to be the obvious means of transport by most Copenhageners because the city council has made a concerted effort to improve the infrastructure, safety and parking facilities for cyclists.

Every day, 55% of all Copenhageners cycle to and from work, jointly pedalling more than 1.17 million kilometres a day. Bike lanes, cycle parking and special traffic lights for cyclists are part and parcel of the Copenhagen cityscape. The infrastructure has been meticulously planned to show consideration for more than 150,000 citizens for whom the bicycle is their chosen form of everyday transport. The city has some 340 km of cycle lanes and the vast majority of major roads have cycle lanes in both directions, either as separate tracks or delineated by markings at road level.

 On selected stretches through the city - between main residential areas and the centre - so-called 'green waves' have been implemented. Series of traffic lights are timed to allow cyclists to ride the entire stretch without stopping at a red light if they maintain speed of 20 km/h. The 'wave' functions on the way into the city in the mornings and on the way out at the end of the working day. At traffic lights, cars stop 5 m behind the cyclists' stop line and the cyclists have their own miniature set of traffic lights that give them priority over motor vehicles. Safety measures such as 'cycle pockets' at traffic lights are currently undergoing trials. The 'pockets' make space for cyclists to stop in front of the cars at red lights. This makes the cyclists more visible, especially to lorries, and accidents occurring when vehicles turn right are avoided.

Bikes, October 28, 2005 by procsilas, Flickr Creative Commons
Bikes, October 28, 2005 by procsilas, Flickr Creative Commons
Bicycle parking problems have been solved by the installation of bike stands throughout the city; on streets, in public parking lots and private underground car parks or sheds at most housing complexes. Shopkeepers are also making life easier for cyclists by placing bike stands in front of their shops. Despite the change of the seasons it is possible to cycle all year round in Copenhagen. When it snows, the council clears the snow off the cycle lanes before starting on the roadways and 70% of cyclists keep on cycling. If the weather does become too much of a challenge it is also possible to take your bike with you on the train or underground.
It is Copenhagen City Council’s vision to be hailed the world's best city for cyclists in 2015 and they are striving continuously to improve conditions for cyclists. Growth in the use of bicycles in Copenhagen has increased the need for more, wider, safer cycle lanes. New cycle lanes can accommodate 15-20% more bicycles and reduce the number of cars in the cityscape by 10%. Proposals have also been presented for the imposition of a congestion charge on motor vehicles to reduce the number of cars in the city centre, increasing the use of cycles and public transport.

The citizens of Copenhagen are neither cycling fanatics nor environment activists - they simply use a bicycle as a means of transport because two wheels get them quickly and safely from A to B.

The history of cycling in Copenhagen

The upper class are struck by cycle fever and struggle to be the first to be seen riding a hobby horse – a wooden bike without pedals.

The bicyclette is the first to be used by many people in Copenhagen. Denmark’s first cycle path is built along the Lakes and the nation gets its first cycling postman. The first cycle club is founded, and it exists to this day.

The bicycle as we know it today saw the light of day and came into use by the population at large. Women abandon their long skirts, adopting a shorter version in order to cycle.

The bicycle becomes the symbol of natural, healthy living and is lauded in songs, on the silver screen, in poetry and literature. Bicycle messenger boys delivered all sorts of goods on their carrier bikes.

During the Second World War, the lack of petrol/gasoline made the bike a necessity for Copenhageners. Import bans remained in force after the war was over and the number of bikes increased.

The global economic upswing caused motor traffic to explode and many cycle lanes were disposed of. Copenhageners did not stop riding their bikes, however.

The energy crisis and the economic slump enhanced the focus on alternatives to private motoring. Car-free Sundays were introduced and people turned out on the streets to demonstrate for better conditions for cyclists. Investments were made in bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

The city-bike – the world’s first free bicycle scheme was launched in Copenhagen in 1995. Bicycle messengers gained popularity as a means of delivering letters and parcels and bike taxis a popular means of transport for tourists.

2000 -
More and more people are taking to pedal power and conditions for cyclists become an important political issue.