In this article, Metro Jacksonville travels across the pond to Europe. Well-known for its compact, historic cities, its urbanism seems out-of-reach given the partisan climate and snail’s pace of progress in Florida. Can we really learn from these established cities? Or is it too unrealistic?
Bike Culture in Copenhagen
Image: Bicycle parking at Copenhagen Central Station.
While it would be nice to say that Copenhagen built its cycling infrastructure from the ground up after horrible modernist developments of the 1960s, it would be inaccurate.
Copenhagen has had a bicycle culture since the beginning on the 20th century. It was once said that Copenhagen was the best city for cyclists before World War II, then during the war gasoline became such a scarce commodity that citizens had no choice but to bike.
With a wealthier population following the war combined with new suburban development came a car culture that slowly choked out the street grid. Public squares that were built for pedestrians were suddenly forced to hold cars. The city did not demolish any bike lanes, but instead focused their energy on accommodating the ever-growing car population.
The oil crisis was seen as a pivotal moment in Copenhagen’s shift back to bike culture. Around then, approximately 10 percent of Copenhageners biked. As citizens began adopting cycling into their daily routines, the city government incrementally added more bike-friendly measures.
Creating a Cyclists’ Utopia
Video: The Cyclesnake, completed in 2014, connects the trendy Vesterbro neighborhood with a bike bridge to Copenhagen University’s Humanities campus. (Credit: YouTube user László Balázs Nagy)
Copenhagen’s bike policy is centered on making cycling more safe and convenient. The government has not prioritized the cyclist rather than the automobile, partly because it plans on becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. However, cyclists in Copenhagen do not choose to cycle because of these lofty goals of environmental sustainability. They choose to cycle simply because it is more convenient.
Cycling is cheaper for the average Copenhagener, and for the Danish government.
-Automobiles are taxed at 180 percent. Wages are very high in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia, which means this isn’t as shocking to Danes as it is to Americans. However, it is a more pragmatic decision for the average Dane to cycle on a $500 bike. The money gained from this tax is in turn used to fund public transportation and sustainable infrastructure.
-Gas prices hover around $8 per gallon.
-For every kilometer cycled the Danish government gains 23 cents. For every kilometer driven by cars, they lose 16 cents. It is well documented that automobiles cause many negative externalities in the form of pedestrian deaths, increased healthcare costs, and pollution. Meanwhile, cycling infrastructure is much cheaper and is a healthy alternative to driving.
For many Copenhageners, cycling is also faster.
-The Danish government is building a cycling “superhighway.” No, this does not mean a large, 8-lane mega-highway that slices apart neighborhoods, like the one that was planned for the city center in the 1960s. Instead, on these designated “superhighway” streets, when a cyclist rides at 20 km/hr (~12mph), they will hit all the green lights. The lights will be timed to this average cyclists’ movement. The cars will then have to wait.
-Copenhagen is connecting sides of its harbor with bike/pedestrian-only bridges. New brownfield redevelopments that were once only accessible to cars are now better accessed via bike.
-The city of Copenhagen is incrementally reducing parking by 8 percent in the center city every year. Higher parking costs mean a greater disincentive to drive into town.
-Many major thoroughfares, such as Vesterbrogade, can hold more bikes than cars at one time. Induced demand, the phenomenon which explains why widening suburban roads just leads to even more traffic, applies to bikes and pedestrians too.
Cycling is also much safer.
-Copenhagen does not require the use of helmets. While it is obvious that wearing a helmet is safer, requiring its use discourages ridership. This decreased ridership is statistically less healthy for society in the long run.
-In snow, the bike lanes are cleared before the car lanes. Partly because of this, 70 percent of the Copenhageners who bike during the summer bike during the winter.
-Car drivers do not have strict liability when they hit a cyclist; however, 90 percent of drivers who hit cyclists end up liable. The law is on the cyclists’ side.
These policies can’t be implemented overnight. But with one on top of the other, Copenhagen is now one of the world’s most bikeable cities.