Copenhagen is right now recognized as the best biking city in the world. Not surprising for a place that invented their own kind of bike — the Christiania bike, which apparently is the hot thing to use in Europe. And pretty adorable when filled with tiny Scandinavian children being biked around by their really really really ridiculously good looking parents.
This bike friendliness doesn’t just start happening organically. It takes a huge investment in design and city planning to help over 35% of your citizens commute to work by bike. That’s more people than bike to work in the entire U.S. on any given day. The city of Copenhagen is already doing quite well, but they haven’t given up. The municipal council’s current motto is “good, better, best — The City of Copenhagen’s Bicycle Strategy 2011-2025” working to build around the themes of city life, comfort, speed and safety.
One of the people most credited with helping solve these problems is architect Jan Gehl, who said of the project:
“In Copenhagen we’ve pioneered this as a working method: study what’s going on, look at the problems and potentials, improve it, and check it again, so that you can follow the development. Observations like being able to point out that we have four times more public life in Copenhagen after twenty years of work, have been very strong in convincing people about the value of what has been going on.”
Safety and public planning
Bicycle lanes are pretty much the first obstacle in the road when it comes to creating a city for bikes. You can’t have bikes weaving in and out of vehicular traffic, nor pedestrians on the sidewalk. Right now Copenhagen has almost 300 miles of bicycle tracks throughout the city.
One of the main concepts at work in the city now is “Copenhagen-style bicycle lanes,” where the bicycle lane is protected from ongoing traffic by an object, such as a bus stop or a row of parked cars. Of course, this isn’t possible on every street, but the principle generally stands that where there is the space, there is a little extra room to give the bicyclists a wider comfort zone and the ability to make cycling a social activity, with room for more than one bike side-by-side.
In addition you have to think about the laws regulating those lanes. For instance, in the U.S. cars are allowed to make a right turn on a red light, whereas in Copenhagen that would be impossible without interrupting the flow of the bike lanes and the safety of the bikers. So the goals are also set to help improve the flow of specific intersections to make them safer for vehicles, bikers, and pedestrians to navigate together.
Safety also works at the level of ownership. Where there are lots of bikes, there will be bike thefts. But in 1948 the Danish Parliament ratified a law that requires each bike frame to be branded with a number. So in the case that your bike is stolen, you can provide the police with it’s identification, and have a better chance of getting the bike back.
Design and the economy
Increasing the number of bikers around the city naturally brings cycling into the culture of Copenhagen itself. At it’s most basic, there are just a ton of different kinds of bikes: Classic, City, Cargo, Nihola, Christiania, Trio. But that’s not it — from companies selling specific cycle models, to clothing, to tourist merchandise surrounding the concept, there is a pretty serious growth potential for designing culture around the bike as well.
Take the Hövding for example — an airbag for cyclists. It masks itself as a stylish scarf around your neck until it feels some sort of impact and BOOM! Instant creepy cloud hand grasping your head for safety.
Or look at the Copenhagen Wheel, a wheel that captures and stores energy you create by moving up or downhill, and stores it in a battery pack for later use. Perhaps when you’re going up a steep hill.
Even the city gets involved at the design level. The company Veksø, among others, produces design solutions for bike shelters that can either blend in or stand out with the environment, but always look simple and effective in effect.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and Copenhagen has great plans to continue racing cities like Amsterdam to the top of the Bicycle-friendly design hill. They’ve recently instituted a bicycle Super Highway, connecting the city center to further and further neighborhoods and towns.
But for now, if you want to pop into Copenhagen for a bit, make sure that you learn the rules to the road. Copenhagen’s bikers are notoriously fast and ruthless when it comes to slow tourists — don’t get in their way.
And if biking isn’t for you and you just want to watch, check out Dronning Louise’s Bro (Queen Louises Bridge), which is the busiest biking lane in the world with 36,000 cyclists passing daily and is the new hotspot to see hipsters doing a little observing as well.