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Copenhagen’s Climate-Friendly, Bike-Friendly Streets

Tens of thousands of people from nearly every nation on earth have descended on Copenhagen this month for the UN climate summit. As the delegates try to piece together a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they're also absorbing lessons from one of the world's leading cities in sustainable transportation. In Copenhagen, fully 37 percent of commute trips are made by bike, and mode share among city residents alone is even higher.

Come see "the busiest bicycling street in the Western world", and lots of other you-gotta-see-them-to-believe-them features including bike counters (featuring digital readouts), LEDS, double bike lanes (for passing) and giant hot pink cars.

Copenhagen wasn't always such a bicycling haven. It took many years of investment in bike infrastructure to reclaim streets from more polluting, less sustainable modes. Last week, I was able to squeeze in a whirl-wind tour with Mikael Colville-Andersen, the bike culture evangelist behind Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic, to get a taste of the city's impressive bike network and cycling amenities. Watch this video and see how Copenhageners flock to the streets by bike even in December, when average temperatures hover just above freezing.

 

 

 

[music]
Mikael Colville-Andersen: We're here in Copenhagen. Welcome to Copenhagen. The climate conference is in full swing at the moment and we're standing here on what is regarded as the busiest bicycle street in the western world. We have a long proud tradition of cycling in Denmark and in Copenhagen. It all started to disappear in the 1960s with the advent of car culture. We spent the last 30 years working hard towards reestablishing the bicycle as a feasible and acceptable form of transport here in the city. We can see here we're standing next to one of the City of Copenhagen's bicycle counters and there is two reasons for implementing these bicycle counters in Copenhagen. One of them is that the data that is gathered here is transmitted to the city so they can track patterns, weather patterns, we get snowing, how many people are riding today or whatnot. But it's also to instill a form of civic pride in Copenhagen. It's because we don't notice the bicycles. The bicycles are tools for us. It's the quickest way to get around the city. So, instilling the kind of civic pride in Copenhageners. "Hey, you know what? You live in the world's cycling capital and look how many people are riding" and hopefully this will encourage more people to ride.

In Copenhagen, at the moment, we have 37 percent of all commuters choosing the bicycles for work, or educational institutions, or schools, and whatnot, 37 percent. Actually, if you look at the number of all trips by bike to the supermarket, to the cinema, we're up to 55 percent in the city of Copenhagen. But we're actually working towards increasing these numbers. We want the number of commuters on bike up to 50 percent by 2015. We are going to take a ride around Copenhagen and see some of the infrastructural things that we're doing you know to encourage more people to cycle and to keep our cyclists safe.

And this street here is called Nørrebro North Bridge Street and we're going to take a ride up here because this is actually quite a well known street this year, in the last couple of years from a urban planning perspective and bicycle planning perspective. You can see on this stretch, it's the busiest bicycle street in the western world of 38.000 cyclists but what we have done first of all on some of the busy stretches was that we doubled the bike lanes. We took another lane away from the cars and we have a double bike lane here to accommodate the enormous amount of traffic.

This is the first place in the world where we have created the "Green Wave" for cyclists for six kilometers into the center of the city. All the traffic lights are coordinated for bikes. You have to ride 20 kilometers an hour. If you do that, you're not going to put a foot down all the way to the center of the city.

The evolution of our bicycle culture and our bicycle infrastructure is it's always evolving. We're always working on improving safety, improving the mobility of the bicycles. In a lot of intersections, we have "pre-greens" as we call them, where the lights for bicycles turn green seconds before the cars, between two seconds, in some cases up to 12 seconds before the cars. This is just to allow the bicycle traffic to start flowing. But every intersection is individual.

This intersection, this used to be one of the most dangerous intersections in Denmark. 15 serious accidents a year in this intersection here by the lake. Now we've reduced it to one serious accident a year which is absolutely amazing.

This is brand new. From last week, we have introduced LED lights on our bicycle infrastructure to help avoid right turn conflicts between cars and bikes. So, what we have is, we have these flashing lights that indicate that a bicycle is on the way through the intersection. So, it's only visible to cars in their side mirrors. They're not visible for the cyclists who are riding because we would rather have them looking at the traffic. So, now you can see they've turned off. The cyclists have stopped and the cars are allowed to turn.

One of the things that makes Copenhagen very unique is the number of cargo bikes that we have here. When so few people own cars, we still need to transport various things around. In Copenhagen, there's about 30,000 cargo bikes on the streets every day. These are really our SUVs. You cannot live without them, the bike I've been riding on today. I pick up my two kids every day from school and daycare and go to the supermarket and whatnot.

So, the problem with these are that they're expensive. You don't really want to leave him on the street. The city of Copenhagen has a new initiative they're just test driving at the moment and this is a way to give our cargo bikes a place to park on the street. It's a car but there's cargo bikes in it and it's locked and it's secured. We took away one parking spot for cars by implementing this here. So, there's room for four people to park where there used to be only room for one.

If you make the bicycle the quickest way to get around the city, for the citizens, with separated bicycle infrastructure with lots of initiative for the bicycle. You're going to get everybody and their dog to do it and they're going to do their bit for the environment and for reducing pollution in the city and all the good things and for the public health.

I hope we can inspire other cities to do the same, implementing the bicycle as a prospective and accepted and feasible form of transport. And really, this is bicycle culture 2.0. The bicycle wasn't invented yesterday. All cities in the world used to have a bicycle as a main feature on their landscape. We did it again here in Copenhagen. Other cities are doing it again. It's possible for every city.

[music]



Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • Tallycyclist

    I too love Copenhagen.  Such a bike-friendly city and so livable.  One major difference between Denmark and the US is their approach to marketing cycling to people.  In Denmark, they make it (and present it as) fast, convenient, safe and easy for people to get around the city.  That's what every commuter wants and why so many people choose the bike over the car or public transit.  There was a poll done in Denmark and only 1% cycled because of the environment as one of the top 5 reasons.  That doesn't mean 99% of Danes who cycle don't care about the environment, it's just not top 5 as a factor.  

    Here in the US, I always see it marketed as being green and environmentally friendly and also good for your health.  I'm not questioning whether this is true or not (it is) but most people don't care about this.  And even the ones that do, I can guarantee it's not top 3 on their priority of things in their life.  Furthermore, there's a strong association of environmentalism to liberals/socialists/hippies, and most people aren't interested in being put into that category.  I hope that all people will care about the environment someday, but that's step #10.  We're at step #1 right now and skipping steps isn't going to get the masses very far.  First give people good reasons to cycle, and then gradually they will naturally be able to appreciate their surroundings more and the pace of life can decelerate somewhat to a more enjoyable level.  

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  • Poul Madsen

    Thanks for posting this video. It makes me proud to live in Copenhagen!

  • sumit

    Wow, this is amazing, a world without automobile wd turn our planet green again.