You really don’t get a full appreciation for the extent to which people in many European cities utilise bicycles until you’ve been there. I tried to take photos which would reflect the sheer number of bicycles parked beside the road and outside buildings along the streets but they all came up well short of conveying the numbers. There are literally tens of thousands of them just in the few blocks I explored here in Copenhagen around my hotel, sometimes even stacked on multi-storey racks. For an Australian, it’s nothing short of astonishing.
Everyone rides bikes here, everyone.
There is a steady drip of cyclists going by on the bike paths but not a huge number compared to the number of bikes parked. No doubt people use them to get to trains and to school and work. The bicycle infrastructure is of course ubiquitous but not especially rigid or highly delineated. The bike lane is just a two metre wide path sitting about 50mm below the footpath with no other physical barrier and virtually no visual marking. It’s old and well used but everyone seems to know exactly how to get along. Cyclists have right of way everywhere and they exercise that right regularly. I saw a few manouevers that made me gasp in expectation of a nasty accident but it never came.
Most people don’t wear helmets but given that they are not mandatory, a decent number were wearing them. My taxi driver told me that when you apply for your drivers license in Denmark, there is a lot of emphasis on learning to drive with cyclists.
It certainly would be amazing to see cars removed from our cities in Australia and replaced with bikes but as ever, cycling infrastructure like bike lanes while great for slow, solo cyclists, are completely useless (ie. dangerous) for anyone riding faster than about 20km/hr or riding in a group. The road is the only place for that.
The difference between the current Australian motorist’s attitude towards cyclists and that of European motorists is stark and I’m not sure how we work towards more tolerance. It’s not like the cyclists in Copenhagen were deferent or rode predictably or obeyed the traffic signals. All the things we Australians typically think cyclists must do in order to be tolerated and accepted on our roads. They did none of these things but it still didn’t matter. Cycling and acceptance of cycling was deeply embedded in their culture. They ride as children, as teenagers, as adults, as parents and even as elderly citizens. We ride as children and teenagers too but at 18, we get a car and most will never ride a bike again. This is where I think the difference lies.