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According to the Copenhagen Post, the Danish city is to do a ‘London’ and will soon start charging motorists for entry.
This will have a beneficial impact on the levels of cycling in a city that already sees 36 percent of its populace get around by bicycle.
This prompts me to run my piece that appeared in The Guardian last week, a column all about Copenhagen’s attempts to become even more bike friendly than it already is.
TWO WHEELS, THE GUARDIAN
Some might say Mikael Colville-Andersen, owner of the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, has photographed a disproportionate number of beautiful women cycling in short skirts. Others may say there aren’t nearly enough websites to major on this.
To be fair to Colville-Andersen (English mum, Danish dad) he features pix of Copenhagen’s male cyclists, too. Just so long as they’re stylish. Colville-Andersen is The Sartorialist on two wheels.
His website shows you don’t have to be dressed in Lycra to get to the office on time on a bike. Nor is there any great need for the supposed number one requirement for every new workplace cycle facility in the UK: a shower. Cycling in civvies is the done thing in Copenhagen, argues Colville-Andersen, so don’t scare off potential newbies by fixating on ‘proper’ cycle clothing or the necessity for full-body suds.
And don’t mention the H word. Copenhagen’s cycling citizenry aren’t into cycle helmets. For the reason why, you have to hang-out at Colville-Andersen’s other Copenhagen-themed blog, albeit one that’s not quite so popular. Too few pix of women cycling in high heels, no doubt.
Copenhagenize.com is “life in the world’s cycling capital.”
Colville-Andersen ends lots of his posts with the dictum “Copenhagenize the planet.” He wants cycling to be recognised as a normal way of getting around town.
“So many people in other countries have been brainwashed into believing that cycling is just a sport or a hobby and hadn’t entertained the thought that it could be a daily transport activity,” he told me.
“So many Copenhageners ride in style, on normal bikes and in normal clothes. Even those who are not ‘chic’ ride with an ease and elegance that borders on poetry.”
There are YouTube videos which show this ‘poetry in motion’. Copenhagenize.com linked to one from the Netherlands which focusses just on the school-run. Hordes of young cyclists weave in and out of each other’s trajectories as they ride to school. Similar scenes can be witnessed each day in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen hasn’t always been wall to wall bikes. The first Copenhagen cyclepath to be purposefully built as a segregated facility, with a raised kerb, was only created 25 years ago.
Colville-Andersen said the bike culture in Copenhagen was built almost from scratch. There was a political will to make it happen, funds were allocated. Funds are still allocated.
“We’re not bike-friendly because it’s a flat city. We ride lots because of visionary political decisions.”
These political decisions were unpopular at the time. Now, Danes can’t remember there was a time before mass bicycle culture. Cycle use in Copenhagen is at an impressive 36 percent (the UK average is 2 percent). City officials want to see this rise to 50 percent by 2015. The goal is for the City of Copenhagen to become the World’s Environmental Capital by the same year.
To reach this target, Copenhagen is closing major thoroughfares to cars, creating bike motorways in their place.
Nørrebro Street sees the passage of 30,000 bikes a day and only 15,000 cars. That makes it a prime candidate for closure to cars. Copenhagen also operates a Green Wave system on various streets: if you ride at a steady speed you’ll hit green lights all the way. The city’s vice-mayor has proposed that when the pollution levels in the city rise too high, all the traffic lights on the roads at the edge of the city will turn red, stranding cars in official gridlock.
It’s this sort of radical thinking - and acknowledgement that such ideas will be unpopular at first - which will be needed by local politicians in Blackpool, Cambridge, Chester, Colchester, Leighton/Linslade, Shrewsbury, Southend on Sea, Southport with Ainsdale, Stoke, Woking and York. These are the second wave of towns to be accorded ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’ status. Bristol is the first ‘Cycling City’. Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly made the announcement of the winning bids in the middle of Bike Week. The towns - and Bristol - share £100m of government funding and need to match it from local funds.
Bristol wants to create a Velib-style on-street bike rental network, modelled on the successful Paris scheme. It also plans to build a “state-of-the-art facility for cyclists in the city centre providing showers, bike parking and lockers so commuters can have a wash and brush up before starting work.”
Why are Brit cycle planners fixated on personal hygiene? A small number of die-hard, long-distance speedy cycle commuters may need a hose down before mixing with colleagues but the majority can remain the great unwashed because cycling short distances across town in normal clothes isn’t a sweat-fest. Plugging showers reinforces the view that cycling is difficult, smelly and, well, different. Copenhagen doesn’t force its biking populace to bathe, it takes space from cars and gives it over to bicycle and pedestrian use. The true test for England’s latest Cycling Demonstration towns won’t be which one can instal the plushest bath-room, it’s whether they can ignore the pleas of motorists and truly “Copenhagenize” their streets.