Last weekend I visited Copenhagen. I fully expected to return full of gushing praise and write up a post on how Copenhagen is the most brilliant place ever created. Then, I could fill it with great pictures of fashionable cyclists riding around the city.
Indeed, there we many things that amazed me.
For a start, they actually care about cyclists on public transport. Instead of making cyclists feel like second class citizens, there is plentiful space for you to store your bike on the train. Plus stations are easy to access by bike, through ramps, lifts and plentiful cycle parking.
There are also cycle lanes everywhere. In the Danish capital you’ll find 400km (250 miles) of cycle paths. When the Danish say cycle lanes, they mean an actual lane separated from traffic, with clever junction design that prioritises vulnerable road users. Not a lick of blue paint over an already existing cycle route.
Where we saw road works, the cycle lane remained fully accessible. In London, the first thing a construction company blocks is the cycle lane and they don’t tend to provide an alternative route. This is particularly pertinent, as one of the most popular cycle routes in London, with an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 trips per day, is being closed without any alternatives being provided. (Read more on this)
In amongst all the cyclists, there was an even split between males and females. In fact, at most times I believe there were more females than males on bikes. This is in stark contrast to London, where cycling is still predominantly a male pursuit. It is said that one of the best tests whether cycling has really taken off in a city, is to look at the gender distribution of the cyclists.
Another stark difference between London and Copenhagen is that cycling is an incredibly social way to get around. You see friends happily cycling alongside each other. This is vitally important for making a mode of transport more appealing. Thanks to the wide cycle lanes in many parts of the city, people can ride side by side.
That all sounds amazing – what isn’t to like?
To discover what there isn’t to like about cycling in Copenhagen, you have to get off the bike.
As a pedestrian around the city, I always felt like at any moment I could be hit by a bike. Fortunately, the cyclists we encountered were courteous, but you couldn’t help but feel that a lapse in concentration could result in a painful incident.
This is particular noticeable when crossing the road. There’s always a cyclist speeding along and you really have to pay attention. Of course it doesn’t help that I kept looking right instead of left!
As a consequence of the sheer number of cyclists, is the sheer number of bikes everywhere. These often looked cluttered and many shops had signs up asking people to not leave their bikes outside. I prefer bikes everywhere, than cars everywhere, but I was surprised there wasn’t more consistent cycle parking provision.
As a proficient cyclist in London, I was shocked at how worried I was about cycling in Copenhagen. Layouts are different and its hard to tell when someone has priority. Everything feels very fast paced and as someone just starting out, I constantly felt I was doing something wrong.
That’s because you are a tourist
Most of these issues I believe were only really noticeable to me because I visited the city as a tourist. I’m sure that the more I cycled in Copenhagen, the most comfortable I’d feel. Much like how I personally feel safe cycling in London, where a new cyclist would feel worried.
Cities such as Copenhagen remain a great living model of what London could one day achieve. The Mayor of London, and planners at TfL should visit these places, to see how to create conditions that make cycling more appealing to a wider group of people, not just those who are happy to take on London’s traffic.
I’m hoping to spend my next cycling holiday in France. I know that the provision there is no match for what I saw in Copenhagen, but I’m interested in continuing to visit different cities and seeing how they do cycling there.
As always, I’m interested in reading your thoughts. I’d be particularly interested in hearing from someone who lives in Copenhagen about some of the things I disliked and whether these are still noticeable to locals.
P.S. I’ll be sharing more pictures shortly on my Flickr.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.