Elana Cole, ERS, for Zondits
Copenhagen built its first bike lane in 1910, but the bulk of the bike lanes were established within the last 25 years. Today, 50% of the citizens living in Copenhagen choose to commute by bike every day, and it’s not unusual to see people in suits, heels, or skirts comfortably pedaling to work. Most of them do it year-round – even in rain and snow. Whether it’s biking to work, to school, to run errands, or to meet a friend, most Danes associate the bicycle with positive values such as freedom and health. Cargo bikes are also commonly used for those who wish to safely ride with their children. In recent years, cycling has become a symbol of cultural pride, allowing Copenhagen to gain its reputation as one of the most – if not the most – bike-friendly cities in the world.
Copenhagen is built for cyclists and offers protected bike lanes stretching over 200 miles within the city. Per the Cycle Track Priority Plan, the city plans to expand this by nearly 43 miles of cycle tracks and 42 miles of green bicycle routes by 2026 to complete the network. The infrastructure of the cycling culture in Copenhagen includes a systematic network of restricted lanes designated as biking paths in all areas of the city. This means you can bike from one part of the city to another almost without leaving the bike path, which also ensures a faster travel time.
Biking in Copenhagen is a safe way to travel – the bike paths along the main roads are raised and isolated, mainly designed to protect cyclists from other vehicles on the road. Additionally, they are given their own stoplight and an early green light. When the weather in Copenhagen calls for a chance of snow, city policy mandates that snow be removed from bike paths before it is cleared from the car lanes (except for the car lanes on the four largest roads, which are cleared at the same time as the cycle tracks). This top priority helps explain why 80% of Copenhagen cyclists still choose bikes in January. Residents outside the city center can take a bike on the regional trains into Copenhagen free of charge, and within the city center, those who ride the Metro can buy an extra bike ticket with their fare to carry their bike. Many hotels in Copenhagen provide bicycles for their guests, and you can also find several bike rentals and bike tours throughout the city.
So, what is their motive behind biking? A 2006 survey found that 54% of Copenhagen cyclists ride because it’s easy and fast, 19% do it for exercise, and only 1% do it for environmental reasons. Biking has many benefits besides its quick travel time for busy commuters. Whatever your daily commute may be, biking helps you get your 30 minutes of daily exercise and aids in a longer life expectancy. The Capital Region of Denmark estimates that it has one million fewer sick days because those who reside in the region are such persistent bikers. For every 745 miles cycled, the average number of sick days’ decreases by one day. Biking is also a climate-neutral transport and has displaced more than one-third of all transportation fossil fuel use in Copenhagen, eliminating 90,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
So, if Copenhagen can develop such a great biking infrastructure, how can other cities follow in its footsteps? We must first acknowledge that Copenhagen wasn’t designed and constructed overnight. It has been in the making for decades, and the trend of prioritizing cyclists on the streets goes a long way in illustrating why there are more bikes than citizens in Copenhagen today. A focus on improving urban infrastructure is the first step to getting more people to bike. Most cyclists are concerned with safety when it comes to biking. Those who bike will only ride when they feel physically safe and when it’s fast, which means they need to be physically separated from cars. Copenhagen’s streets are designed to have bikes on the outside lane with either a bus lane or parking between cars and bikers. While we cannot redesign the streets of every city to include a safe bike lane, we should look to improve the infrastructure to focus on biker safety moving forward.