There are few greater feelings of freedom and of joy than to cycle the streets of Copenhagen.
My mornings start the same way: shower, cup of coffee, breakfast, news, food — and out the door. I take the stairs down from my apartment to the street and find my bike parked against the wall, just where I left it the night before amongst dozens of other bikes.
I put on some music, put my headphones on and get on the bike and start pedaling. This is where the fun begins.
I commute to work each morning by bicycle. It’s about a 5 km ride and it takes me between 15 and 20 minutes. Going by public transportation — the bus — would take about 30 minutes (given that the planets are aligned, everything is on schedule and I’m having a lucky day). The same route, going by car, would take about 13 minutes according to Google Maps. That is without accounting for all the morning traffic coming in from the suburbs. Oh, and finding a place to park, of course.
Going by bike is simply the best way to get around Copenhagen. I take several shortcuts each morning that are simply impossible by car. I don’t have to wait forever for a green light, although one particular bridge over the inner lakes of Copenhagen between the Nørrebro borough and the Inner City is so heavily populated by crossing cyclists, that it can be difficult to get everyone across at once.
Most of Copenhagen has wide bike lanes on both sides of the street, between the pedestrian sidewalk and the street (often with parked cars lining the streets as a sort of ‘buffer’ between cyclists and fast-going cars and trucks). A lot of places have additional traffic lights just for cyclists, letting the two-wheeled commuters get a head start in crossing the street.
I love the freedom of cycling. It’s just so easy. My bicycle is a 1-gear-bike with handbrakes front and back. It’s not a fixie, but the fact that it doesn’t have any gears mean that I don’t have to do anything while I’m biking. I can just…bike. There’s a certain connection you get with the mechanical wonder that is moving you around the asphalt, when the bike only has one way of transferring the force you apply on the pedals to propulsion. It means that when your legs go faster, so does the bike — you can’t just gear up and down. It might not sound important, but it actually means, that I always know, how my much loved instrument of transportation will react to my movements.
I don’t even think. I just flow.
Clearly a bicycle has environmental and urban advantages to, say, a car or a tight grid of different modes of public transportation. A bike doesn’t make as much noise a car, it is cleaner and healthier. It is extremely cheap and requires not gas nor a huge insurance. And it doesn’t take up as much space on the road, neither while driving or when parked. Some people actually pick up their bike and bring it in to the office. For safety reasons, I guess, and because, hey, why not? Pretty neat.
I’m not opposed to public transportation, and I was extremely pleased with being able to get around the city by bus, when I suffered from a sports injury 18 months ago, rendering me unable to bike and forcing me to go around on crutches. And I still use the bus for longer trips, sometimes when it’s cold or rainy (which can be often here in Scandinavia), and when I need to transport stuff.
Still, there is nothing like getting on the bike and knowing, that wherever you need to go, however your day turns out and what you want to do later on, whenever you want to get from one point to another, you can go by bike, and there is an easy, practical, environmentally friendly and, might I add, rather stylish way of getting around your town.
City planners around the world need to embrace this fact. Danish architect Jan Gehl has shared with the world the philosophy of ‘Cities for Humans’. The idea that urban planning should be done not with cars but with people in mind. This means no huge multi-lane-streets should be scarring their way through an area, because that makes the area simply uninhabitable by human beings. You can’t hang out by a highway. Instead, we should try to embrace smaller streets with less — and slower! — traffic, wider pedestrian lanes and dedicated bike lanes. Making cities walkable and bikeable should be on top of the agenda of urban planners of our generation. Humans aren’t built for traveling side-by-side with cars and trucks going 50 mph. We need traffic in a more human scale.
I love my bike, but mostly I just love the idea that I can go everywhere in my city with it. I can ride alone while listening to music, or I can go side by side with friends, chatting along the way. I never worry about parking, but can simply throw it against a wall and walk away. It’s easy and fun. And more people — and more cities — should do it.