“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Sunday, 26 September 2010

September 26th - The Copenhagen Bicycle Rant (aka 'it's just paint!')

Cycling in Copenhagen is normal, but it’s not normalized. Rather - in Manchester (and everywhere else I’ve ever cycled for that matter) it’s been abnormalised, turned over the years into a weird subset of transport that no sane person would choose. I have no choice but to identify myself as a cyclist because it defines my whole relationship to the city I live in, the way I get around and the streets and people that I know. I can imagine a world where race, gender and sexuality are matters of no remark, I pretty much live there but I cannot imagine a place where I don’t have an automatic bond with everyone else on two wheels for no other reason than that’s who we are. But in Copenhagen there is none of that. There may be cycling sub groups who identify with each other but in general, as some girls at the Christiania party last night said ‘In Copenhagen everyone cycles, if you said I don’t cycle I’d be like ‘ what, you don’t cycle?’’ (insert face of shock, horror and disgust that you would expect if you announced you were into bestiality).
That said, and although every Copenhagener knows that they’re the number one cycling city, they don’t really go on about it – try and find a postcard of a bike – you’ll struggle. Talk to them about how great it is and they’ll look a little condescending – like you’ve just realized that everyone has legs.
Apparently what happened was that long long ago (like decades) they noticed cycling was in decline and decided to stop it by ‘spoiling’ the cyclists. This means that every junction has big blue cycle lanes across it and traffic lights just for the cyclists.
Fed up of people dumping their bikes anywhere they created big bicycle parks. To encourage people to use them they moved bikes that were parked in the wrong place (people don’t usually lock their bikes or if they do they don’t lock them to anything) BUT to make sure that doing this didn’t piss people off they would pump up the tyres, oil the chain and leave a little note apologizing for the move and asking people to use the new parking space.
Any kerb that you might want to drop off or go up has had a little ramp made of concrete so it’s smooth.
To encourage commuting there is the ‘green wave’ – routes into the city where if you come in at 20 km/hr (the average speed in the city for bikes) at rush hour then every light will be green.
At two locations they have bicycle counters which have a free air station. On Friday when we go past at 6pm I am number ten thousand and something (today!!!), even weaving home from Christiania last night at 3am we are in the 600’s.
Where they notice cyclists using a pavement as a short cut they don’t put up barriers or station police to book them – they paint an experimental cycle lane on the pavement. If it works they make it permanent. And where they have more cycles than cars – they shut the car lane and turn it into a bike lane.
And the result is... that everyone cycles, and moves things around by bicycle. Cargo bikes abound – not just the swanky bullits that we had a go of yesterday but lots and lots, especially the ‘Christiania bikes’ – a big box with the seat and handlebars behind. Kat falls in love with these and every few minutes draws my attention to another one or asks ‘ how much do you think they cost?’ or ‘how difficult would it be to get one home?’ or starts lengthy explanations of why she absolutely, definitely, needs one, cannot do without one and should definitely absolutely buy one. I agree. She got a trailer free with a second hand Pashley a few months back and it has been used for moving a wide variety of things by a load of people from beds, water butts, piles of garden waste, a tree, bin food, sound systems, bicycles and bicycle wheels to name a few.
But the point is that Manchester, like Copenhagen and most European cities was built pre-car and so is designed for this sort of use and can be relatively easily converted to this sort of layout with paint. I know, I know it’s more than that – it’s cycling culture and attitude as well but the actual practical aspect of it is just a few tins of paint. Of paint, for chrissakes.


  1. I was thinking only today about what it would be like when cycling is the norm in, for instance, Manchester. And my conclusion was that some of us (those who currently cycle as the norm) would be left somewhat bereft - our speciality suddenly common as muck. We're gonna miss these times!

  2. Yeah - it's a weird weird concept - but I don't think we will ever be normal...or rather the current cyclists will always have a shared bond as we sit around in the sandbar saying 'd'ya remember when...' and then we'll just identify with 'cyclists like us' so there'll be the spokes, and the fixy riders, and the couriers, and the cargo courier - oh dear Z, maybe just you then!

  3. I know all this information about Copenhagen already, but reading it all here is pretty amazing. I sit in Chicago as a jealous, abnormal cyclist. Maybe one day the rest of us will figure out what Copenhagen already has.