Wednesday, November 16, 2011


To say that Danes like to bike would be a gross understatement. In Copenhagen, bikes literally rule the roads and way of life. Biking paths make up half to two thirds of almost all streets. More people seem to be biking to work than driving. It's incredible! AND, bicyclists (as well as pedestrians,) obey all the traffic laws. I attempted to jay walk the other day when I saw that no cars were coming and both the fellow pedestrians and bicyclists standing next to me, waiting for the light, looked at me in a somewhat horrified manner. The simple truth is that people wait for the traffic light here, they signal before they turn on their bike and they're courteous to one another and the pedestrians around them.

It also helps that biking is such a high national priority and receives incredible support from both citizens and the State. This fact is evidenced by the great myriad of groups organized to protect biking rights and infrastructure: Denmark's Cycle Union, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark and the Cycling Secretariat within the government's Traffic Department. This last one has a goal of supporting a 50% biking commuter rate within the city of Copenhagen. Imagine the environmental impact of such a policy in Washington, DC, Chicago or New York City!

What I love most about the biking culture in Copenhagen is the overall personal enthusiasm. People seem like they're just really having fun, even as they head to work. And all ages are joining in the fun. And for children who are too young to do commuter biking, they get to ride in everything from nifty looking horse like carts to designer children seats and carriages. In this way, Danes have taken the art of biking to a whole new level. One of my fellow ActionAid colleagues in the Denmark office explained to me that she can technically fit 5 people in her bike chariot (my word, not hers.) Herself, a child in back and an adult and two small children in the cart in front...the entire family!

The enthusiasm is further felt through the great eclectic assortment of bicycles and their accouterments. Old time classics with wide handle bars and large wicker baskets seem to be one of the favorites. Large attached carts that can carry everything from children to furniture, designer weather-proof, tented carriages, bikes decorated with ribbons or fake flowers. You name it!

Here are a few other fun Copenhagen bike facts to give us some fuel for thought back in the States. Traffic lights include a special signal for bicyclists. People rarely, rarely lock up their bikes, but rather leave them outside of their office or apartment, on the street. Danish adults rarely wear helmets in Copenhagen (don't worry, Mom, I promise to not follow their example;), yet have one of the lowest rates of bicycling related accidents, including head injuries. The city helps track how many bikers ride over certain bridges per day with sensors that display the numbers for all to see.

Yes, it's clear that bicycles are the norm in Copenhagen and that Danes and those living in the city are the happier and healthier for it. It's just a small, yet important detail of this incredibly health-conscious culture that highly values simple living. It's an inspiring example of how the power of people, innovative thinking and political will can converge to create a more holistic, environmentally friendly city. Hopefully cities in the U.S. can learn the lesson as well.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing. year's ago when I was traveling Uzbekistan I saw many many people riding bike in Namanghan city. But special lights and support from govt that's awesome.