The Copenhagen conference is upon us, and what's happening ? Well, CO2 emissions from delegates travelling to the conference are huge for a start, so let's hope they achieve something.
No doubt we've also got any number of articles about "the world's cycling capital" to look forward to.
So what's the problem with this ?
Danish cyclists are increasingly scared to cycle. A recent press release from the city revealed that the number of people who feel safe cycling on the city's streets has fallen from 47% to 40%. An officer from the city's cycling programme is quoted as saying 'More parents don't want their children to ride.'
You can see why there is this concern over safety in almost any photo of cyclists in the city. The majority of cycle paths have no real separation from the street. To cycle in Copenhagen is to cycle in close proximity to motor vehicles. This leads inevitably to a lower level of subjective safety.
The paths are also very narrow. Many are just two or 2.2 metres wide. This is much narrower than the 2.5 m + 1.5 m separation from the road which is normal in the Netherlands for single direction paths. A recent report from the Fietsberaad reported that there is "no promotion" and "almost no important technical or infrastructural innovation."
The cyclists of Copenhagen include relatively few children. Helmets are much more common than here in the Netherlands (they reflect the feeling of safety of those who choose to wear them). There are lots of motor vehicles.
When the Copenhagenize blog includes a piece on cycling to school, you don't see videos of Danish children. Rather, the blog has used the video I shot of Dutch children here in Assen. That's great, but where are the Danish children ? This is important. I can see the next generation of Dutch cyclists already riding their bikes, but not where the next generation of Danish cyclists will come from.
Danish children cycle to school less than ever. Lots of people do use cargo bikes to transport their children within cities, but children are relatively infrequently seen on their own bikes. To be fair, Copenhagen is trying to do something about this, and Mikael is right to point out the absurd direction in which cycle promotion has been heading in Denmark. But the cycling rate in the country as a whole has dropped 30% since 1990. (Sadly, it continues to drop).
So how much cycling is there in Copenhagen ?
The diagram above comes from page ten of "Cycle Policy 2002-2012", an document produced by the City of Copenhagen, showing the modal shares for the city. The text says "The (bicycle) share of the total number of all purpose trips is slightly less than one fifth, but the share of home-workplace traffic is as high as one third." Note how the figure for commuters is substantially higher than that for all trips. This is very often the case because when you concentrate on commuters you conveniently get to ignore the problems faced by pensioners, disabled people, parents cycling with their children and children cycling on their own. Working age adults are less sensitive to a low level of subjective safety.
These figures come from ten years ago. Why am I looking at such old figures ? Well, as it turns out, newer figures from a reliable source are not that easy to find. More recent "Bicycle Accounts" omit the "all trips" figures and only talk about the more impressive figures for commuting. According to the "Bicycle Account" for 2008, the commuting figure has risen to 37%. If we scale the "all journeys" figures by the same proportion you can expect that around 22% of all journeys in Copenhagen are now by bicycle - and around twice that number are by car. John Pucher independently reports that "A 2005 travel survey found that 20% of all trips in Copenhagen were by bike." (page 26 of this document).
Do I have something against the Danes ?
I am sure that some people will ask my motivation for posting this. Do I have something against the Danes ? Of course not. Denmark has the second highest cycling rate in Europe. That is something to be proud of, and to build on. I want to see them reach their target for 40% of commuters by bike. I'd like to see them set targets for wider demographics than just commuters, too.
Denmark needs to try harder than they are at present, for the sake of their own cyclists quite apart from for the rest of us.
Copenhagen looks impressive compared with countries where few people cycle, but the cycling rate is not that high in comparison with many cities in the Netherlands. Several Dutch cities now have more cycle journeys than car journeys. However, while Copenhageners also like their bikes, they still drive a lot more than they cycle.
I think it's quite simple. The infrastructure has let them down. Cycling in Copenhagen isn't as stress free as it needs to be. Not quite so pleasant as it needs to be. There is inadequate subjective safety.
Dutch cities with less than a 30% share are considered to be doing quite badly and work to make improvements. At 27% of all journeys, and 35% of all journeys under 7.5 km, the cycling modal share for this entire country is higher than that of Copenhagen.
Back in 2002, the City of Copenhagen set some targets:
- The proportion of people cycling to workplaces in Copenhagen shall increase from 34% to 40%.
- Cyclist risk of serious injury or death shall decrease by 50%.
- The proportion of Copenhagen cyclists who feel safe cycling in town shall increase from 57% to 80%.
- Cyclist travelling speed on trips of over 5 km shall increase by 10%.
- Cyclist comfort shall be improved so that cycle track surfaces deemed unsatisfactory shall not exceed 5%.
- The 40% commuting target has not yet been met. Rather, the city still says that "more than a third of residents pedal their way to work."
- The fears associated with cycling in Copenhagen have risen. The proportion who feel safe has dropped from 57% to 53%.
- Actual death and injury rates have definitely dropped, which is very good news.
- The other two issues, of speed and comfort have not been reported on, so I can only assume there isn't much progress to report on these.
How is the infrastructure different ?
Some of the language from the Cycle Policy document explains the difference. For example, "Normally cycle tracks are wider than two meters across." Two metres is actually rather narrow by Dutch standards which require 2.5 metre minimum widths. Also, there is no mention of any separation from the road. We have a 1.5 m separation standard here, while on many of the Danish cycle tracks, there is simply a kerb which will drop you onto the road. This makes the usable width of the cycle tracks narrower than their actual width.
Copenhagen (urban population 1.8 M) has around 350 km of cycle tracks. This are in large part not separated from the road by more than a kerb. Also, at junctions bicycles and cars are mostly mixed in together without separate traffic light timings (even with their newer designs). There are more details and lots of photos of different types of Copenhagen cycle tracks on page 23 and onwards in this document.
By contrast, even tiny Assen (population 65000) has over 100 km of separated cycle paths (double that if you count both sides of the road - I'm not sure how Copenhagen counts), which are mostly quite well separated from the road, and road junctions mostly keep cars and bikes separate (as seen here, here, here).
Copenhagen is also growing a network of "green cycle paths" away from the road, and now has more than 25 km of these. From the videos and photos I've seen, these look very good. They quite closely resemble some of the better cycle paths we have in Assen and Groningen. I've recently featured some typical local cycle routes here and here. The reaction of an American visitor to the streets of Groningen can be seen here.
So, why write this now ?
Copenhagen's marketing as "the world's cycling capital" has been very successful so far. Nice branding too. However, real growth in cycling comes not from marketing and branding, nor from taking photos of pretty girls on bikes, but from investment in infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the effects of the hype now go beyond the residents of just that one city. London, for instance, seems to think that merely painting its cycle paths "copenhagen blue" will lead to success. It won't. To get a really high rate of cycling you need the proper infrastructure. There is one country in the world which has it.
So what's to be done ?
Groningenize ! What is needed everywhere is to build better infrastructure and make cycling more attractive. Copenhagen itself could do with a good dose of "Groningenization" in order to improve both its cycling rate and the demographics of its cyclists. Groningen itself needs to continue to improve its infrastructure in order to continue to increase its cycling rate.
And the rest of the world would be best off watching the best example. To "Copenhagenize" is to copy what is second best. "Groningenize", "Netherlandsize", even "Amsterdamize".
Copenhagen has achieved a lot. It has the highest cycling rate in Europe outside of the Netherlands. There is quite a lot of catching up to do to get to the point that many Dutch cities have reached, but they're still doing really well by world standards. Let's keep it in perspective, cheer on their success so far. However, it's also important to realise why their success has been limited, and try to understand why Dutch cities have achieved so much more.
Other countries wanting to achieve a significant modal share for bicycles really do have to look beyond Copenhagen. Groningen leads the world.
And us ?
And what about Assen where we live ? Well, the cycling rate here is 41% of all journeys. Not as high as Groningen, but not far off double the figure for Copenhagen. It's a very high figure for a city which doesn't have a student population to boost the cycling demographics. This city only started to refer to itself as a "fietsstad" or "cycling city" after the all journeys figure reached 40%, and then did so just with a small piece in Dutch on the city's website. That's called modesty.
We weren't born here, but came here for a reason. The cycling environment is first class (not only in the city but also in the countryside) and it's a wonderful place to live.
There are several other posts about Copenhagen. Copenhagen has continued to make claims which are not supported by evidence. For instance, a widely reproduced press release which claimed a huge number of cyclists on "the busiest cycle street in the world" did not stand up to scrutiny.
You read it here first in 2009, now it's confirmed by the Danish press (English translation). Cycling has stagnated in Copenhagen at about 35% of commuters, well short of both the 40% target which I wrote about above and the 50% target which the city then set. As I suggested in 2009, Copenhagen has at last started to look to Groningen for advice.
The Danish article discusses several of the things that we recommend and which feature on our study tours: Simultaneous green junctions, the much larger railway station cycle parking facilities in the Netherlands, and it is topped by a photo of the Gerrit Krol triple bridge which saves cyclists an enormous amount of time.
It's also been confirmed this year that two stage junctions used widely in Denmark are an unsafe design of junction which has led to many deaths.
These problems could have been avoided or minimised by Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole following a path of building better infrastructure which invited people to cycle rather than relying heavily on marketing, both within the country and to an outside audience.
We can help cities in Denmark or any other nation by demonstrating best practice.
Five years after publishing this blog post, calling for Denmark to attempt to stop trying merely to use hype to sell cycling and instead "Netherlandsize" itself so that the country can genuinely grow the popularity of riding bicycles, there is at last official recognition within the Danish government that cycling has been in decline for twenty years in their country. This is a very good thing. It is only after recognition of a problem that the beginnings of a solution can be found.
2014 update - part 2
Unfortunately, this new found sense didn't last. A few weeks after I wrote the last paragraph, Copenhagen once again started claiming implausible numbers of cyclists on one route as a success.
For the sake of your own population, it's time that international city marketing and promotion of prestige projects took second place to building a useful network of infrastructure.
This post was inspired by a post on a similar subject on the Amsterdamize blog, and not quite believable figures quoted on the Copenhagenize blog. The Groningen chart comes from page 23 of this presentation by Cor van der Klaauw. Since this blog post was written, the claims on the Copenhagenize blog have been slightly modified.