The city where half of all commuters travel by bike

by Rebecca Macfie / 14 February, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Copenhagen bike nz

A bike-share rack in Copenhagen. Photo/Getty Images

In Denmark’s capital, half of all commuters travel by bicycle every day, compared to 2.9% of New Zealanders.

In the 2013 Census, 2.9% of New Zealanders who travelled to work reported riding a bicycle – up slightly from 2.5% at the previous census. More than 80% went by car, truck or van.

In Copenhagen, 50% of citizens commute by bike every day, despite the short winter days and the often-harsh weather. Two-thirds of politicians routinely bike to work at the Danish Parliament. How did the city achieve this level of bicycle use?

Marianne Weinreich is from the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, a network of cycling professionals, local authorities and non-governmental organisations that encourages cycling around the world. She says cars dominated Danish roads in the 1970s, and there was talk of removing long-standing cycle paths. Cyclists took to the streets in protest, gathering in huge demonstrations outside city hall in Copenhagen.

Since then the city has allocated funding for cycling and, throughout the country, cycling infrastructure is built into municipal budgets and backed by street-design standards stipulating where protected cycleways are required.

Separation of cyclists from traffic is essential on high-volume roads, she says. “It is a question of political will. The space is there. It’s a question of how politicians choose to distribute that space to the different users or different modes of transport.”

Marianne Weinreich.

When car lanes are narrowed to create cycleways, people complain it will create congestion and slow down the traffic, but she says the evidence refutes that. “Cities like New York, that have made these changes, have shown travel times for cars do not increase, because the whole flow works better.”

The “carrot” of cycle lanes is not enough, however. “There also needs to be some stick,” Weinreich says. Car parking is scarce and expensive in Copenhagen and smaller cities, including her home town of Aarhus. “I don’t have a car any more, because I spent so much time finding a park.”

Residents pay a high price for parking permits, although she doubts it represents the true value of the street space taken up by stationary cars.

Allocating space for parked cars “is not smart, and we want smart cities. The smartest choice you can make in the city is to use your bike and walk. It’s fast and healthy … And cycling is good for business. Many business owners seem to think it’s a car that buys things. But people buy things, and the more people who can get to the shop, the better. And in many cases where you make streets car free and bring in people, they shop. Parked cars don’t shop.”

For more on why more people don't cycle in New Zealand, despite its potential to make us healthier and happier, and our cities less congested and polluted, pick up a copy of the new Listener magazine.

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