As many will already know, Copenhagen is often held up as an example of a city which has generally got things right in terms of transport policy and the way in which people travel. It is also regularly referred to by Bristol’s Mayor George Ferguson as an example the City of Bristol should follow, and it beat Bristol to secure European Green Capital for 2014 (Bristol has recently been named European Green Capital 2015). With a reputation like this, the city had a lot to live up to so a KTC delegation visited in April 2013 to see for themselves.
In common with many large cities around the world the journey from the airport to the centre of Copenhagen was easy and efficient. There were a number of ways to travel the 8km from the airport to the centre of Copenhagen including the Metro, bus or taxi and we opted for the S-Train which took us directly to the central station. When we reached the top of the station steps out of Copenhagen’s central station it really hit us that we were in a different type of city, the first clue being the low
level of traffic noise, the extensive banks of ‘sit up and beg’ style
bicycles and segregated cycle ways on both sides of the road. The cycle infrastructure in Copenhagen was like nothing any of us had seen before, and on a vast scale. Nearly all the main roads in the city had wide (2m) cycle paths on both sides of the road, where bikes are generally segregated from both the road and the footway by a half height kerb, and there were people riding bikes everywhere!
During our visit we had two meetings. The first was with Steffen Rasmussen, Head of the Traffic Design Department for Copenhagen Municipality, and the second was with Niels Hoe, the owner of a Danish transport planning consultancy, Hoe360 which specialises in the provision of advice on encouraging active travel modes and improving active travel infrastructure.
Steffen, gave us an insight into the history of travel in the city (see overleaf for our perspective) and set out some of their ambitions for the future, which include the creation of cycle superhighways, an additional orbital Metro line, which is currently under construction, and a light rail system. The funding for these infrastructure projects comes from both national and local budgets but ultimately the Danish tax payer picks up the bill. The Danish tax system is very complex, but in essence even those on average wages could expect to pay 50 – 60% in taxes.
At the end of our meeting Steffen was keen to show us out of the building by the back door. We do not think he was embarrassed to be seen with us – he just wanted to show us the cycle facilities provided for the employees of the Municipality. As can be seen in the pictures, there was ample secure cycle parking provided within the building, plus a small workshop area to undertake simple repairs, a pool of electric bikes for business trips, a huge bank of lockers and good shower facilities, all of which we were told was typical of workplaces in Copenhagen.
Our second meeting, with Niels Hoe, was less formal and in addition to discussions about the work he has undertaken for the Municipality we were able to get an insight into life in Copenhagen.
Niels’ work includes the introduction of digital cycle counters on some of the busiest roads (for cycling) in Copenhagen. The counter regularly clocks up to 20,000 cycle movements per day in one direction. Niels is also working with schools in the city on a scheme to encourage more children (and their parents) to cycle. The scheme involves promoting and signing safe cycle routes to school, providing pupils with a temporary cycle shop at the school and teaching pupils basic bike maintenance.
Niels spoke about his personal experience of living in the city with a young family. He, like many ‘Copenhageners’, has a number of bikes at his disposal including: a utility bike for everyday use; a cargo bike; and a ‘nice’ bike for taking out on long leisure rides on Sundays. Altogether the household has 8 bikes. He does not own a car, because he does not need one. Car ownership in the city is very low: only 22% of residents own a car, encouraged by good alternatives and the high levels of tax levied on cars, up to 180%.
Getting Around by Bike…
One of the highlights of our trip to Copenhagen was hiring bicycles.
Everyone at KTC can ride a bike, but there is a good deal of variation in city cycling experience.
We all agreed that cycling in Copenhagen was easy and enjoyable. The excellent cycle infrastructure and flat topography had a big part to play in this but the attitude of other road users to cyclists made a big difference. There is mutual respect between road users, with most drivers paying special attention to look for cyclists, particularly when turning right, as cars have to cross the path of bicycles at most intersections.
Over our day of cycling we covered around 24 miles, and rode on a variety of roads from the six lane Hans Christian Anderson Boulevard, to the quiet residential roads of the Potato Rows. Generally we all felt fairly safe and un-harassed by other road users (although Roger was told off by a passing Dane for getting off his bike in a cycle lane to take a photo…).
..and By Train
On our final day in the city we got to grips with Copenhagen’s extensive suburban rail network, served by three different publicly owned independent companies. Firstly there are the regional train services which provide intercity and international (direct to Malmo, Sweden) rail services.Secondly, there is the S-Train, an over-ground service with six lines serving most of the travel to work area (approx. 350km2) for Copenhagen.
Finally there is the Metro, which is a predominantly under-ground, driverless train system with two lines serving the airport and the suburban and central areas and a third orbital route under construction. Together, the three operators provide an integrated network with over 100 suburban stations.
Integrated ticketing made the public transport experience simple. Our 3 Zone 10 journey ‘Klipperkort’ was a fairly low tech ticket, which had a small bite clipped out of it and a date stamped every time it was used. It worked on all trains and buses with the same cost whether you were travelling one stop by bus or 10 by the metro.
What Did We Learn?
When comparing Copenhagen to Bristol, it is easy to feel downhearted. Copenhagen’s cycle and public transport infrastructure is far superior to anything existing or planned for Bristol and the attitude of road users is far more civilised. However, it is heartening to know that with the right vision, the right funding strategy and a fair bit of time, real change in travel habits is possible.