Copenhagen cycling infrastructure – a wonderful thing
I was struck by the huge number of cyclists in Copenhagen, and how relaxed, good looking and multitasking they were.
They can juggle pedalling, drinking a takeaway coffee, and talking on a mobile phone or chatting with their friend cycling next to them all at the same time. One day later I found myself riding with one hand, looking at a map spread over the handlebars, and shooting pictures with a camera held in the second hand. I felt totally safe and stress-free.
The second thing that struck me was the space and flatness. The wide spacious streets can host all traffic users without congestion. Of course, Copenhagen was not born with cycling lanes, but early on it started to think of liveable spaces for all. That is my impression of Danish urban planners. But Copenhagen undoubtedly has an advantage over other cities: it is as flat as a pancake. I could coast along even without putting much effort into pedalling.
But what makes Copenhagen outstanding is its network of cycle lanes. I realized how extensive and consistent it was while on long rides across the city’s neighbourhoods, where I even ventured towards the outskirts of town to see a futuristic skyscraper called Belle Sky.
You can pick any destination in town and be sure that will be a bike lane to take you there.
The bike lanes simply encourage you to keep cycling. The lanes are broad (two or three cyclists can ride side by side), raised a few centimetres above car lanes, and separated from roads by a curb or parking space.
Some stretches of the network are just perfect: the bicycle lane is separated from the rest of traffic first by a green buffer zone and then by a parking zone. There is no risk of a car parking on the bike lane or cutting you off, no risk of a car door opening into you. The bicycle lanes feel like safety zones. At no time was I disturbed by cars. I never heard any honking either.
To make the infrastructure even more perfect and tempting, the city has made additional improvements. To facilitate climbing the stairs with a bike, wheel gutters are installed on long stairs. There are separate traffic lights for cyclists, green waves which enable them to ride continuously at a speed of 20km without stopping as they always have a green light. There are even special cyclist-friendly rubbish bins mounted at an angle so you can throw your litter in as you cycle. At some junctions, you don’t even need to put your foot on the ground as there are hand and foot rests with an inviting message that reads “Hi cyclist! Rest your foot here – thank you for cycling in the city”.
Will you cargo me around?
Cargo bikes are a very common sight but what astonished me was what an awesome vehicle it is for hanging out with your pals and fostering friendships. People cruise around in a laid-back manner carrying their friends who squat inside the trailer with a relaxed smile on their faces and a cigarette or a snack in their hand. I caught sight of a man cycling and walking his dog at the same time, who eventually hopped inside the trailer to travel safely across the junction. Or a girl who was carrying a very large table. The most common local brands are Nihola and Christiania cargo bikes. The latter are hand-built in Freetown Christiania, a self-governed community where both cars and running are forbidden (well, you’re running=you’ve stolen something) and where bicycles abound.
By design, the bicycle is always clean. Ecologically clean. To wash it cyclists in Denmark are welcome by some petrol stations. Statoil has set up this bike wash & repair station enabling cyclists not only to clean their bikes (rubber gloves, paper, water and brush are provided), but also to lube, overhaul and fix them with the use of tools and devices available at the station.
The note on the blue wall reads:
You can care for your bicycle here. You can pump and wash your bicycle and, inside the shop, you’re welcome to borrow a free bicycle care kit with oil, tire levers, allen keys, etc.
In a small yard on Vesterbro street dotted with bikes crammed against the walls, there is a monument. A bike monument. No stone. No marble. Just bicycle frames welded into a maze. A short poem inscribed on the glass that wraps them up appealed to me a lot:
I have felt and thought
and longed on a bicycle
and I believe
I will keep on cycling
right until death tears the saddle
away from me
The excerpt comes from “Cykler i Sommerstedgade” by Lean Nielsen, who lived in this neighbourhood and in whose honour this monument was put up.