Copenhagen Close-up: Cycling City

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy .

Guest Blog | December 15, 2009 | Clean Transportation, Climate Change, Energy Policy

From the moment you leave the Copenhagen airport, it is apparent that you are in a city – no, a culture – that embraces alternative transportation as an integral part of everyday life.  The metro, trains and buses are generally pretty full and are clean, fast, efficient and – for those of us here for the Copenhagen climate negotiations – completely free.  Yet the quintessential Danish mode of transport – even in the cold and dark of a Scandanavian winter – is the bike.

Statistics tell me that every day 1.1 million km are bicycled in Copenhagen city.  My eyes tell me that this is a city where everyone bikes as a way of life. Coming from the United States where a biker has to fear rude drivers, at best, and injury or death, at worst, I am still amazed at the bike-friendly system on display in Denmark’s capitol city. This morning, on my way to work, I passed dozens if not a hundred bikers on their daily commute in their own paved and marked bike lane.  At this intersection, there were easily as many bikers as there were drivers – and bikers could actually chat with each other at red lights.

Bikers have more than dedicated bike lanes to encourage them to cycle.  For example,  some of the larger trains here in Copenhagen have bike cars with rubber clamps that secure your bike for the ride and then release easily at your destination.  On one train trip (pictured at the left) there were 4 bikes in my car alone and others on different train cars.  Far less high-tech, but still infrastructure that makes bike riding an easier experience, are the bike ramps along stairs in parks like the one pictured below.

It’s not that it’s impossible to push a bike up a set of 10 steps to get to a walkway.  However, by placing small yet irritating barriers in a city’s transport network, bikers are less likely, which means more drivers, more pollution and more greenhouse gas emissions.

When I first got here, I saw bikes as a homogenous entity – two wheels, a frame and handlebars.  Many sport a basket reminiscent of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. However, as I started walking all around the city, I came to see that Copenhagen has as many kinds of bikes as there are lifestyles.

There’s the functional bike that is the cycling transport mode for many, pictured here in the Danish version of a parking lot –

There’s the bike with child seat in back, which is likely familiar to many back home:

and ones with a child seat in front, which was a first for me.

Finally, and this is my hands-down favorite, there is the Danish version of a mini-van with most of the family accounted for on just three wheels, not four.

I have yet to get on a bike myself – spending time observing the negotiations and advocating for strong policies while attending two different clean-energy tours have left almost no free hours to date – but I am eager to try and hop on one before leaving at the end of the week.  The benefits of such a bike-friendly culture are numerous and laudable:  healthier people as a nation, reduced transport expenses for individuals and a lower carbon footprint for Denmark and the world. When cities in the States undertake urban planning and re-development processes, having a robust alternative transportation component is critical.  If you include bike-friendly components into the process, you get healthier people and a healthier planet in the bargain!

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