- Bicycle Culture by Design: The Danish Police's Abuse of Power & Influence

Mogens Knudsen, Operativ leder i færdelspolitiet ved Københavns Politi There’s a man in Copenhagen named Mogens. Mogens Knudsen. What’s interesting about this man is that virtually every single day he goes to work he hurts and, in many situations, kills people. Indirectly, of course. What’s more, Mogens actually gets paid to do so. He is a civil servant with a badge. A policeman. The head of the Traffic Dept in Copenhagen Police. Mogens is not particularly fond of those fellow citizens of his who ride bicycles in Copenhagen. He has for many years and has always been vocal about it.

If Mogens seems scary, it gets worse. Mogens has colleagues who feel the same way and who also get paid to dish out injury and, in worst cases, death. Mogens and his colleagues make the Danish Road Safety Council’s crusade against Danish bicycle culture look like piecemeal.

Welcome to the Danish Police. Welcome to The New Copenhagen.

By all accounts, Mogens and police seem to be orchestrating a counter-offensive after the articles here on the blog and in The Copenhagen Post. Using their press mailing list to get their last century opinions out.

What makes Mogens scary is that he and the Danish police have power - and they abuse it - as we highlighted in Part 2 of our State of Copenhagen Congestion series. The police refuse to make our streets safer and they veto all initiatives aimed at doing so. Which keeps people getting injured and killed.

In an article in The Copenhagen Post entitled " In ‘City of Cyclists’, cops accused of putting cars first, spawned by our above article about the blood on the hands of the police, Harry Lahrmann - associate professor at the department of development & planning at Aalborg University - was quoted as saying; “The police do not have to approve of any changes [and] do not have to give any reasons.” “It’s strange that you have elected politicians who don’t have the power to make traffic plans they want to make,” Lahrmann said. “Over the past 20 or 30 years, I have been saying that we should remove some of the decision-making from the police. It’s problematic that the council has the responsibility for how the city works, but does not have all the tools it needs.”

“Copenhagen City Council has wanted to reduce the speed limit to 40 km/h for many years, but the police don’t want to give their permission. From a traffic safety perspective, it’s a good idea to lower the speed limit, but the police simply don’t want to enforce it.

If that isn’t abuse of power then I don’t know what is. And it’s all based on little else than the personal perception of Mogens and some of his colleagues. He admitted to me a couple of years ago that the police never go on study trips or keep up to speed on traffic safety developments. Basically, they adhere to a point of view with its roots in the late 1950s.

In addition to the power they abuse, they have influence. This week, Mogens and his colleagues have whipped up a veritable media frenzy, broadcasting their dislike of bicycle users to the Danish nation. Amazingly, the press has happily hopped onto the bandwagon. It’s Hate the Bicycle Users week in Denmark. Seriously.

In the Danish newspaper, Politiken - which so desperately tries to emulate The Guardian and the New York Times but falls so desperately short - lapped up the Mogens rant, giving him the run of their online version. Never before has an entire article featured such a monologue from such a grumpy old man allowed to spout nothing more than his own personal perception.

“Cyclists are the cuckoos of the traffic” he was quoted as saying

. The rest of the article, copy-pasted over a Baresso coffee by the journalist Line Prasz, was built around Mogens’ rant.


The only voice to be heard protesting in the article was the normally sleepy Danish Cyclists Federation. Amazingly, they reacted strongly to the Mogensese diatribe and used phrasology plucked right out of Copenhagenize. We’re flattered, of course. But we’re mostly pleased that the DCF were woken out of their slumber:

It’s a strongly notable comment (Ed: about the cuckoo) which could just as well be focused on motorists - who often cause deaths,” said Frits Bredal, Head of Press for the Federation.

Yeah, okay, that was a lame, grandfatherly start to their response, but bear with me:

He (Ed: Mogens) simply hasn’t moved into the new millenium. He lives in a car culture where he thinks Copenhagen is Los Angeles and that all traffic systems are constructed for automobiles. Then there’s a kind of an ‘add-on’, which are cyclists, and they irritate him,” said Frits Bredal.

It’s about time the DCF slipped out of their woolen socks and sandals, mussed up their neatly-trimmed beards and stepped into some ass-kicking Doc Martens.

In another chapter of the current witchhunt, the television channel TV2 - our sadly inadequate Fox News wannabe - enlisted the help of another cop, Michael Bjørkman. They stood on the corner of the busiest bicycle street in the world and watched Armageddon unfold. You can’t embed their content, but here’s the link to their “How rotten Copenhagen’s cyclists ride” clip. Here are the highlights:

0:49 to about 1:00 - Citizen Cyclists rolling casually across a crosswalk at a pedestrian pace. Snore. It had BETTER get more exciting than THIS. 1:20 - Ooh! Drama! A bicycle user rolls past the red light. The cop’s voice goes up a pitch in excitement. He can hardly contain his thrill - uh - professional displeasure. Yes, illegal, but my goodness, it all happened at 12 km/h and nobody seemed bothered by it. What’s more, it’s incredibly rare.

2:18 - A bicycle user rolls casually around the corner on the sidewalk. No pedestrians were around, as the man says himself. I have often watched bicycle user behaviour at this spot. When there are pedestrians, hardly any bicycle users use the wide sidewalk to turn right. But some do when the coast is clear. Like we’ve said before, the City should move into these spots and improve the infrastructure, listening to peoples’ Desire Lines.

Goodness me. If this is all they can uncover on a busy day on the cycle tracks, they are well and truly on thin ice with their claims. We’re looking forward to publishing our Desire Line study - The Choreography of an Urban Intersection - as it will only serve to make Mogens and his cronies look rather ridiculous and show that this “bad behaviour” is largely in the minds of the police, who are hell bent on preserving the Remains of the Automobile Day and a last century mentality about the role of cars in our cities. Although even last century - in 1934 to be exact - famous Danish satirist Storm P. (Robert Storm Petersen) had a go at the Mogens’ of the day in this ironic piece.

Cyclists in Copenhagen are the best behaved that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. 125 years of unchanged behaviour is probably a sign that whining about it won’t work. Cyclists are forced to ride in a traffic culture and abide by traffic laws that were invented to serve the automobile. A completely different form of transport. Change the rules to accommodate cyclists. Reclaim space from deadly automobiles. You know, if you’re serious about traffic safety, liveable cities and promoting cycling. This entire witchhunt we’ve seen over the past three or so years is peaking now. All of it based on perception and all of it regurgitated by the press. Mogens and his colleagues are nothing more than humourless, conservative pimps whoring out our cities to a long line of faceless automobiles Johns. (yes, I’ve used that metaphor twice this week, but by golly I like it.) The Danish Police. Abuse of power. Abuse of media. And completely unaccountable for it. Blood on their hands. —– Here are some of the other articles in our series about the Danish and Copenhagen police:

The State of Copenhagen Congestion Part 2

In ‘City of Cyclists’, Cops accused of putting cars first. Featuring interview with Lars.

Danish Police Ignorance

Hunting Cyclists for Fun & Profit

Copenhagen Cyclist Harrassment

Police Tickets - No New is Big News

The Facebook group for 30 km/h Zones in Copenhagen.

The Cykelrazzia Facebook group.

Read More