37% of people commute by bike in Copenhagen

I am very impressed by the bicycle infrastructure in Copenhagen.

Some highlights of the video below:

  • Many bike lanes are double laned
  • Special blinking lights on the road so turning traffic know that bikes are coming
  • Traffic lights that are synced for vehicles travelling at 20kph

For me, the big takeaway from this is that if you make biking a respected and serious part of your city’s urban planning, people will use it, in droves. Even in very cold countries!

hat tip: TreeHugger

40 thoughts on “37% of people commute by bike in Copenhagen

  1. Another important point that is frequently overlooked by visitors here is that cars actually give way to cyclists! I’ve lived here for three years now, and I still can’t get used to it – every time a car turns right (we drive on the right here) they have to cross the cycle lanes. When they do, they stop, look backwards, wait if there are bikes coming and then continue when its clear. It is absolutely fantastic! Having the facilities helps tremendously, but the Danes have also created a culture where cyclists are respected and a normal part of everyday life – everyone, including businessmen in suits and women in high heels can be seen on bikes, even in the worst weather (try riding in minus 7 and snow – its an experience!).

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  2. Your point about the weather is very interesting; I hadn’t thought about that as a factor inhibiting biking before. Living in Auckland I think there are two other inhibitory factors in addition to infrastructure/safety and weather: hills and urban spread.

    Hills in particular seem to be viewed as restricting biking to the superfit and self-righteous. I think there is a meme that goes “Auckland is never going to be Denmark or Holland because we have hills”, which is commonsense.

    However, commonsense is often just a lack of imagination. If the proper infrastructure was put in place then hills would not be a huge factor because electrically assisted bikes would fill the gap. I have just looked on trademe and there are dozens of electric bikes for sale, some not much more expensive than a good road bike. They aren’t terribly popular now because of a lack of infrastructure/safety. Part of the reason the infrastructure isn’t there is the hills.

    It’s also commonsense that an electric bike doesn’t keep off the rain.

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  3. As well as providing infrastructure for cyclists, it can’t be overlooked that Copenhagen is a very flat city. It’s the same case in Amsterdam where cycling is considered a normal everyday mode of transport. I can’t imagine everyday commuting by cycle in Wellington ever taking off (but I see lots of potential in Christchurch, Hamilton, & even Auckland).

    Also interesting is that Copenhagen and Amsterdam don’t have laws that force cyclists to wear crash helmets. I think there is truth in that some people don’t like riding a bike if it means having helmet-head hair. (Personally I’ve been traumatised after finding a weta in my helmet)

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  4. matthew – helmets are supposed to keep your hair drier, rather than weta!
    I agree whole heartedly though, that the wearing of helmets is a disincentive to the broad adoption of cycling in cities.

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  5. Interestingly, cycling seems to render a high percentage of the women in cycling cities, more attractive.

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  6. Another factor would be cost and ease of maintenance. I don’t know about Copenhagen, but in Amsterdam you can get a perfectly fine bike for less than €100 and there are countless repair shops around in case you don’t like the idea of repairing a broken chain or flat tire.

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  7. I used to cycle in Delft. Best way to get around, and didn’t own a car. It helps if the town was never built with cars in mind in the first place…..

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  8. Indeed.

    They make a lot of sense in densely populated European cities. In wellington, however….hmmm…..

    I think y’all should be supporting Bob Jones. If he gets his way, Wellington will be a lot more bike-friendly.

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  9. Interestingly, cycling seems to render a high percentage of the women in cycling cities, more attractive.

    Nah, that’s just Denmark. You should see the city parks in Copenhagen during the summer!

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  10. Good posting Frog. And Copenhagen isn’t even the foremost Danish city for cycling! What I’m particularly interested in is the fact that many European cities, particularly in northern Europe have made a switch into a “virtuous” spiral. Cycling is so safe, cool, efficient, fast, cheap and good for you that more and more people are riding, further improving the desirability of still others doing so. In relation to safety, for example, it is unquestionably the case that the more people there are riding, the safer it is. In New Zealand we are still going in the opposite direction. What is the formula for switching from vicious to virtuous?

    And lest anyone thinks that cycling rocks in European cities, but isn’t suitable for NZ, let’s remember that the annual challenges where bikes are pitted against buses and cars as means of transport across town usually find that bikes are fastest, at least in our larger cities (where the trials are conducted).

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  11. I think the distance of commute has a lot to do with it. The density of the living arrangements. Those bikes you’re seeing aren’t coming in from the suburbs.

    But our cities are heading towards higher density living i.e. apartments.
    Lets say Jones gets his wish for Wellington, I could see bike lanes being incorporated into that easily enough. Once you have it working in a small area, you’ll get increased density of use, and then it can spread…

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  12. Yes, interesting point BP. There is no doubt that urban form is important, and more compact urban areas can play an important role. Even so, most of the trips people take in their cars (including commutes) are actually less than 5km (actually I’m pretty sure that’s right, but am writing this from the House so can’t absolutely check it until I’m back in the office). So while actual traveling distance is a factor for some people, for others something else is going on.

    Interestingly some of my friends don’t ride to work because they live too close (thankfully they instead walk). When I move to a new town I look for a house around 10 – 15km away from work, so that I can get a decent ride, but I recognise that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    For some years now New Zealanders have bought more bikes than they have cars each year. So they’re in people’s garages; what does it take to get them ridden?

    As someone who goes riding for my holidays, I am well used to expressions of astonishment at the idea that it is possible to, for example, ride around the South Island, or over the mountain passes and so on. Over the years I have formed the idea that this is, in part, because many of us associate riding a bike as something that kids do (and adults do not) or that is done for recreation (but not the serious business of going to work).

    I am working with other MPs from across Parliament on what we might work on to improve cycling rates. Any ideas welcome!

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  13. I am working with other MPs from across Parliament on what we might work on to improve cycling rates. Any ideas welcome!

    Ban lycra :)

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  14. Interestingly some of my friends don’t ride to work because they live too close (thankfully they instead walk). When I move to a new town I look for a house around 10 – 15km away from work, so that I can get a decent ride, but I recognise that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    I think that’s the New Zealand mentality – it’s linked heavily with sport/fitness – whereas in European cities, it’s mostly a sedate activity. The difference between going for a stroll and going for a run.

    That laid back-ness makes it cool and everyday. Here, and I don’t mean you Kevin, there are a lot of lycra clad ******s, which gives cycling an image problem. If you started by converting a city center, like Wellington, to incorporate cycle ways, it could help change that image. Once it is likened to walking, I think the takeup will improve.

    Also, my impression was that biking isn’t done much in those Europe cities over distances of more than a few kilometers.

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  15. That’s also the point being made by Frocks on Bikes (who won the CAN Cycle Friendly award this year for best cycling promotion). By dressing in ordinary (sometimes extraordinary) clothes for riding they remove that whole “special clothing” barrier for some people.

    I guess what I’d like to see is “permission” for a wider range of cycling styles, so that people know that if they want to they can put on the lycra, and ride a fast bike, but that they don’t have to do either of those things in order to ride.

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  16. I think they’re right.

    A lot of those people you’re seeing riding bikes in European cities aren’t necessarily replacing a driving activity, they’re replacing a walking activity.

    But they do become a moving advertisement for cycling.

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  17. Chuck the helmet laws, they’re a big disincentive for people to get on a bike, and start selling bikes with mudguards, chainguards, sprung seats, wide on-road tires, and basket carriers on the front; more suitable for ordinary, everyday tasks, than for road racing or downhill wake-me-ups.

    In towns with hills, bikes just need a good selection of very low gears.

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  18. Blue – hope you’re going to be one of those people who are true to their words, and do a Gandhi! Look foward to seeing you on your bike!

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  19. Sure, if I lived in central Wellington.

    But I don’t. Nor do I commute there.

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  20. start selling bikes with mudguards, chainguards, sprung seats, wide on-road tires, and basket carriers on the front

    Import them and start doing it. Surely a group of Greens could pool funds and start such a business? If not, why not?

    Chuck the helmet laws

    Absolutely. Nanny statism.

    I miss Holland….

    http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/

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  21. Why oh why, didn’t the Dutch bring their cycling practices to New Zealand and leave their dairying habits in the Netherlands?

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  22. start selling bikes with mudguards, chainguards, sprung seats, wide on-road tires, and basket carriers on the front

    I’m sure I remember seeing a company a couple of years back who were importing and selling omafiets, but a quick Google and I can’t find anything. Does anyone else know/remember this or was it all a dream…?

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  23. Fly

    “Why oh why, didn’t the Dutch bring their cycling practices to New Zealand ?”

    Been to Holland have you Fly?
    There is one small fault in your argument.

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  24. To answer your question Kevin, why the bikes are simply sitting in garages? It is simply lack of infrastructure and by extension safety (you are 18 times more likely to be injured on a bicycle than in a car and 75% of the time it is the motorists fault, i.e. the cyclist has no control over whether they are hurt)…

    Portland had a similar bicycle commuting percentage 30 years ago that Auckland has today, about 0.8% but they have progressively added more biking infrastructure in a strategic way to the point where today 8% of commuters bicycle to work…

    They have implemented some very innovative (and more importantly cheap) infrastructural features to increase ridership such as:

    – Bike priority buttons, when a cyclist reaches an intersection there is a button he can push that acts as a ped crossing, the lights turn red and all traffic lights show a cycle light so cyclists can start off ahead of vehicles…

    – Strategic residential streets are closed to all traffic except bicycles and residents of that street, other streets have turns blocked off to reduce the numbers of cars travelling through them…

    – Traffic calming measures reducing traffic speed to 25 km/hr along busy bicycling routes…

    – Cycle lanes added to brigdes throughout city…

    – All buses in Portland have bike racks on the front…

    There are lots of things that can be done for free for instance Paris has made any vehicle smaller than you your responsibility in accidents (except in gross negligence), i.e. Trucks are responsible for damage to Cars, Cars to Bicycles, Bicycles to Peds, it sends the right signals…

    Overall I don’t see why the Greens cannot have a policy which aims to increase bicycle commuting percentage in 10 years to 10% in Hamilton, Tauranga and Christchurch, 8% in Auckland and 6% in Dunedin and Wellington, I think this could be done for less than the cost individually of the Waterview Connection or Puhoi to Wellsford or Transmission Gully…

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  25. Again you miss the point Fly.

    I spent a bit of time in Holland, as hard as I tried I just could not find any streets that resembled Island Bays Hungerford road.

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  26. Ya shoulda tried lying on ya side and taking a look Bro – the whole world looks steep that way!

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  27. Key is talking about reducing CO2 emmisions and economic growth in the same breath, so cars (to me) are low lying fruit.

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  28. I’ve been working in Lyon, a predominantly flat city, for 20 years. Over the last five or so, there’s been a cycling revolution, due to city planning (thanks largely to Green city councillors) and the introduction of a bicycle rental (practically free) system.
    I’m just about to get on my bike and go to work (less than 1km), I’ll probably come back here for lunch.

    Agree about helmets, not compulsory here. Personally they give me the sensation of restricting my hearing and vision, to say nothing of the false sense of security. As for safety, I start from the principle that any accident will be 100% my fault, because you just can’t expect anything at all from motorists, you have to assume they’re out to kill you. I’ve never had an accident (apart from falling on wet paving, unassisted).

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  29. The bike rental system is a key to widespread commuter adoption. I went through this pattern myself : I tried them out for novelty value, quickly became a true believer, then realised that for various reasons they weren’t the best option for daily commuting and started using my own.

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  30. Key is talking about reducing CO2 emmisions and economic growth in the same breath
    He has no difficulty doing that, ’cause of his forked tongue.

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  31. after cycling to work in wellington most days for the past year, copenhagen looks like paradise in comparison.

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  32. I’ll jump on the bandwagon as well: ditch the nanny state helmet law! Perhaps compulsory to 16yrs then optional after that. Some recent studies seem to show helmet laws are overall a bad move.

    As for hills, the granny ring requires stamina, not strength these days. Or you could lobby for a bike lift like Tronheim has installed.

    And just to make the treadlies here drool, have a look at the Copenhagen Cycle Blog at Copenhagenise and the numerous links on the right of that page.

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  33. Gears can make cycling up a steep Dunedin street relatively easy, but it will never be fast or effortless like freewheeling along the flat streets of Lyon.

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  34. I used to bike to work in Wellington. The main problems I faced were:

    1) Work places need to provide showers and lockers.
    2) There needs to be ample parking space for bikes (they seem to find space for car parks; a single car parking space can accommodate a bike rack with perhaps 10 bikes).
    3) Narrow roads with parked cars whose occupants don’t check for bikes when opening their doors.
    4) Busy and fast roads without a cycle lane.

    Hills aren’t actually too bad; one just goes up them slowly, and then there is always the downhill return journey. I personally reckon the wind is worse, it always seems to be blowing from the front direction. Complaints about helmets seem to be more common from people who don’t really have an intention to bike, but feel they need an excuse to justify not biking.

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  35. “Complaints about helmets seem to be more common from people who don’t really have an intention to bike, but feel they need an excuse to justify not biking.”

    Personally, I’ve stopped wearing mine, other than when biking with kids or on steep down hill runs, and I ride a lot more as a result. The thing’s just a pain in the ass, and I know how to fit them properly and all (which most people still don’t).

    “Nanny statism.”

    More like plain bad law. Less overall injuries, but only by reducing the number of cyclists. Injuries per active cyclist are up, because traffic is less aware, and many motorists don’t know anyone who cycles (and thus, don’t identify with their safety issues).

    As to selling the ordinary casual bike, you need ordinary casual people to get on a bike, without feeling like they’re risking their neck, and without struggling to park it. Chicken and egg stuff, you’d want a friend on the local council before investing in that.

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  36. Wellington city already has counts that indicate up to 6% cyclists. I work at MetService which is up a hill (top of cable car), and we have about 10-15% cycling…. we organised a bike room with showers and lockers, and that is going to double in size in a refurbishment!

    Howver, we can do better to support new comers and those that don’t like playing with traffic…. with protected and safe cycle paths/routes along all main arterial ways, and 30kmp speed limits (shared space) in other suburban areas.

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