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Scandinavian cycling experiences

18th September 2018

Oresund bridge

Oresund Bridge

Article by Martin Weeks

Having recently visited Denmark, Sweden, and Holland, and cycled a fair old distance in both town and country I set down my observations, mostly good but with a few exceptions.

Bike lane, Copenhagen

Bike lane, Copenhagen

As far as cities go Copenhagen must come out tops as it is cycling heaven. This has been achieved, in my estimation, by about 100 years of building roads and cities with enough width between property boundaries for a road, two cycle lanes, and two footways. This width amounts to typically 20 metres on busier suburban streets. In the UK that width in equivalent circumstances of post-1950 building is 11 metres. So, no, we simply cannot magically get Danish infrastructure even with unlimited funds for building cycle infrastructure.

Bike lane by Irma supermarket, Copenhagen

Bike lane by Irma supermarket, Copenhagen

There are, however some good things to note that we can adopt, and some not so good things:

  1. 1. In Denmark, drivers of motor vehicles are extremely respectful and courteous to cyclists and pedestrians. At any road junction or crossing point cyclists and pedestrians are given absolute priority. I am not 100% sure of this but I believe this must be based in law.
  2. 2. In suburban areas, road junctions are being modified so that they are being built, not just marked, to give pedestrians and cyclists priority - see photo.
  3. Bike lane, Copenhagen
  4. 3. Pedestrians are extremely careful not to stand or walk in cycle lanes where they have separate facilities.
  5. 4. We do have an obsession with cycle helmets and I include myself in this. With good infrastructure, the need and desire for helmets lessens as people think cycling is the same as walking.
Everyday cycling in Copenhagen
  1. 5. Even fully kitted-out sport cyclists use cycleways rather than the road. Some were probably going too fast for safety, and didn't always respect the rules of the road.
  2. 6. Mopeds and low-powered motor cycles can also use cycleways and the speed differential can cause a problem.
  3. 7. On occasions we had to ride where there was no cycleway and frankly the drivers' attitude and care passing cyclists was not good. Motorists simply have no experience of overtaking cyclists because there are so many cycleways.

Sweden and Holland are also very good for cycling but it is possible to see that they didn’t start as early as Denmark. They grapple with limited space problems and adapting the existing street scene. In Malmo, they are trying hard and there were quite a lot of good facilities. In these countries there is far more building cycle facilities in parks and green spaces because they can’t fit them into the streets.

If we would go back anywhere just for the joy of traffic free cycling it would be Denmark - a delight!

Cycling in Copenhagen

All photos by Martin Weeks

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Bike lane, Copenhagen Oresund bridgeBike lane, Copenhagen