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Copenhagen's Biking Culture

By Juliet Eilperin

COPENHAGEN--This is a place where bike traffic outnumbers vehicular traffic in the city's center, where 60 percent of town residents commute to work on two wheels rather than four. When they get liquored up on weekends, there are companies such as MikroTaxi to transport them safely home--by bike.

The Danes, it appears, are a cycling people without parallel. And these are the boom years for peddling here.

There have been other spikes of course: the 1930s, when they had no money, and the 1970s, when the oil crisis hit. But in the past decade, biking has reached even greater heights.

Biking by city residents translates into 90,000 tons in avoided carbon dioxide each year, according to Copenhagen officials. But that's not why they do it.

"There's been a change toward urban lifestyles that's become very trendy, and cycling's part of it," explained Niels Tørvsløv, director of Copenhagen's traffic department. His job is to oversee bicycles, among other things, and the people who ride them.

People like Maren Uthaugh and Allan Hojen, who have three girls--Kamille, 7, Mynte, 4, and Anemone, nearly 2--and six bicycles among them. (That's one per person and a cargo bike, if you're counting.)

"We only use this every day," Uthaugh said, pointing to the family's cargo bike, which they had brought to City Hall for a bicycling symposium but usually use to take the kids to and from school. "You can get a lot in this one, kids, and groceries."

And Copenhagen isn't even the top biking city in Denmark. That distinction goes to Odense, which created the country's first biking trails in 1895, and today has more than 300 miles of bike trails.

In order to verify this phenomenon for Post Carbon readers, however, I felt I needed to venture out on Copenhagen's streets myself. So I accepted an invitation by the Danish Cycling Federation Thursday afternoon to peddle around with a group of reporters covering the climate talks, as well as some genuine Danes.

The upshot? Copenhagen is a biking city, but not in spandex-wearing, hybrid-frame sporting sort of way. The Danes wear ordinary clothing, they bike in the rain and their gear isn't particularly fancy.

But it's all in the planning: bike lanes along busy streets as well as a specified Green Path that encircles the city; biker-specific traffic lights and even barometers above intersections that show a girl cycling when it's decent weather.

It's the sort of touches, Tørvsløv said, that allows residents to feel safe traveling on just two wheels as they traverse the city streets. "You've got to provide a feeling of safety, otherwise you'll only have people who are willing to take the risks to fight the cars."

It's what allows Uthaugh and Hojen to keep their car stashed away, only using it to visit their family in Jylland, 186 miles away.

"The only problem is the rain," Uthaugh said. "In November it rained every day. That really sucked."

But they still biked.

Danish Cycling Federation consultant Allan Carlstensen explains why bicycling has become such a popular means of transportation in Denmark:


Juliet Eilperin

 |  December 14, 2009; 5:43 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It is easy to think that all the solutions to these "climate problems" lie outside of ourselves, our community, or our country. Instead of looking to Copenhagen, we can also look within the US and the DC area for biking inspiration. Davis, CA was the first city in the US to have bike lanes alongside their roads, and famously have more bikes than people. A great community based website provides all sorts of insights on biking- Davis is a great model of ways to build people sized cities that allow people to bike everywhere (and it doesn't help that it's flat!). DC also has a great bike share program, and the bike path along the Potomac RIver is becoming increasingly used every day. Let's advocate within our community, and seek local change. Start by asking our local county governments to line the roads with bike lanes and let's build from there.

Posted by: wp_hobo | December 16, 2009 2:40 AM
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