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Copenhagen is the Ideal
I've spent a lot of time in Portland, visited Boulder, ridden the cycle-tracks of NYC, regularly use the bike sharing system here in D.C. and I am anxiously awaiting the opening of our new BikeStation - I've seen a lot of what is considered forward-thinking, best practice infrastructure and programs in the U.S. that we tout in our Bicycle Friendly Community program.
And then I went to Copenhagen.
I had heard the Head of Copenhagen Cycle Program Andreas Rohl at our National Bike Summit talking about the high levels of bicycling in Copenhagen and the widely held view that everyday cycling is perfectly normal, not a political statement or a daring act. Like everyone else, I thought, "Wow, that's cool. That's what we need to be shooting for." But it was truly an eye-opening experience to see in person how bike-friendly a place can be. A place where bicycling is as normal of an activity in daily life as using a vacuum cleaner. As a bicycle culture consultant and leader of the Slow Bike/Cycle Chic movement, Mikael Colville-Anderson puts it, "We all have one. We all know how to use them. But we don't have a fetish about them or think about them every day." And that is exactly what I experienced. From ages 8 to 80 - everyone rode. Drivers respected cyclists’ space, as they are likely cyclists themselves! No special outfits, gear or fancy equipment was needed – though wasn’t shunned when used. After a few days I settled in and stopped thinking about it. In Copenhagen bicycling is the most convenient, quickest way to get around, nothing more.
In addition to mocking my inability to convert miles to kilometers and Fahrenheit to Celsius, Mikael was gracious enough to share his thoughts on world bicycling culture, normalizing the use of the bicycle, how far Copenhagen has come (they haven't always been so bike-friendly) and even how far they need to go to grow beyond the 36% of the population who commute by bike. For those of you who live in the D.C. Metro area you can hear his thoughts September 30th along with League President Andy Clarke at Forum: Cycle Chic--Bike Culture and Policies in Denmark.
I do think we have some wonderful examples here at home, and communities throughout the U.S. are moving in the right direction. The growth in League recognized Bicycle Friendly Communities is evidence. Learning from cities like Copenhagen helps us see what is possible, and how far we still have to go to reach our goal.
~Jeff Peel, Program Specialist, Bicycle Friendly Communities