What London can learn from Copenhagen about cycling

Copenhagen… Officially the capital of the happiest country on Earth. There is much to admire, that’s for sure. And one of the most noticeable things about it is how much the local’s cycle!

I recently went to Copenhagen for the first time and was blown away.  The attitude towards cycling, the infrastructure, the sheer number of cyclists on the roads and the high levels of happiness from the people. 

Unfortunately, London couldn’t be more different – stress levels are high, angry drivers rule the roads, cyclists don’t have the required infrastructure for safe travel and, generally speaking, cycling isn’t seen as the best way to get to work (or anywhere).

If you commute to work by bike, you’ll know what I mean. As a London cycling commuter, it is pretty clear that cyclists are still considered as secondary on the roads. In Copenhagen, this is totally the other way around. 

Why is cycling so popular in Copenhagen?

  • Cycling helps make the city greener. By 2025, Copenhagen hopes to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital. 
  • The capital is full of helpful cycle-friendly features, like ‘green wave’ traffic lights, harbour bike bridges, digital countdowns and footrests at junctions.
  • There is a focus on encouraging more cyclists – not only for the obvious health and productivity benefits, but the financial benefits too (the cost of 1km of cycling track is paid off in 5 years by the health benefits of users getting more exercise. The 41% of the population who arrive at work or school by bike contribute €235m (£185m) a year to the public coffers.)
  • 28 cycling superhighways make travel from the suburbs to the city centre efficient and safe. Cycling as a method of transport is deemed extremely safe due to the separated infrastructure.
  • ‘Citizen cyclists’ take precedent, not just those who wear lycra and cycle expensive bikes. Cycling is promoted to all ages and abilities.

Copenhagen combines action with words

A serious approach is needed to change. Clearly, new infrastructure requires significant investment – although cycling infrastructure is a lot cheaper than expanding a motorway. 

When it comes to cycling, Copenhagen is all action. The city continually builds cycling bridges and superhighways, with plenty more planned.

London, on the other hand, is still way behind the curve. There has been plenty of ‘talk’ with very little actual substance. And plans are continually sidetracked by bizarre ideas such as Lord Foster’s SkyCycle dream – an idea that sounds fantastic but has little functional value.

Cyclists are not the same as drivers, and the two shouldn’t be sharing space on the road. Safe and effective cycling belongs on proper cycling routes, separate to the roads.

Copenhagen’s approach to investing in high-quality cycle networks is a refreshing approach – one that London should be taking note of. In Copenhagen, a remarkable 60% of all journeys to work or education are made by bike.

What lessons can London learn?

  • Continuous investment is needed in high-quality cycling infrastructure. It can’t fail when political administrations change. Cycling budgets need to become a general consensus. 
  • A safe cycling network is important to encourage cyclists. Protected cycle routes are the only way to get more people of all abilities on a bike.
  • Investment is required for maintaining cycle route quality. There are too many potholes and defects on London roads.
  • Cycling facilities, such as secure bike parking, need to be made more accessible. This is particularly important at offices, stations and so on.

The potential health, economic and environmental benefits

Why should London care? Well, with obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, plus generally low levels of physical activity in the UK contributing to unhappiness and increased chances of serious health issues, cycling can be an answer to helping our nation get active.

Comparatively, Copenhagen is regularly at the top of the UN’s happiness index and the Healthy Cities initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Plus, the numbers speak for themselves:

  • Residents who cycle in Copenhagen request in 1.1 million fewer sick days
  • Cyclists reduce CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons a year, on average
  • Every kilometre travelled by bike instead of by car means €1 (USD 1.16) gained in terms of health benefits

Impressive. London, take note.

If you are interested in cycling to work but don’t know where to start, check out our blog.

Chris Smith
Founder of Vivi Nation, sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete, keen cyclist and optimistic Liverpool FC fan.

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