- Bicycle Culture by Design: Copenhagen City of Bikes

Before I begin, if you don´t live in Denmark or the Netherlands, you may feel that if only your city was as welcoming to bikes. On the other hand, if you live en many Southern European cities, where the municipality has had enough reason to conclude, that cars ruin the old city center, and have virtually banned cars inside the old city walls, you may not be so envious.

Copenhagen advertises it self as a bike-city, whatever that is, if you are a tourist and understood Danish, you would rightly be confused to notice that on most buildings in the city, small signs advertise the opposite; ”Cykler fjernes uden ansvar” Bikes are removed, no responsibility accepted”.  I bet you, more money went into these small signs, than into bike racks in the city. Strange thing is, it is not allowed to remove bikes from public spaces, unless they block fire exits. Even so, it is accepted by police and the city, to advertise this illegal threat.

The Police, which publicly announces it could not care less about peoples bikes getting stolen, also condones getting rid of bikes that annoy you, for whatever (by the letter of the law) unjustified reason. Welcome to the City of bikes!

This has for some time made no sense to me. This last couple of weeks there has been some public debate about a rise in traffic tickets for bicyclists. Of course there is nothing wrong with ticketing traffic offenses, and of course now and again the price of the offense needs to be adjusted to the general pricing and earnings in society, to have any effect. The bicycle association claiming there should be some leeway when offenses did neither harm any victims nor interrupt other commuters in traffic. 

In some instances, we al ready have such rules, for example if a bicyclist wants to turn left in a traffic light, you must cross to the opposite side, but does not need to wait for the light to change before completing the turn, as long as you are not interrupting the traffic going straight through the light. This is incidentally the opposite of what we teach children in school, because we are more occupied by keeping them alive, than having them to cross town fast., Which again is why many thinks bicyclists crosses red more often than we do, as most people will ot have noticed that you are completing a left turn, and not just crossing a red.

But why should cyclist not just obey the law, no matter the circumstances? Well, as long as the city is designed for cars and pedestrians, and all bicyclist lanes are tertiary to planning, often remedying solutions after the fact. Because we may call our city a bike city, but we are, and invest primarily in a car city.

·      30 times as much space is allocated for car parking, compared to bike parking.

·      99% of traffic lights are planned for car traffic. How many lights in crossings would we need at all, if it was not for cars. When people frown upon pedestrians or cyclists, who decide to ignore a red, they often forget, the light is there because of cars, not to regulate pedestrians or bikes.

·      In not one place do a bike path have right of way, when crossing or being crossed by car traffic, in 100% of all instances cars have right of way.

·      To avoid cars killing bikes when turning left, the city hast started to make an extra traffic light for bicyclists, so we have to wait for red, while cars turn right, then we can proceed ten feet to the next light where we can wait again at red, before we can resume following the main road.

·      In most cases bike lanes stops 50 feet before a traffic light, to make room for a right-turn lane for cars, a clear policy of the Copenhagen Police to prioritize car mobility and flow of traffic over bicyclist safety.

·      Cars turning right are supposed to block the way of bicycles going straight or turning left. This means when the light changes the cars wait for the zebra crossing to clear for pedestrians, then the cars turning right will go, and only then is the road free for biccyles going straight across the light.

·      In the Road Authority manuals on designing roads, cyclists are all but non-existent. Roads in Denmark are still designed out of a cars-speed-&-capacity paradigm only, sidewalks are always included from the then later in the planning process or after building the road, bike lanes are added.

·      When speed limits are set, the principle is the speed of which 85% of cars will travel by, had there been no speed limit. One might in stead expect primary use of a lethal weapon such as a car, to be considered after evaluating the soft traffic in the street, is it residential, is it primarily children families, is it a school or merchant street or a public transportation hub, what is the total use of the area, what is the intention rather than a car centric evaluation.

·      Recently the city council voted to increase investments in parking further, as their analyses showed a lack of parking spaces in residential areas in the Inner city (Østerbro), which is correct if you do not include paid parking. The city assume its services to include whatever volume of free parking, the residents demand.

·      Investments in car parking only since 2005 in Copenhagen, exceeds all investments related to bike infrastructure by a factor of 4!

I think much of the reason cyclists tend to break some of the rules in traffic, is that we are the majority group, we are legion, but we are treated as a minority, which the city try to make room for, try!

A fellow bicyle advocate,  recently wrote: “The day they put in the first bike path was the day cycling received its mortal wound. It took decades to take effect and it'll probably survive a few more years on life support, but unless cyclists are integrated, the dream is effectively over.”

I think he may be quite right, we need to change our paradigm of what city traffic is, and design our streets to the life we want in them, not the cars the Police wants in them.

The other major reason cyclists break the rules in Denmark, is that Danes are rather rude, no matter if we walk, bike, drive a car or a bus. We are unreasonable inconsiderate, and are more occupied about what we think are our rights, rather than to make room for safe travel for everybody. A really sad national characteristic, but its not specific to mode of transportation.

Read More