Bicycle-friendly Copenhagen a model for big cities
Henriette Jacobsen, AFP
The world is gathered in Copenhagen for the UN climate summit, but Denmark`s bicycle-friendly capital has also given its name to a movement of cities trying to find a kinder way to commute.
Nearly 40 per cent of Copenhagen’s population cycle to work or school on ubiquitous paved cycle paths. Many residents take to their bikes year-round, braving rain and snow through the winter in a city where the bicycles outnumber the people.
"Only when there’s half a meter of snow outside would I consider using the underground," said 24-year old student Louise Kristensen.
Amsterdam and Beijing too are known for their bicycles, but the Danish capital is where urban planners from around the world have been looking for ways to get their people out of cars and up onto bikes, an effort known as Copenhagenisation.
"We`re trying to strike a balance in our transportation network which means having streets that can accommodate everyone," New York Transport Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.
Klaus Bondam, Copenhagen’s technical and environmental chief, calls himself a "mega cyclist" and says the bike’s popularity stems partly from high taxes on cars which meant working-class Danes could not afford to drive in the 1930s and ’40s.
"Today you’ll meet everybody on the bicycle lanes - women and men, rich and poor, old and young," Mr Bondam said.
City Hall has also made a rule that when it snows, the bike paths get cleared before car lanes.
Today around a third of the population drive cars to work or study, another third take public transport, while 37 per cent cycle - a figure the city aims to boost to 50 per cent by 2015.
Mr Bondam said there are many benefits when citizens choose bicycles over cars: Pollution and noise decline, public health improves, and more people on bikes or walking creates a sense of safety in the city.
Fewer parked cars leaves more space for playgrounds, parks, shopping areas and other useful public amenities.
Mr Bondam said car traffic should be limited, though a car-less society is probably impossible. However, cars that cannot be avoided should be electric rather than run on fossil fuels.
From 70 to 80 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, blamed by scientists for global warming, come from big cities.
As more and more people have become concerned with the climate, officials from around the world have come to Copenhagen to learn about its bike culture.
But Danish architect and Prof. Jan Gehl, who coined the term Copenhagenisaton, says the concept is broader than that and entails cities becoming lively, safe, sustainable and healthy.
For the past decade Gehl has helped cities around the world, including New York, Seattle, San Francisco, London, Stockholm, Oslo, Melbourne, Sydney and Amman, to "Copenhagenise."