If one city knows anything about encouraging cycling, it’s Copenhagen. Named the world’s first Official Bike City, 60% of Copenhagen’s population commutes to work every day on over 400km of the world’s busiest cycle lanes.
Despite Copenhagen’s natural cycling advantages (it’s flat, small and densely populated), the journey to cycling predominance has not been an easy one.
Denmark’s poor were the first to become enamored with bicycles during the 1800’s, seeing two wheels as a means of escape from cramped inner city tenements. The bicycle quickly became associated with freedom for all classes, and a flourishing cycle culture was disseminated through the arts.
The cycling movement came under threat in the 1960’s as Copenhagen attempted to come to terms with the requirements of the modern world. As is now the case in China, the bicycle risked being cast aside as a relic, in favour of the aspirational automobile.
In this rose a conflict of interest: Danes wanted to embrace the needs of the modern world, but did not want their city spoilt by inner city highways. Innovative and logical as ever, the ‘Danish Model’ was born.
The authorities realized the importance of government action and innovation to achieve success; fortunately these are two qualities not lacking in the Nordic nations.
The Danes quickly realized that cycling was an additional choice for most, so would only thrive if it presented the easiest, safest and most attractive means of transport around the city. To this day only 1% of cyclists in Copenhagen place environmental concern as their main reason for cycling.
The results since the 60’s are impressive. Now workers, schoolchildren and families travel 1.3 million kilometers a day by bike, almost double the total amount travelled on public transport. City Bike’s include touch screen tablets and built in GPS, while specialized cycle lanes and traffic lights maintain cycle highways as the vital arteries for movement around the city. 63% of the Danish Members of Parliament commute to work by bike, the postal service runs almost entirely on bike, and 25% of parents transport their children using cargo bikes. Setting this sort of precedent has been key to perpetuating cycling culture.
And Copenhageners do not even think they are there yet. Plans to make Copenhagen the first carbon neutral city by 2025 involve pushing the current numbers of commuting citizens above 60%, and improving the already burgeoning levels of cycle technology to make maintain bikes as the cheapest, fastest and healthiest means of travel.
A multitude of countries and cities are now trying to emulate the two wheeled success experienced in Denmark’s capital. Danish experts have been brought in to aid New York and Beijing, while the bike lanes in Melbourne are actually called ‘Copenhagen Lanes’.
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