Story and photos by Candis Millar, AICP
This brief article describes the cycling experience my husband and I enjoyed during a week in Copenhagen, Denmark in September. Some of our observations may generate ideas for Western Planners implementing bicycle plans in their communities. Getting around the city and out to the country is easy, convenient using light rail, train, walking and biking! The most impressive transportation mode, in terms of availability, infrastructure, and sheer numbers is the bicycle.
Denmark is known as a bicycling country and Copenhagen is the epicenter of the culture. With over 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles) of designated bike lanes and paths, the Danes have made a concerted effort to make bicycling safe and convenient for all users. Bicycling education begins early. It is not uncommon to see very young children wheeled around in a cargo wagon arranged on the front of the bicycle.
Once children learn to ride on their own, there are training areas where they can learn the proper way to navigate the protected bike lanes and interpret bicycle traffic signs. For instance, there are no left turns on your bike. Instead you pull forward across the intersection and reposition yourself in the bike lane of the road perpendicular to the direction you came from. There are miniature traffic signals specifically for bicycles and pedestrians. Instead of the US conventional sequence of green, yellow, red; the lights go from red to yellow to green, giving bicyclist a chance to adjust their pedal positions to move out when the light turns green. On some routes, the signals are actually timed for bicycle traffic.
The bike lanes are wide, usually 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) and they are curb protected, both from the pedestrian pathways and sidewalks and the roadways. A pedestrian wandering into the bike lane is subject to dirty looks or worse but bicyclist must yield to pedestrians at designated pedestrian crossings. Danes love order, they also love beautiful design. The bicycle bridge, known as the Snake, crosses the harbor in lovely sinuous curves that gracefully address about a 9.1 meter (30 feet) grade difference from one side to the other.
The other thing you notice is that EVERYONE rides a bike. Because thirty-six percent of the population of Copenhagen commutes by bicycle, it is common to see men in business suits and fashionably dressed women, along with trades people, school children, retail clerks, even musicians biking together. Bikes, including the ubiquitous cargo wagon, are used for commuting, deliveries, pet carriers, shopping – even the mail is delivered by bicycle!
Of course with the number of bicycles in use, lots of parking is needed. At the main train station, bike racks are stacked and allow the user to easily pull down the upper rack and slip the bicycle into place. When the rack is released, it gently rises to the upper tier. The mechanics are simple and the effect is twice the number of bikes parked in the same space. The Danes also have a sense of humor along with a flair for style – how many bikes can you park in the same space as a car?
Our experience with bicycling in Copenhagen was unique because of the orderly and well thought out placement of cycling infrastructure making us feel safe and oh so very DANISH!
Candi Millar, AICP, retired as the Director of the Planning and Community Services Department for the City of Billings, Montana. She serves as a member of the board of Western Planning Resources, Inc., and has served as president of the organization.
Published in November 2018