Athlyn Cathcart-Keays in Copenhagen
Friday 17 November 2017 07.30 GMT
It’s 8am on a rainy weekday morning on Copenhagen’s Nørrebrogade street and the stream of cyclists making their way into city centre is already getting jammed.
Cyclists often have to wait through two or three rounds of green lights before they can get past. At Dronning Louise Bridge – one of the busiest cycle routes in the world, with 48,400 bikes crossing each day – newly installed information boards remind riders to pas på hinanden, or be aware of each other.
It is these bike jams that have so many tourists lining up at the lights every morning to take photos – and has made the city a byword for cycling. But recently Copenhagen’s cycling culture seems to have hit a bump in the road.
Over the past two decades, Copenhagen has experienced a 68% rise in cycle traffic, with 2bn Danish kroner (£240m) invested in bike-friendly infrastructure. A year ago sensors clocked a new record, with bikes outnumbering cars in the city centre for the first time.
But after years on the rise, the proportion of people riding to work or school in the city centre has fallen. Its cycle share of 41% is still something many cities would aspire to, but it is a significant fall from the 45% recorded in 2014 and some way off the 2025 target of having half the population commuting by bike. A similar trend is evident in the city’s outskirts, too.
“I’m not really worried,” says Morten Kabell, the mayor of technical and environmental affairs. He points to data showing that while the percentage of journeys taken by bike fell from 2014 to 2016, the number of kilometres cycled every weekday actually rose. “If you look at the overall number of people riding bicycles, they’re riding even more than before,” he says. “The trend only really goes one way, and fortunately that is up.”
But with the city growing – a steady increase in the inner-city population from 600,000 to 715,000 is forecast over the next 10 years – some senior cycling advocates and campaigners are concerned.
Klaus Bondam, the director of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and former holder of Kabell’s post, blames the fall partly on the sheer number of cyclists jostling for space.
While delighted that the bike lanes are widely used, Bondam says the city must do more to tackle bottlenecks. “The jewel of Copenhagen’s bike infrastructure has been that it’s well connected,” he says. “But it’s not so good when you have big broad stretches on some streets and really narrow ones on others. And there has been a tendency to plan for the city we know. Instead, we need to connect new parts of the city with the old.”
When City Hall ran an online consultation last year, respondents highlighted missing links to and from newer areas of the city, such as Nordhavn to the east and Amager Strand to the south. And several developments are springing up across the city, many driven by the construction of the metro’s new Circle Route.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Copenhagen’s streets remains the presence of cars and the space dedicated to them.