Copenhagen wasn’t built in a day

Written by pete


Last week’s post on the small things that can frustrate a bike commute provoked a lot of responses from Footprint readers.

Hills, distance, reckless drivers, lack of bike lanes, no showers at work… it’s a long list. For my part, I got over the hump (literally) and took the bike route around the huge hill, giving me a longer, shallower hill, but at least it’s possible. And as Michael and others observed, I’m going to be pretty fit if I take it on every day,

It really does feel good to be out on the bike rather than crammed into the Muni first thing in the morning (and the ride being mostly downhill on the way in helps, I guess). So I felt a little smug when I saw and read some of the stories there. But lucky too, I suppose. I’ve only really lived in three cities in my life — Edinburgh (Scotland), London and San Francisco — and each takes bicyclists and alternative transportation pretty seriously.

My Commute Sucks is a project of Transportation for America. It encourages users to post horror stories about their daily commutes and invites them to sign a petition for Congress. It’s a great way of aggregating details of some of these barriers to better commutes — especially public transportation and cycling. The internet must be littered with comment threads like last week’s, full of frustrated would-be cyclists, train travelers or bus riders. Is complaining in comment threads really going to help?

Which leads me (finally) to Copenhagen and the title of the post. Earlier in the month Adam noted another of the Danish capital’s clever bids to encourage more cycling with a novel digital display counting the number of bikes to pass along a particular road. It’s the latest in a long series of infrastructural and incentive-driven initiatives to get more people on their bikes. According to, 40 years ago the city was just as car-clogged as anywhere else. Today 36% of the city’s population chooses to ride and their biggest concern is the appearance of the dedicated bike lane street sweeper. *[Ed: their bike lanes get swept specially?!]*

We can save the full history of Copenhagen’s transformation to bike capital of world for another post, but there’s one innovation worth highlighting: we’ve commented here on the new bike sharing programs in Paris and elsewhere. Denmark’s free bike-sharing scheme began in 1991 when 5,000 bicycles were placed in bike racks throughout the city.

So if you want to see progress, get that bike-sharing scheme up and running. If all goes to plan, who knows, maybe in 18 years’ time you’ll have dedicated bike lane sweepers.

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  1. Augeus

    Biking is fine and should be encouraged and assisted but one must advance a pro-bike policy with care. In Paris, car drivers frustrated by the limits imposed on their freedom of movement are taking to buying motorbykes and driving illegally and aggressively in the bicycle lanes. Bikers, too, must respect common sense and courtesy, and respond to rising complaints made in, for instance, London about their reckless conduct. We are not all as law abiding as the Danes.

  2. Susan Thompson

    WAH! Ride on the sidewalks and walk your bike uphill if it’s too steep. It’s all part of the plan to save.
    I did it fon the first 25 years of my life before I bought my first car. Didn’t hurt! Or move closer to work. Hao badly do you want to help the economy, and hurt the gas machine.

  3. Mike Beaumont

    Riding on the sidewalk is illegal in most cities. It is in mine.

  4. Kiersten

    I lived in Copenhagen for four months and took the commute from outer city to inner city once or twice each day on various modes of transportation. Each was incredibly efficient, but not as efficient as the bike.
    The transformation of Copenhagen did not come when free bikes were scattered throughout Copenhagen (this is more of a tourist attraction), but when they elevated the biking lane some two inches from the main road. This small adjustment made it safer and far more popular. When it comes down to it, it is just faster and cheaper to bike than to take any other form of transportation! It helps that Denmark is completely flat as well.
    Safety is the main draw– biking in Boston is for those with a death wish, only because Boston roads are not outfitted for bikers.