How did Copenhagen create a bicycling culture?

This month, I dropped my son off for a fall semester of study abroad in Copenhagen.

One of the most striking features of the city is the bike culture.

About half of Copenhagen’s residents use a bicycle on any given day. This is remarkable because although Copenhagen is flat, is cold in winter, gets a lot of rain, has nasty winds, and is full of narrow streets. One might assume that the city has a very long history of bicycle use, going back to say the 1900s when bicycles first became widely Karl taking part in the bicycle culture in Copenhagenavailable. Not so. The remarkable use of bicycles is the result of efforts applied only over the past 40 years or so. Some call it culture, but mostly the bicycle culture is the result of impeccable care, deliberate experimentation, and continuous improvement in the actual design of the infrastructure that supports bicycling. The net result is that bicycling is just a better transportation solution than the other alternatives.

I’ll give just two examples. Copenhagen has implemented a “green wave” on four major routes in the city. If you ride at 20 kph (12 mph) you will never hit a red light. All lights are timed to support bicyclists not cars. (Spruce Street, the main route West for bikes in Philadelphia also has a green wave — but for cars and it is set at 33 kph (20 mph), too fast for bikes. The routes with green waves have little LED powered lights in the street that turn green when you are in the wave. How cool is that? Another example is tiny, but indicative of the care taken: trash cans are mounted on poles and angled at about 30 degrees with the opening towards the cyclist to allow easy disposal of trash from the bike. There are too many details to mention. Let me point you to a series of fascinating videos from the design consultancy Copenhagenize that explains these design choices. Here is the one on micro details. Wow.

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Karl Ulrich

Co-inventor and Co-founder at Xootr
Karl T. Ulrich is a co-founder of Xootr. He teaches innovation, entrepreneurship, and design at the University of Pennsylvania. He is passionate about personal transportation and commutes to the office by Xootr Swift Folder or Xootr Roma every day.
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