Denmark is a country I have always wanted to visit but actually knew very little about. Unlike Sweden, I didn’t know very much about its culture, besides its socialist leanings, Soren Kierkegaard, Roskilde, The Raveonettes and Aqua. One other thing I did know about Denmark is that Copenhagen is an urban planner’s dream and widely considered to be a city at the forefront of planning. Having a (non-scholarly) interest in urban planning meant that I could geek my nerdy self out.
Prior to my trip, I watched a documentary on Jan Gehl. He is a widely respected architect, most revered for transforming Copenhagen from a car-focused city to a people-focused city. He realized that if you made places car-free and pedestrian- and cyclist-focused, that it would bring people out of their homes and improve urban life. My friend in Stockholm pointed out that Copenhagen was more lively than her adopted city and I certainly found that to be the case. Whereas in Stockholm, there were few people out at night on a weeknight, Copenhagen felt lively at all times of the day, especially in Strøget, a pedestrian-only area which is one of the largest of its kind.
As a year-round cyclist, it was hard to not be envious of the bike lanes in Copenhagen. According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark (yes, this is a thing), the city has 450km of bike lanes.
And unlike Toronto, where bike lanes haphazardly end in the middle of a major road, these bike lanes are connected, allowing you to get safely from A to B. A few more cycling facts from the CED:
- Cycling accounts for 17% of all trips in Denmark and 4% of the traffic in kilometers.
- Cycling accounts for 24 % of all commuter trips.
- 85 % of all bike trips are under 5 km.
- 70% of all trips by bicycle are less than 3 km. Only 2% of all trips by bicycle are longer than 15 km.
- On average, Danes cycle 1,5 km a day.
- Danish men and women almost bike the same. But women cycle a bit more often ( 0.5 vs. 0.46 trips per day) while the men cycle slightly longer 1.80 vs. 1.48 km) than women.
- Nine out of ten Danes own a bicycle.
- In 2013, almost 500,000 bicycles were sold in Denmark
- 60,709 bicycles were reported stolen in 2014
- 18,100 electrical bicycles were sold in 2013.
- 44 % of all children aged 10-16 cycle to school
- Since 2009, Denmark has invested at least € 373 million in cycle projects.
It was easy to fall in love with Copenhagen. Toronto is a great city but really regressive with regards to its planning and politics, especially with Rob Ford at the helm. There are constant wars between cars, bikes and pedestrians and I am honestly on edge whenever I ride my bike in the city lest a car honk at me or worse, hit me. I choose to bike because I love it but also because it is the most efficient means of transportation since public transit is a mess. It is chronically underfunded, very poorly planned and the city hasn’t found a way to make public transit a priority over cars. It hasn’t used policy well to influence people to cycle instead of clogging up the roads unnecessarily with cars. A city like Copenhagen shows that pedestrians, cars, bikes and everything else can co-exist and that public policy can improve social lives (pedestrian-only areas for community and culture) and health (cycling being a chosen mode of transportation). I hope Toronto becomes more like Copenhagen with its planning. I’m not sure what has to happen for it to get there.