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 having 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 non-progressive 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 the public transit is a mess. It is chronically underfunded but it is also 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. There are constant wars between cars, bikes and pedestrians. A city like Copenhagen shows that all three 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.