Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Biking in Copenhagen

Copenhagen, the most bicycle-friendly city in the world - and I got to see it this summer.

Within five minutes of arriving it was clear that this city was like none other I'd seen. Check out the bikes parked in front of the train station:

A block away I encountered a full-width lane dedicated for bicycles, physically separated from car traffic. Turns out the whole city is like that - and the lanes are packed.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But if you picked up a Seattle biker and dropped him in the middle of Copenhagen the response might not be as euphoric as you'd think.

Did I mention the bike lanes are packed? That means that a substantial portion of the population (the city itself claims 35%) is commuting by bicycle. And it looks it - the bicyclists represent a true cross-section of humanity. High-heel wearing, cell-phone-toting commuters abound, sometimes texting while they pedal. They pile up in great crowds at stop lights.

I suspect a Seattle cyclist would be pulling his hair out in frustration if he thought he could make the same kind of time getting from point A to point B in Copenhagen as an equivalent trip would take in Seattle.

I floated this theory to a friend I met up with who had moved to Copenhagen a year ago. He rolled up to our rendezvous point by bicycle and deftly locked it to a stand with a one-handed flick, acting impressively native, I thought. He confirmed that it took him a while to adjust his expectations and adopt an "I'll get there when I get there" attitude.

The good thing is that everyone seems to have adopted this attitude. I saw no evidence of the short tempers and aggressive weaving I would have expected (and have at rare times experienced) in such a crowded field of cyclists. Somehow, despite the crowding, the Danes have avoided creating a bicycle rat race.

This gives me hope that such a fate can be avoided in Seattle, too, as bicycle usage rises and our routes get crowded with ordinary people (i.e. not Racers and Fitness Geeks). Let it be so.

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