What do you think of?
Maybe it’s the 37% of all trips made by bicycle—and 50% by residents. Or maybe it’s that famous bike counting sign that occasionally reads 36,000 riders, for just one street—and for just one day. Or it could be the fact that, when asked why they bike, only 1% of Copenhageners reported that it’s for environmental reasons—but 56% say they do it because it’s easy and convenient. Or maybe it has something to do with Copenhagen’s miles and miles of bike-specific infrastructure.
What do I think of? It’s clear that I see stats—but I should say that I saw stats. Now I see this:
But a few quick photos don’t do justice to how it actually feels to ride with half the city.
It feels close and connected. Brushing arms mid-pedal with someone on their way to work but not being startled. Seeing families, couples and friends with beach towels heading to the coast on a sunny day.
It feels inclusive and multi-generational. The 91-year old father of a new friend out on his bike today, like every day. A pile of kids and their mom passing by on one of hundreds of cargo bikes. A group of young men playfully riding in no particular direction. A couple in their 60s riding to church.
It feels vibrant and alive. People stopping for lunch and filling the streetscape at outdoor cafes. Kids learning to ride in traffic with parents who don’t look concerned. Tens of thousands of people moving, active, coordinated and pleasant.
It feels like what we want it to feel in Seattle… and in Bellevue, and in Renton, and in Everett, and everywhere. Eight in ten Copenhageners ride here and ride often. So it’s not a community of bicyclists or car drivers or transit-riders or pedestrians. It’s a community of people—people who happen to bicycle.
Lastly, a quick recap of what my first three days in Copenhagen were like:
Saturday: I land a day early to sleep off the 10-hour flight and to go exploring on my own. I pick up a bike and pedal around town, generally stunned by what I’ve only heard about until now. I meet up with a few early arrivals from our group of electeds, practitioners, designers and advocates. We share an evening of beers and dinner at a waterside cafe, outdoor festivals and music and strolling through busy but carless streets. Oh yes, and eventually I get a few hours of sleep.
Sunday: Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and I depart for an amazing 6-hour self-guided and mapless tour that brings us from city center to countryside and back. We finally get the hang of how to ride in traffic—bike traffic. I refill water and take off for a 4-hour trip up the coast where I see a castle, reindeer and seaside towns. I’m wearing jeans and riding a 40-pound upright three speed. Sure, I could live here.
Monday: We begin with a presentation by Andreas Røhl, head of the City’s cycling program. Then a conversation with the Danish Cycling Federation’s executive director, Jens Rasmussen, and staff. And finally a very comprehensive and guided bicycle infrastructure tour of the city by the folks at Copenhagenize. There’s food and debriefing with our group in there, of course. And, luckily, we still have the rest of the week. I’m not tiring of this! And that’s a great feeling.
Thanks to I-Sustain for putting on an excellent trip so far and to the Scan | Design Foundation for their generous support in bringing us here.