Copenhagen and Amsterdam rank among the best cities for cyclists in the world – with Berlin not far behind. The Danish capital is even home to cycling ambassadors who persuade decision makers around the world to prioritize bikes over cars.
It’s Friday morning in Copenhagen, and Nørrebrogade and Dronning Louises Bro are packed with as many cyclists as a Tour de France peloton, heading towards Nørreport and Strøget along the four-meter-wide cycle lanes. Over 35,000 cyclists pass here every day, most dressed in everyday clothes and riding normal road bikes. But the peloton also includes tandems, electric bikes and the popular Christiania cargo bikes, carrying kids, dogs or parcels.
“People from Copenhagen love cycling and these days there are more cyclists than cars in the city center,” says Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Copenhagen cycling ambassador, as he takes me on a pedal tour of the center. After heading past Tivoli, Strøget, and Nyhavn, we stop for morning coffee at a small café as cyclists pass by just a couple of meters from our table.
The wide cycle lanes have reduced road space for cars and with traffic lights tailored to turn green for cyclists, you rarely wait long at a red light. If you do have to stop, there are comfortable footrests and railings to lean on at crossings. Colville-Andersen’s days are busy. He is the brains behind the Copenhagenize Design Company, a consultancy that campaigns to re-establish cycling as the natural mode of transport in big cities around the world. Dublin, Barcelona, Winnipeg, Sao Paulo and Bangkok are just some of the places where he and his colleagues have advised decision makers.
“We don’t discuss cycling as such,” Colville-Andersen says. “We are not so much cycling fanatics at Copenhagenize, more a group of individuals who want to cycle rather than drive in a city. And we know from experience that the more people cycle, the higher the quality of life becomes for everyone who lives in the city.”
For the last ten years, Colville-Andersen has run the blog “Cycle Chic” that has a clear and concise stance – never dress in tight-fitting, garish Lycra cycling apparel.
“I’m against all forms of cycling haste and encourage people to adopt an upright stance, cycle at a modest tempo and with clothes to match. Most cyclists here in Copenhagen today seem to agree with that. We’re individualists and to a certain degree, good anarchists,” he says with a smile.
Colville-Andersen travels regularly to major cities to persuade city planners and politicians to make their cities more cyclefriendly.
“Pretty much all the big cities in Europe were cyclist zones until the end of the 1940s, when up to 60% of the population commuted to work by bike. By the end of the 1960s though, that figure had fallen to 2–3%. That’s how bad it was. However, in the early 1980s, decision makers in Copenhagen woke up and the city has slowly but surely established itself as one of the leading cycling cities in the world.”
Copenhagen locals don’t make such a big thing about cycling; they simply pedal because it’s quick and easy. This is thanks to good urban planning with over 400km of cycle lanes, the fact that it’s OK to cycle the wrong way down a one-way street, not to mention the cycle bridges and especially the cycle superhighways for commuters.