Cycling initiatives in Copenhagen go the distance | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 23.03.2011
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Cycling initiatives in Copenhagen go the distance

Aiming to increase its rate of biking commuters while gearing up the city's infrastructure, Copenhagen is paving the way for the most creative innovations in cycling across Europe.

Rows of bicycles in Copenhagen

Copenhagen has had to rethink its infrastructure

A woman in high heels mounting her bike outside the office at rush hour is often a common sight in capital cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Berlin. In urban Europe, cycling is embraced as a way of life.

Progressiveness, however, comes with its own set of challenges, and these European cities might face being victims of their own success. According to Mike Harris, Copenhagen-based bicycle strategy specialist and landscape architect, there are around 10,000 bikes parked at Amsterdam's Central Station at any given time. Throughout the city, additional parked bicycles occupy almost every street corner and railing.

The busiest bicycling street in the world, Norrebrogade in Copenhagen, ushers through 37,000 cyclists per day and is widening its lanes to accommodate the congestion.

Finding enough space for parking facilities, closing the gaps in the overall biking infrastructural network, and improving the interconnection between bike traffic and public transport, are all challenges that increase with the rising flux of cyclists.

Yet problems in bike logistics are nothing compared to the traffic, noise and pollution caused by the automobile. That is why Copenhagen is now developing Cycle Super Highways, targeting the 100,000 suburban commuters who move in and out of Copenhagen county each day.

Number one

A girl locks her bicycle at a three-storey bicycle parking area just outside Central Station in downtown Amsterdam

Amsterdam is another one of Europe's most bike-friendly cities

Copenhagen has been deemed the bicycling capital of the world, with 37 percent of people in the greater area using a bike to get to work or school; the city hopes to reach 50 percent by 2015.

"For the last decades the city of Copenhagen has prioritized bike traffic," said Jakob Schiott Stenbaek Madsen, project officer for the Danish Cyclists' Federation, "with ongoing investments in infrastructure, campaigning and innovative ideas that have influenced the cycle culture."

With 17,000 members, the Danish Cyclists' Federation has been the voice of the two-wheeled public for more than a century, devoted to bettering both safety and infrastructure.

According to Zofia Anna Jagielska at the Center for Traffic, cycling in Copenhagen is not determined by social or economical status, or by gender, age, education and so on.

"Everyone is cycling, so one could say that cycling is pretty mainstream here," she said. "Most Copenhageners do not consider themselves cyclists, but rather use the bike as a daily mode of transport, as subconsciously as their brushing teeth."

Strategic cycling

Formerly of Sydney, Australia, Mike Harris has delivered strategic plans and infrastructure design to various local and state government clients, which led him to embark on a six-week research tour to learn from the world's most acclaimed cycle cities - Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Berlin.

As a global resource to AECOM for cycle strategies, Harris says it's important to learn from other cycle cities which methods have worked and which have failed.

"Ultimately what will occur in London is that space will slowly be shifted from car uses, like travel lanes and parking, to better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists," said Harris.

Nyhavn district as seen from Copenhagen's harbour

The weather isn't always this nice in Copenhagen, but that doesn't stop the two-wheelers

Super highways

No matter how inspired the ingenuity of other cycling cities, no place of yet has topped Copenhagen's Cycle Super Highways, implemented by 18 municipalities surrounding the capital. Launched in 2010, the project is creating bike tracks that run parallel to automobile highways, often improving already existing infrastructure to make routes more attractive to commuters from the suburbs and outer regions.

Only 10 percent of cyclists travel over 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) daily by bike, but the Cycle Super Highways - in addition to bicycle bridges over roads and the harbor - encourage travelers to pedal that extra distance.

Features of the Cycle Super Highways include the most direct routes with no detours, homogenous signage, and painted bike lanes through larger intersections. There are also service stations with air pumps and other tools available and - an added bonus - if you cycle 20 kilometers per hour, you're rewarded with the "Green Wave" and hit green lights all the way.

Also up for debate is the installation of fast and slow traffic lanes within the cycle path, an item on which Mike Harris does not fully agree.

"The beautiful thing about bicycling is that people negotiate a common space with eye contact and body language," he explained. "This has a profound effect socially. Consider the car culture where drivers 'own' lanes and tend to become greedy and aggressive with space. As long as the lane is wide enough, it's a simple premise to keep right unless overtaking."

Pedal for food

Cycling has become so popular in Copenhagen that it has even found a way indoors at the green-friendly hotel, Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers, where guests are welcomed to produce electricity through ordinary bikes connected to small generators and batteries.

Bell on a bike

In heavy bike traffic, it's always a good idea to have a bell

The electricity can then be used to "fuel" computers, televisions, light bulbs - or fed directly into the grid of the hotel.

Frederikke Tommergaard, director of communications for the Copenhagen Towers, claims one particular promotional offer of the hotel resulted in more than 200 people bicycling 10 watts of energy to earn a free meal voucher in the Towers' restaurant.

"The idea appeared when we tried to find an initiative that would symbolize the green Copenhagen culture," said Tommergaard, "and nothing does that better than the electricity-producing bike."

Cycling innovations across Europe will no doubt continue to challenge each other while raising the bar of what constitutes as progressive, healthy and livable cities.

"As a resident of Copenhagen it is clear beyond all doubt that the success of bicycle culture only benefits the city," commented Mike Harris. "I have yet to witness a traffic jam or incident of road rage. The health benefits are obvious and self-evident, as are the environment ones."

Author: Melanie Sevcenko

Editor: Kate Bowen

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