Thoughts from Copenhagen

Bicycle parking at the library

Bicycle parking at the library

I recently got the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen for a brief trip.  The weather was beautiful, which facilitated a lot of walking and biking around.  Here are some thoughts and photos, with some context relevant to Minnesota.

  • Cycle commuters at rush hour, Gothersgade I think.

    Cycle commuters at rush hour, Gothersgade I think.

    Let’s just get this out of the way now: there are bikes.  Oh how there are bikes.  They’re everywhere, thick on the streets and leaned up against every wall (most people don’t use locks).  I took a ride at rush hour going out of the city, and it was almost overwhelming.  Nearly every major street seems to have a cycle track on both sides of the street.  One bridge alone carries 40,000 (!) bicycles per day into the central city.  A city official told me that 60 percent of residents use a bicycle to get to school or work, and metro-wide their commute share is close to 40 percent.  They’re not satisfied with this number, so they’re collaborating with neighboring municipalities to build cycle “super highways” far out into the burbs.

  • They don’t ride purely for the love of bicycles. Cycling has a long history in Denmark, but gas is also pretty expensive (in the $8/gallon range), they have a strict vulnerable road user law (also called strict liability), the metro is the cleanest and smoothest I’ve ever ridden, and structured parking seems non-existent in downtown.  Their transportation transformation began as a result of the energy crisis of the 70’s, in particular they were concerned about Denmark’s near total reliance on imported energy.
  • IMG_1934

    Twelve kroners per liter

    Natural features also support cycling.  Copenhagen is flat as a pancake, summer highs average in the mid-60s and winter lows are in the 30s Fahrenheit.

  • Oh yeah, there are no freeways into downtown Copenhagen.
  • Sidewalks are way too narrow.  By western standards, and compared to what “urbanists” might advocate for, the sidewalks are mostly tiny.  Cafes frequently spill into the walking area, forcing pedestrians into the street.  In most places, walking two abreast is the max, with many places only allowing one.
  • Sidewalks are an ADA nightmare.  Almost every sidewalk I traveled (many) in Copenhagen was cobblestone, with two concrete tracks down the middle (for baby carriages and shopping carts, I was told).  Many streets are still cobblestone.
  • A typical Copenhage sidewalk

    A typical Copenhage sidewalk

    Related, cyclists don’t like you walking/standing in the cycle track or bike lane.  Locals seem to respect the bike lane most of all, assuming cars will stop for them but staying well clear of walking in front of a moving bicycle.  Cyclists don’t seem to take kindly to tourists blocking the track, but the Danish seem very polite and mostly just ring their bell.

  • Copenhagen is a very walkable city.  The fine mix of shopping, food, workplaces, parks all along short blocks makes it a pleasure to stroll.  Buildings are also limited to six or seven stories (based on a historic height limit), which keeps things at a more human scale.  Every day we were told “that’s about 15 minutes away”.  Even when this time doubled, we didn’t seem to notice.
  • Before there were bikes or cars, transport by water was very important to Copenhagen.  Even today, when a new development goes in, the City often digs a new canal to give residents access to their beloved canals.
A busy metro station

A busy metro station

Typical bicycle parking in downtown

Typical bicycle parking in downtown

Canal-oriented development

Canal-oriented development

Nyhavn canal

Nyhavn canal

A cycletrack

A cycletrack

Walkable height

Walkable height

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7 Responses to Thoughts from Copenhagen

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 26, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Great post on a great city. Danes are some of the friendliest people outside of Scotland. 🙂

    I don’t think there are freeways in to any city in Europe. At least none that I can think of. Most stop at the ring (our 694/494) or maybe just a tiny bit further in.

    • Zach June 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      It seems like in many places, according to google maps, they have a grade separated freeway 5-10 miles from the city center, and a limited stop highway, similar I think to Hiawatha, ringing the city from 3-5 miles from the city center. And also, for instance in Munich, because it is so much denser, the freeway is way out in the countryside.

      • Kevin June 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

        There are a few European cities with motorways that cut through the inner core. Glasgow’s one of them. Lyon is another. Oslo also has one, although it’s mostly in a tunnel. It’s far rarer than in North America for sure, but it’s not unheard of to have a central freeway over there.

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller June 26, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    My main thought in Copenhagen: wow, everything is expensive.

    Next thought: holy crap there are a lot of bikes.

  3. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Brendon, what was your impression of how well drivers, bicycle riders, and pedestrians obeyed laws? Were considerate of others? Compared to U.S., NL, etc?

    • Brendon Slotterback
      Brendon Slotterback June 27, 2014 at 10:24 am #

      I found everyone obeyed the rules for the most part. Pedestrians seemed very cognizant of where the bike lanes were and did not stand in them (us Americans did). I didn’t spend much time outside of the city center, but car drivers seemed respectful. I had an interesting experience with a cab driver who got really agitated when I was about to (unknowingly) open the passenger side door into a bike lane. I can’t imagine a thing like that happening in the US.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell June 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

        That’s pretty much my impression. While Austrians are OCD about obeying laws, Danes are similar but above all seem much more considerate of others. Perhaps more so than any country I’ve been in. Sweden and Norway both seem to be kind of in the middle between Denmark and Austria.

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