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A backlash to bike infrastucture in Copenhagen?

Posted by on July 22nd, 2011 at 11:00 am

Screenshot of The Copenhagen Post

Among planners and bike advocates, Copenhagen is often held up as the apotheosis of a cycling city; a place that “gets it” when it comes to bicycling more than any other city in the world.

But, if an article in The Copenhagen Post (an English-language newspaper), is any indication, there are cracks forming in Copenhagen’s bike-first foundation.

In Dissidents in the City of Cyclists (published last month), the Post reporters paints the picture of a growing backlash against the way Copenhagen city planners insist on giving bicycles such high priority in transportation projects.

Here’s one of the opening paragraphs:

Amidst the fanfare of proposals and newly rolled-out projects for bicyclists, it is sometimes tempting to forget that “the city of cyclists” still has residents who do not want to a ride bicycle, thank you very much. Some Copenhageners still prefer to walk or even – gasp! – drive a car.

The article features comments from the chair of the Danish Pedestrian Association, Mikael le Dous.

le Dous feels like the boom in bike infrastructure and the lobbying power of the 17,000 member strong Danish Cyclists Association has led to a feeling among people who ride that they can pedal the streets wherever they want “with impunity.”

“We started our organisation a little more than five years ago,” le Dous told The Post, “precisely out of frustration with cyclists who violate traffic laws.”

le Dous feels like the numbers of people bicycling combined with their sometimes unsafe behavior is making Copenhagen less livable. “You cannot relax and you have to be alert. You cannot let your children run around…Plus bicycles are a big force compared to old people and children.”

Read the full article here.

I’d love to hear from someone who lives in Copenhagen or who has spent time there. It’s one thing to have push-back to bike infrastructure in New York City, but Copenhagen?!

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Paul
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Paul

Let me guess: these are British people doing the complaining? It’s been the city of cycles for 80 years, save for a few decades with reduced use.

Chris I
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Chris I

“You cannot relax and you have to be alert. You cannot let your children run around…”

Interesting. He would feel safer with them playing around 3000lb cars?

Natty
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Natty

This serves to illustrate the underlying issue not bikes, motor vehicles or segregated infrastructure, but good old human nature.

craig
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craig

Ever try to take your kids or walking/strolling (or your elderly self) along the Esplanade or the Tom McCall waterfront path? We can experience the frustration of Copenhagen pedestrians right here.

I’m pleased that recent PBOT bike projects tend to think safety-first for pedestrians, where appropriate. I’d love to see much of downtown eventually become car-free, and would hate to see it become more hostile for people on foot at the same time.

Especially in the central city, where bikes share space with people on foot, I’m all for clear laws for walking and biking safetly, and for vigilant enforcement of those laws.

Deeeebo
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Deeeebo

Natty is correct. Any time you have a user group that feels entitled you are going to have issues. Where I grew up on the east coast cars had the right of way, always. Even walking with the light at an intersection was taking a risk and you were always made to feel apologetic about holding up the car traffic. Now, in PDX, where every intersection is a crosswalk and peds have the right of way, its the other way around. Peds walk counter to signals or jaywalk or whatever they feel like and then yell at the cars (this from 1.5 years doing deliveries in downtown). It seems reasonable that some of this entitlement would exist with Copenhagen cyclists if the emphasis is primarily on them.

Andy
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Andy

As a pedestrian first, biker distant second, my annoyances in Portland come down to cars, skaters dowtown, and bikers ignoring stopsigns a very distant outlyer. Have never felt threat from bikers however…

Irving Washington
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Irving Washington

In Seattle, you need to be VERY careful when walking on the Burke Gilman Trail. As a cyclist I enjoy the BGT a lot, but I had my eyes opened last year when I took a 5 mile walk on the trail…it scared the dickens out of me. In Renton an old woman walking on the Cedar River trail was run down and killed by a cyclist last year.

Paul Hanrahan
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Paul Hanrahan

Whenever I see people on bikes making careless moves that could hurt others or themselves I am glad that they aren’t behind the wheel of a car making those same poor choices.

wsbob
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wsbob

‘Dissidents in the City of Cyclists’ is quite an article. The interviewee doesn’t shy away from using a few hot-button terms to make a point…which probably isn’t the wisest thing to do, but the interview seemed to continue on constructively nonetheless.

Compared to the U.S., society is markedly different in Denmark, and that’s reflected in the article and comments to it. Apparently, it’s more costly to own a car over there, than it is here.

A good point raised in the article, is that Copenhagen and many other older European cities weren’t designed for use of cars, and so use of them in great numbers would pose an insurmountable challenge. In Copenhagen, a large percentage of the population has to ride bikes, because there simply isn’t room on the streets to handle all of the car use that would result if they didn’t ride bikes.

The interviewee, Mikael le Dous, chairman of the Danish Pedestrian Association, lowers the boom on people riding bikes that arrogantly disregard road use regulations and the rights to safe use of the road, of people driving motor vehicles and people on foot alike.

Here in the U.S., in Portland, Beaverton, and the metro area, there are many people that, for one reason or another, cannot ride a bike to get around. They might want to…but they can’t. Planning a well functioning, livable community, and residing within it has to take this reality into consideration.

Al from PA
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Al from PA

I spent a week in Copenhagen, then a week in Amsterdam, in late May/early June (2011).

Amsterdam is the big time. Bike lanes/cycle tracks everywhere, fast riders in the lanes, bikes piled everywhere on the streets (half of them abandoned) –and if you get bored with the frantic (but efficient) pace, a motor scooter whizzes past you, in the bike lane, apparently quite legally, fighting for space and threatening to blow you away. Bikes are transparent–you don’t get the sense anyone really likes them, is an enthusiast, etc.–they just use them, the way you use a pencil. And everybody uses them. Of course you have to watch out for bikes at street crossings, the way you do for cars.

Copenhagen has a small(er) town feel, and is closer to Portland in the sense that people seem genuinely enthused about cycling–there are more fixies (than in Amsterdam) and recreational riders, and the Christiania trikes with children in the front box are very common. Children are obviously loved and biking is very much a family thing. People, especially with kids, ride at a very leisurely pace on side streets. I rode all over the city all week and did not note many scofflaw riders–quite the opposite. Danes all are well behaved, very fit, are made of sterner stuff than Americans, wait their turn in line (and make sure you do too), and tolerate dissidence only when it is carefully contained–such as in Christiania, the hippie haven where pot smoking is acceptable (and where the trikes are made). The center part of town is pedestrian only, and I did not see cyclists disrespecting walkers. Riding the wrong way on a cycle track or running a red light in either Amsterdam or Copehnhagen would be a touch suicidal–like driving the wrong way down the freeway in the US.

I think it would be very hard to separate walking from biking in Copenhagen–both are manifestations of the Danes’ overall healthiness and self-reliance.

spare_wheel
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spare_wheel

“Bike lanes/cycle tracks everywhere, fast riders in the lanes…–and if you get bored with the frantic (but efficient) pace…”

Like.

“Danes all are well behaved…wait their turn in line (and make sure you do too),”

Dislike.

AJL
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AJL

Irving Washington, the remark about the BGT may be right on about sunny summer days and lots of people out there…however the comment about the elderly woman killed is misleading. A police inquiry determined that the woman had unexpectedly stepped onto the path in front of the cyclist without looking and the cyclist had no warning she was there. They cyclist was exonterated of any wrongdoing.

Al from PA
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Al from PA
Al from PA
Guest
Al from PA

Ça y est–I found it after all:

http://vimeo.com/16369933

In all its colorized glory, with a –ahem–very dated commentary. The bikes start around 6:14.

Hart Noecker
Guest

Some backlash. One op-ed does not a backlash make.

mary
Guest
mary

I spent a week cycling in Copenhagen in October 2009 (fall weather, some rain, spending time with local and European cyclists). It’s not a big sample, but I never saw anybody run a red light. To turn left, everyone did the “box” left turn, in which they start across the street, then line up with the cross street and wait for the green. One local bike manufacturer did mention the push-back against additional bike trails into the city — apparently one party was campaigning against another and citing the expense and inconvenience to drivers of accommodating all the cyclists.

9watts
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9watts

The article is a bit lopsided. After starting with the “Some Copenhageners still prefer to walk or even – gasp! – drive a car.” quote we don’t hear about cars again. The focus is entirely on the bikers-behave-badly and pedestrians-are-thus-unsafe perspective. The case for a ‘backlash’ would have been a stronger if someone had included statistics. There’s a fair amount of ‘might’ and ‘wouldn’t.’

Mike
Guest
Mike

I think the author brings up a good point. Cyclists need to obey traffic laws just like every other user of the road. If they do not, it is increases unsafe conditions for everyone. It is not too much to ask that cyclists obey the laws and consider other users of the road.

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

I spent a weekend in Copenhagen in June this year. When I read a sign about the new bicyclist/pedestrian bridge to Nyhavn that is mentioned in the article, a woman stepped up to me and told me how bad this is for the boaters. She said the boaters are more restricted or less flexible about leaving the harbor because the bridge needs to be raised. Our conversation was limited due to my limited Danish. It seemed very much a “not in my backyard” position. Those new bridges (one has been built 2-3 more planned) are combined pedestrian and bicyclist bridges, no cars. I don’t know how much separation there will be, but it sounded to me like a great concept for alternative transportation modes, as these bridges will significantly shorten travel distances and this way make biking or walking feasible in the first place.
Apart from that, bikers are mostly separated from both cars and pedestrians in Copenhagen and I didn’t notice any problems. Maybe it’s just a sign of the success or maturity of the Copenhagen transportation policies that pedestrians and bikers fight each other and not cars.
As far as elderly people biking, the comments above are very much an US perspective. In Germany and Denmark people of all ages bike, because they have done it all their lives, they do it at a leisurely pace and in street clothes. In the US biking is a sport, in Europe it’s a mode of transportation. In Germany, many elderly women either don’t own cars (just owning a car is much more expensive in Europe), or don’t even have a drivers licence, so that get around by bike or foot as long as they can.