Tuesday 4 December 2012


Not quite perfect, but miles (kilometres!) ahead on cycling

Even in the snow, the cycle tracks are kept clear

Well, as has become the tradition, a group of us from the office (and ex-the office) went on our annual Christmas trip - this year 2 days and a night in Copenhagen.

Although the beer and entertainment was excellent, it is not really for this blog and so here is my probably massively unrepresentative snapshot of the city and a few thoughts about how the UK compares.

We arrived at Copenhagen airport which was clean, tidy and thanks to English being a well-used language, very easy for us to read the signs. The airport was nicer than Stansted, but it did the same job. What was interesting is they are rebuilding a whole terminal because of the predicted increase in passenger numbers on the horizon - whatever side of airport capacity you are in the UK, we have been arguing while the Danes and other European cites get on with it.

We then caught the train into the city centre and for a Saturday morning, it was rammed to a point which rivalled the Central Line at Stratford. 4 zone travel card (including the airport) costs 75DKK (about £8.20) which is a touch less than a London travel card which runs out at midnight.

Still, we made it and the wandered off to find lunch. I was immediately struck by the amount of cycles parked up all over the place. I knew the city had a reputation, but not like this. Of course, I noticed that there were cycle tracks everywhere and the obvious "inspiration" for Boris Johnson's cycle superhighways - blue lanes, but only through junctions as a guide.

Looks familiar?
I was distracted for the rest of the day by the real reason for the trip, but suffice to say it snowed over night with about 125mm of snow which would have brought Greater London to a standstill. Copenhagen seems to have a massive fleet of gritters and the carriageways, cycle tracks and footways were cleared of snow very quickly and the cycle tracks were cleared by little tractors with brushes and gritting trailers.

After a much needed breakfast, we headed out to see some sites and got to know the city quite well on foot. The main shopping streets are pedestrianised, but there are glimpses of cycle routes running parallel.

What is really obvious is that motorised traffic (on a Sunday morning) is actually pretty heavy, with many of the roads just outside the shopping and residential areas being several lanes in each direction and there are traffic signals everywhere, but with phases for traffic, cycles and pedestrians and there is the ability for drivers to turn right when pedestrians are crossing to the right, but they have to give way and actually, the drivers seemed to stop for everyone crossing.

The footways, however, are relatively narrow and as a pedestrian, it does feel that you have been squashed. Flush dropped kerbs at junctions and crossing points for pedestrians are very rare and are limited to rough tarmac ramps laid into the normal height kerbs as a vague afterthought; but in a few areas which are being repaved, they seem to be making changes for the better. The footways are also quite old and so I am guessing access for disabled people, wheelchair users and people with children in buggies have had a raw deal for a few decades.

We did use the bus a few times and while there were low floors and wheelchair/ buggy space (plenty on the long, 3 axle buses), most of the bus stops I saw did not have the kerbs raised to meet them. There were also lots of examples where passengers had to wait on narrow footways (so blocking the footways) and then having to cross the cycle track to get on the bus.

Little tractor with a snow brush and gritting trailer
I can't help looking at highways things when I am out and about and being away on a jolly is no different and so I look as it as a little bit of education - travel broadens the mind as they say.

For Copenhagen, my memories will be cycles everywhere - parked up or being used. They must have a huge cycling modal share and it looked safe and effortless. 

Very few helmets and high-vis coats in evidence, with everyone looking "normal" (not like me on my MAMIL-inspired commute). I saw plenty of children cycling with parents and being shouted at to keep going through the green cycle signals across the junctions and even the postmen use huge cargo trikes.

Despite all of this, pedestrians and bus passengers are squeezed to the edges and the car seems to be very important. In many cases, the streets are massively wide (like motorways) and would not be easy to replicate in many parts of London.

As is often the case, the Danish engineers have had to build in compromise be it for space or political direction, but if they could improve the pedestrian crossings, tidy up the footways and nick a few more traffic lanes for wider footways and accessible bus stops, the city would be pretty much the opposite of car-dominated and prioritised London. Oh, and Tuborg Chrismas beer is awesome!

Cycled into work today. A sprinkling of snow over the eastern edge of London made my route to work interesting! The cycle track I use was slippery and the main road I use was passable, but the advisory cycle lanes covered in slush. I think the bus would have been better! 5-12-12


  1. "t here is the ability for drivers to turn right when pedestrians are crossing to the right, but they have to give way and actually, the drivers seemed to stop for everyone crossing."

    That is the rule in the UK too, but the British being essentially hooligans at the wheel, it is ignored.

    One of the reasons why the UK is one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians.

    1. We notice a high degree of drivers giving way to pedestrians, certainly on quieter roads when we simply looked like we wanted to cross (including us well-refreshed tourists). This is decades of culture at work.

  2. Also, not enforced by police or judiciary.

    1. I had a discussion with a traffic copper today (in passing) about the 20mph limits and zones being rolled out across London. Apparently, it is a lack of resources which stop them enforcing.

      Looks like a case for a significant increase in traffic officers to look after pedestrians and cyclists...

  3. Copenhagen looks as if how London might be if the latter mostly implemented it's plan. And to some extent why it might not work as well. Copenhagen's cycle tracks are a bit narrow, 2-2.2 metres and not that well protected. Semi segregation shows it's flaws in Copenhagen as well. It does not provide as much subjective safety, and it does not provide comfort room on the inner side. Junctions also look not dissimilar to London, at least when Copenhagen continues a cycle track through a junction rather than have a shared right turn cycle lane. The right turns you are not allowed to make on red and the left turns are not protected at all and involve a jughandle turn, a trailer bike would have a harder time here. The kerbs on the Copenhagen cycle tracks, at least next to pedestrian footways, is also not angled.

    The Dutch have a number of solutions. Wider cycle tracks, usually 2.5 metres, with no upstand angled kerbs. Comfort space on the left, a minimum of 35 cm, usually 1.5 metres or more. The protected junction solves most of the junction problems, and more and more there are roundabouts and junctions without signals. Minor side streets are more pleasant to use. And more children cycle in the Netherlands, and with fewer helmets and less high viz. All signs of an even better cycle culture and better safety. The Dutch use better ideas, and it shows.