Copenhagen: ‘capital of the bicycle’
In the seventies Copenhagen made a radical choice for the bicycle. Today it’s ‘the capital of the bicycle’, where traffic jams occur rather on the bicycle lanes, then on the roads. “Every city can do this”, the Danish say. Standaard bicycle journalist Tom Ysebaert wanted to find out by himself and toured the Danish capital for three days asking for advice how to become ‘a better bicycle’ land.
The Dronning Louise bridge is the most busy cross road in he city of Copenhagen. Every day 40.000 cyclists pass here. In the city with around 765.000 residents, 62% uses a bicycle to commute to work. Only 9% does this by car. 40% of all movements are done by bicycle, compared to 12% in Flanders.
When asked why they prefer the bicycle, the answer is unanimous: “It is the fastest and easiest way to get anywhere. Buses are expensive, too crowded and it takes longer to get somewhere. And the car is no option at all.”
Belgian Hans Bruyninckx is head of the European Environmental Agency (EEA) and lives in Copenhagen. “My office is at 7 km of my apartment. I mostly cover that distance by bicycle or by foot. I don’t have a car. Only a subscription for an electric shared car.” He shows the many bicycle bridges in Copenhagen, who are the connection between old and new city districts. Only 2 bridges are for motorized traffic.
“When people from Copenhagen say ‘it’s a 15 minute drive’, they mean by bicycle”, Bruyninckx says. On all major axes, large, raised bicycle lanes are build, prohibiting cars to use them or park on them. There are no thresholds at crossings for cyclists. They have dedicated traffic lights and presort lanes. And the same infrastructure is implemented everywhere.
All bicycles paths are interconnected, even those for recreational use. At the Norrepost train station no bicycle parking space is unused. There are no car parks. Public transport is fine-tuned to the bicycle, not the car. The trains have special carriages for bicycles. Taxis have a mandatory bicycle rack on the back of the car. White electric bicycles are for rent at more then 100 stations, scattered over the city.
With the oil crisis in the seventies, Copenhagen made a radical choice for the bicycle and the same line was continued upon today. “The country had no more money for expensive car highways”, says Mikael Colville-Andersen from the Copenhagenize bureau that promotes the bicycle model in the world. “To some extend this was a good thing for us”.
Car on the second place
In the winter snow is cleaned of bicycle paths first. The car comes on the second place. Car parking space is rare and expensive. On weekdays in the centre of the city you’ll pay 4,7 euro per hour. Car lanes are replaced by bicycle lanes and that is going to happen more frequently because Copenhagen wants to be a CO2 neutral city by 2025.
Efficiency is the key for making the choice. “On streets with decent bicycle paths, 5.900 cyclists can pass through per hour. Only 1.300 people by car”. Every kilometre driven by car costs the community 15 euro-cent, the Danish calculated. Every kilometre driven by bicycle is a 16 cent profit. In this calculation factors as environment, health and wear of roads are taken into account too. It’s no surprise this policy infuriates a lot of car drivers.
Car ownership is increasing again with new residents and this worries the policy makers. New bicycle highways from the suburbs to the city centre have to bring new residents to the city without their car. “We are counting the number of cyclists and when we see a problem we try to solve it”, says Niels Hoé from HOE360 Consulting. “There is a huge shortage of bicycle parking space. We try to provide temporary ones at large events now”.
Copy to Belgium?
Can Belgium copy the model? “Don’t try this”, Louise Vogel Kielgast from architect bureau Gehl says. “You always have to take into account the local context and move step by step with a clear vision of the future and then it will work”. According to Mikael Colville-Andersen the recipes are simple and have proven to be efficient. “The principle ‘the bicycle gets you there the fastest way’, is valid everywhere”.