a couple of Copenhagen reality checks

I was in Copenhagen last week. don’t get me wrong, it’s a great cycling city, but it did not measure up to the hype. Part of this is probably because I’ve been to Munich, which has at least as good if not better cycling infrastructure. But another part is the semi-mythology which has grown up around how “nobody wears a helmet in Copenhagen”…which, from my visit, is patently false. To be fair, I would say that fewer people wear helmets in Copenhagen than in Boston, but it’s not as if no one does. Lots of people wear them…not just the spandex crowd, and not just parents with kids in tow.

The other thing is that it’s certainly not the case that every street has a cycletrack. Many do, to be sure, but as the photo above shows (and as I experienced many times on my ride), a lot of it feels like riding in Boston with sharrows and merging with traffic. The difference I would say is that Copenhagen drivers are remarkably considerate of cyclists. Even the driver of the cab pictured above told me “I love cyclists” as he slowed down to let them pass.

One key difference is that people follow the law, unlike Boston. They stop for lights (also true in Munich, where I’m told running a red light can forfeit your license for a month) and they use lights at night. There is a 100 Euro fine for riding without a light at night, and I couldn’t find anyone riding at night who didn’t have a light. In fact I saw people without lights walking their bikes! Perhaps the difference is that the Danish police actually enforce the law, unlike in Boston where it seems to be a free-for-all for jaywalkers, cell-phone-toting drivers, and salmon cyclists alike.

Last point: Copenhagen does have tons of cycletracks, and how they built them is interesting. As one of the two photos above shows, the sidewalks are remarkably narrow. My best guess is that they built the cycletracks on top of the existing sidewalks. Just as in Munich, the cycletracks are usually raised off of the roadway (like Vassar St. in Cambridge) but are paved differently (not just painted differently as Vassar St.). The different pavement makes a difference. I didn’t see any peds or cars in the cycletracks. could we narrow some of our palatial Boston sidewalks?

first photo: guy on a bike (with a helmet) not in a cycletrack, just moving with traffic

helmet copenhaged

second photo: see how narrow the sidewalks are! (one cyclist with helmet, one without)


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