Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a workshop in Copenhagen (funding for my place was kindly provided by PROGRESS – the EU’s employment and social solidarity programme). You can view my presentation on transport and social inclusion here. This post isn’t about the conference though – instead I thought I’d share some random thoughts on what is an incredibly inspiring city from a mobility point of view.
Let’s start with the road space. Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists get the same amount of space on the road (where cars are allowed that is – many of the shopping streets are for people and bikes only). This means wide pavements for pedestrians (no more pavement rage as there’s ample room to overtake the ‘statelier’ walkers!) and wide lanes for cyclists who in theory could ride up to three abreast (although would only do so when overtaking).
Compared to this, cars, occupying the same amount of road space, look positively cramped and there is a real visual sense that they are the least attractive travel option. Cyclists stream past at a much faster and free-flowing pace – the evening rush hour in particular is a real sight to behold as the stream becomes a torrent of people pedalling home while the cars inch along next to them – wish I’d taken a picture!
Then there are the bikes themselves. There’s no shame in having an old bone-shaker/sit-up-and-beg bike – there are very few mountain bikes here. Most people have standard shopper bikes – all you need for the urban jungle. Standard doesn’t mean dull though, as this pic of a very lovely and shiny red shopper shows. Check out this blog – Cycle Chic – tag-line ‘Hold my bicycle while I kiss your girlfriend’ (!) for more stylish Danes doing what they do best!
From the chic to the highly practical – many people in Copenhagen attach big trailers to the front of their bikes and I saw people carrying everything in them from what you would expect (shopping) to what you wouldn’t – girlfriends and gigantic houseplants spring to mind. When I googled this I found that you can also transport pirates in these contraptions:
Such additions would stand little chance of fitting in the measly, narrow and fragmented cycle lanes we witness in many of our towns and cities. In Copenhagen, the bike is a very practical item and the useful add-ons mean you can use it for most tasks around the city from the weekly shop, to moving house – not to mention swashbuckling expeditions.
The city is also a safe place for pedestrians – everybody (except maybe the tourists, but they learn!) waits for the green man before they cross. How refreshing – especially for someone like me who’s road crossing technique might be best described as ‘rabbit in headlights’.
All in all, my impression was of a city where pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and motorists live harmoniously and where, most strikingly, the bike was a highly visible, attractive and practical alternative to the car for many journeys. I think we need to get away from thinking that walking, cycling, driving and using public transport have to be in competition with one another – all have their uses depending on the journey you need to make. The trick is to get them all joined up and working together as seamlessly (and as greenly) as possible. It’s about ‘bikes and…’ not ‘bikes or…’.