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How cycling in Copenhagen became the norm

Copenhagen is now one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. This article looks at the steps it took to deliver this infrastructure and cultural shift.

Will Needham
Transportation

Copenhagen is known today as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. This is because the city prioritizes cycling infrastructure by constructing one-way cycle tracks as part of all major routes. If space weren't allocated to cyclists, it would be highly unsafe to have so many bikes competing with cars on the road. This emphasis on cycle planning and policies has fostered the growth of cycling among Copenhagen citizens.

Cycling presents a solution to the negative impacts of increased carbon emission into the environment. A network of cycling paths is woven across the city, creating what is known as cycle superhighways. Copenhagen has about 18 miles of painted bike lanes on major roadways and almost 300 miles of elevated cycle tracks.

It's current cycling policy started in 2011 and is designed to last till 2025. The policy focuses on addressing key quality factors such as comfort, safety, speed, and city life for cyclists. The city uses these factors to identify and target the problems facing the advancement of its cycling infrastructure.

History of cycling in Copenhagen

The city has been focused on several systems to develop its cycling infrastructure for over 100 years. The cycling policy includes the construction of one-way cycle tracks on either side of the city's major roadways. The development of cycling infrastructure started with the establishment of the first cycle track in 1892.

The initial goal was to provide cyclists with even surfaces to aid smooth riding around Copenhagen. The integration of cycling infrastructure into Copenhagen's transportation network bolstered much support and attention after the energy crisis of the 1970s. The crisis, which emerged as a result of petroleum shortages, resulted in the Government declaring Car-Free Sundays. By the late '70s, the Danish Cyclist Federation in Copenhagen began protesting the exclusion of cycle tracks in motorways and general road infrastructure. The overwhelming support and pressure from Copenhageners influenced the Government to gradually and effectively build the most bicycle-friendly environment in the world.

The protests, coupled with the growing demand for more environmental-friendly transportation, led to the construction of cycle tracks in 1982. The citizens widely favored the cycle-driven approach for new infrastructure, and cycling became increasingly popular in the city.

After this period, city planners focused on designing safer cycling lanes along all major roads. Coordinated cycling strategies were then implemented to encourage more people to join the cycling trend in Copenhagen. This plan included the redesign of intersections, traffic lights, and routes to increase the safety of cyclists from cars and avoid unforeseen speeding accidents. The extensive planning of better cycling infrastructure is why cycling has solidified itself as one of the primary modes of public transportation in Copenhagen. By 2018, the number of bicycles in the city rose to 675,000 and outnumbered the number of cars. With just 120,000 vehicles, there were five bikes for every car on the streets of Copenhagen. Presently, an average of 36,000 cyclists daily in Copenhagen use about 454km of cycle lanes to move around the city.

Benefits of increased cycling in Copenhagen

Since becoming critical to the urban infrastructure, cycling has yielded several social, environmental, health, and economic value. The city has witnessed a significant reduction in carbon emissions as well as ecological footprint. This development is a byproduct of the widespread adoption of bicycles, which also led to a subsequent decrease in traffic congestion.

The efforts of urban planners to establish a network of bicycle lanes and infrastructure around the city must also be praised. The attention and focus on cycling campaigns and infrastructure around Copenhagen have increased cyclists' safety over the years and reduced their overall traveling time by a substantial amount. The traffic light system in Copenhagen features interactive signals that include cyclists as part of the traffic flow.

According to Forbes' position on cycling and its socioeconomic impact on Copenhagen, "taxpayers save 7.8 cents (DKK 0.45) in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure." This may seem little, but as a whole, Copenhagen saves up to $34 million every year.

Copenhagen has also benefited from the proactive incorporation of cycling into the economy, with many new cycle-driven sectors emerging and flourishing. These sectors include bicycle infrastructure, bicycle production, bicycle retail, bicycle services, and bicycle tourism.

For an average citizen, cycling is a much cheaper mode of transporting around the city. The cost of cycling is nothing compared to the expenses associated with owning, driving, and maintaining a vehicle. Costs such as insurance, fuel, routine maintenance, and in some cases, monthly car payments are part of the reason why the population has stuck with cycling.

What's more, there are various health benefits of cycling. As an aerobic exercise, it keeps cyclists physically active and less prone to health issues. It's proven to help with depression, low blood pressure, weight loss, anxiety, stress, and mood alleviation. Daily cycling improves the overall wellbeing of an individual while increasing the average cyclist's life expectancy.

Final notes

Copenhagen holds a high-ranking position as one of the most livable cities in the world. There are extensive plans to transform the city into the first CO2-neutral capital by 2025. This goal is to continuously strive to create better policies that make transportation safer and more comfortable for cyclists.

The current cycling policies aim to increase the population of cyclists to 90% while reducing the number of cycling accidents by up to 70%. There are several other initiatives like these that work together to keep Copenhagen the most bike-friendly city in the world.