Bicycles are everywhere in Denmark, particularly in the capital city of Copenhagen. Alex Berger, aka the Virtual Wayfarer, highlights some of the things the city has done to foster a thriving bicycle culture.
Published: 5 November 2014 18:53 CET
Most Copenhageners bike year-round, regardless of weather. Photo: Alex Berger/Flickr
Over the last several years Copenhagen has become world famous for its incredible biking culture. It is no secret that there are a LOT of bikes in Copenhagen. The most commonly cited statistic is that more than half of Copenhageners bike daily to work or school. That, in and of itself, is pretty spectacular – but it is also just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amazing bike-centred things going on in Copenhagen.
After a somewhat rocky roll out, last year’s big announcement introduced Copenhagen’s new and heavily updated city bike programme, which replaced the recently retired free bike programme. While the reception has been lukewarm to the new bikes due to their high cost and the fact that they are no longer free to use, the updated bikes possess GPS, electric engines, electronic maps and a plethora of perks for the price of 25 kroner (about $4) an hour.
The new city bikes. Photo: GoBike
The city of Copenhagen has also undertaken and recently completed a number of expanded bike lanes, many of which are now roughly the same size as traditional car lanes. Other projects include cycle superhighways, bike-only stop lights, lean-rails for bikers waiting at lights, and proposals for built in street-based notifications to help bicyclists time their speed to avoid red lights and delays.
The latest of these safety innovations was introduced in September and focuses on tackling an emergent problem – the collision of Copenhageners exiting public buses and bicyclists who, while technically required to stop and yield to those disembarking from buses, don’t always remember to stop. Copenhagen’s solution? An innovative plan to build lights into the bicycle paths which will direct bikers to stop when a bus is present and unloading passengers. In effect, this is a modern and updated take on the old school bus “STOP” sign. It’s precisely because of initiatives like this that bike-usage in Copenhagen is continuing to grow. Biking is safe, incredibly good for you, convenient and a priority across all levels of society.
Part of what makes biking in Copenhagen such an organic experience is the fact that it is socially integrated into the culture. Many workplaces have a changing room set aside for bikers and it is very common to see top level business professionals in suits biking to/from work. One estimate even suggests that over 60 percent of MPs bike to work at Christiansborg Palace.
The Danish postal service also operates more than 300 postal bikes which service a large portion of the city’s daily postal delivery. They’re pretty cool bikes with an electrical supplement, all weather bags, and a special design to hold all that mail. And, speaking of all weather bags, the Danes really do bike in all types of weather with about 75 percent biking year-round. A trend which is made much easier by specialised machinery and an army of municipal vehicles that prioritise keeping the bike lanes clear and ice-free.
Photo: Henrik Petit/PostDanmark
In place of mini vans you’ll also find that many Danish families living in the city have opted for a type of cargo bike which locals call a Christiania bike. With three wheels and a big box in front with room for several kids, a dog, a romantic partner, or a good friend these Christiania bikes are the city’s workhorses. The latest stats indicate that more than 25 percent of families with two or more kids own a Christiania bike and use it regularly – not a bad way to grow up, ehh?
So, what happens when you have more than half of your population biking on a daily basis? You get some pretty incredible bike traffic stats. Three of the busiest bike streets in Copenhagen include Knippelsbro, Nørrebrogade, and Langebro which boast on average 40,700, 36,000, and 30,200 cyclists per day. Over 11,500 cyclists use the new Cykelslangen cycling bridge each month. This, as you can imagine, requires a lot of bikes – roughly 650,000 for the Copenhagen area in fact. Unfortunately, despite amazingly low levels of crime in Copenhagen one of the few things that do get stolen regularly are bikes with more than 18,000 bikes reported stolen each year. Though when cross referenced against the 16,000 abandoned/forgotten bikes that are re-claimed or disposed of by the municipality I suppose it isn’t that bad. Wondering how bikes get forgotten? When you’ve got 650,000 bikes that look similar and a vibrant drinking culture even the Danes, who are often more stable biking than walking while drunk, have almost all lost or “donated” at least one bike over the years.
Many a bike has been “donated” around the city. Photo: Alex Berger/Flickr
The folks over at Cykelvalg.dk put together the following awesome infographic which I’ve referenced heavily for this post (click it for a larger version). Many of the stats also come from Visit Copenhagen’s page on Copenhagen’s bike culture.
So, next time you hear that “Copenhagen is an awesome biking city” hopefully you’ll have a better appreciation and understanding for not only what that means, but the investment from the city and the local population which makes Danish bicycle culture an exciting reality.
You can also see a video I recorded on Copenhagen’s biking culture below, as well as another one here.
Alex Berger is an American travel writer, photographer, and digital communications professional currently based in Copenhagen. He authors the popular travel and culture blog VirtualWayfarer while documenting daily life in Denmark on Instagram as @VirtualWayfarer and on flickr.
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