Back from Holiday: Copenhagen Bike Usage Myths Busted, Part 1


When I was on holiday in Copenhagen, I couldn’t help but notice the importance of the bicycle to transportation there. I decided to look into some data about how that city came to be full of bicycles and some possible best practices for some major cities in the U.S.

Last week I witnessed first hand how 37% of the population gets to work and school in the Danish capital. That’s almost as many people commuting by bicycle in one city than the entire number of cyclists in the U.S. It is a stark contrast to the number of motorized scooters I have see in Paris, Rome, Madrid or other large European capitals. Our rental unit was in the heart of Norrebrogade Street, which sees over 35,000 Copenhageners cycling each day. Unlike my home city of Alexandria, VA Copenhagen seems to have a much more deeply embedded culture of bicycling. On the airplane ride home, I wanted to find out if there was any data supporting the common myths surrounding why bicycles are so popular there.

Two common misconceptions about why Copenhagen has so many cyclists is that it is easier to since the landscape is flat and they ride because they are concerned for the environment. Even though it’s true that Copenhagen is flat, there is quite a bit of wind courtesy of the adjacent North Sea. In 2007, Copenhagen Design Co. measured wind speed as a factor that makes cycling challenging. They measured a headwind of 36 km/hour which is the low end of winds during the five month long winter.  This headwind is equivalent to cycling up a 6% grade incline.

Now that we’ve busted the “flat” myth with data, let’s turn to the environmental implications of bicycle riding. Cyclists are saving the city an average of 90,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually according to Gehl Architects by riding up to 7 km (4 miles) per day. That is fantastic but Informal surveys have indicated that only 1% of Copenhageners mention the environment as the main reason they cycle.

bikelanesPhoto by Simon Goddard

The data shows that Copenhageners ride their cycles because there is a coherent network of bike lanes and it’s the easiest way to get around. Currently there is over 250 miles of bike lanes around the city with plans to increase the network by about 30% by 2026. Traffic lights have been adjusted to favor cyclists along many of the main traffic arteries. The bicycle paths are separated from moving traffic by a buffer zone such as a lane for parked cars, making it very safe to cycle. Bicycles are well integrated with the city’s train and ferry bus public transportation system with parking facilities, bicycle ramps up stairs into train stations and bicycle holders on the train cars. Adding to all this great infrastructure are cyclists that religiously follow traffic regulations.

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