The Greatest Invention

By Klaus Bondam4.06.2015Culture and Society, Europe

Copenhagen is famous as a cycling city. How did its city council create this world-renowned cycling culture? By making cycling the easiest option.

Imagine a vessel that can carry you fast crosstown through jam-packed streets at rush hour. Capable of carrying both a few kids and your groceries, this vessel also gives you the amount of exercise that experts recommend in order to diminish the risk of an extensive list of lifestyle diseases. And last but not least – this vessel creates zero carbon emissions on your escape through the never ending horde of polluting cars.

I bet you think that this vessel is the crown of modern technology, and that if such a vessel could enter the market at a reasonable price, it would be the end of traffic as we know it. I am here to tell you that this vessel is not something from a science fiction future. It has already been invented, and I am not afraid to call it the greatest invention the world has ever seen. Remarkably, it is in fact very affordable, much more affordable than the car.

The Myth of the Car

Ever since the 1950s, the car has been one of strongest symbols of freedom in the western world — our idea of fast, easy and effortless transport. The symbol still stands strong today, even though the darker sides of our fast growing car culture have become more and more obvious.

The reality of driving a car is seldom anywhere close to the freedom portrayed in road movies. Everyday life for many car owners entails long hours waiting in traffic jams, unpredictable fuel costs, and for many a profound lack of physical activity — hardly in line with our romantic expectations. Sitting in our cars, we waste our time and money and jeopardize our health and the environment. But what are the alternatives? What is this magic vessel that will improve your commuting life drastically?

Simplicity Counts

As you might have guessed, and the majority of commuters here in Copenhagen have already found out, _the bicycle_ is the answer to a healthier lifestyle, a cleaner environment, and a much less frustrating commute. Every day, hundred of thousands of Copenhageners do their daily commutes on a broad variety of bicycles: city bikes, cargo bikes, mountain bikes, electric bikes. Even our mailmen deliver mail on electric cargo bikes.

The main reason why the bike has become such a popular choice: It’s the easiest way! It’s healthy, cheap, sustainable, and nowadays the two-wheeler is even pretty trendy in major cities around the world. But at the end of the day, simplicity is the one thing that really counts for commuters.

Copenhagen has the last couple of decades been a frontrunner when it comes to systematically strengthening bicycle culture. Some would say that it was strong already, but entrepreneurs and politicians have made remarkable solutions to make life easier for cyclists — and with good results.

Political Will

Danes usually do not praise politicians very much, but I must say that I am impressed with the bold and lasting efforts of my former colleagues in Copenhagen’s city council to improve the circumstances for cyclists with groundbreaking alterations in the way we think about traffic. We are in fact slowly changing from thinking about cars as the central factor in the traffic design to regard motorized vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians as pieces in a puzzle that all need to fit.

I sometimes say that a city has the amount of cyclists it deserves. Road safety is the most important place to begin for cities that want their inhabitants to have a more free choice when it comes to picking the best means of transport. If it isn’t safe to ride a bike, almost no one will do so. Convenience is the second step. When your legs are your engine, the last thing you want is detours. Finally, communities must teach children how to cycle at a young age. They are the fuel that will keep your cycling culture alive in the future. An early cyclist is a lasting cyclist, as we say in Denmark.

Danish Inspiration

Many officials and leaders from cities around the world visit Copenhagen to ask us for advice on how to get more of their citizens up on the bike. We take them on a course around town. First of all, they see safe, separated cycle tracks on almost all major streets. We also show away our dedicated cycle and foot bridges crossing the harbor, our network of so-called green paths, which takes cyclists quickly through town without motorized competition, and our trains with bicycle dedicated carriages to transport your bicycle without extra cost.

If you want to have bicycles cycling your city, you have to build your city for bicycles to cycle. In Copenhagen we have gained a good reputation for cycling — but we are still not finished. The ambition is to continue making our capital even more bicycle friendly, because every time we enhance the cycling quality in Copenhagen, more people are saddling up instead of taking a car.

More and more people realize the benefits of this ingenious invention that can indeed make the world a better place. I think that the least we can do is to give them the infrastructure to do so.

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