Some might say that Mikael Colville-Andersen, owner of the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, has photographed a disproportionate number of beautiful women cycling in short skirts. To be fair, however, he features photos of Copenhagen’s male cyclists, too. Just as long as they are stylish. Colville-Andersen is The Sartorialist on two wheels.
His website shows that you don’t have to wear Lycra to get to the office on time on a bike. Cycling in civvies is the done thing in Copenhagen, he says, so we shouldn’t scare off potential newbies by fixating on “proper” cycle clothing or the necessity for showers – something that Bristol should take note of, having been announced last week as Britain’s first designated Cycling City. And don’t mention the H word. Copenhagen’s cyclists aren’t into helmets. To find out why, you have to visit Colville-Andersen’s other Copenhagen-themed blog, albeit one that’s not quite so popular – too few photos of women cycling in high heels, no doubt. Copenhagenize.com is “life in the world’s cycling capital”.
Colville-Andersen ends lots of his posts with the dictum “Copenhagenize the planet”. He wants cycling to be recognised as a normal way of getting around town. “So many people in other countries have been brainwashed into believing that cycling is just a sport or a hobby and haven’t entertained the thought that it could be a daily transport activity,” he tells me. “So many Copenhageners ride in style, on normal bikes and in normal clothes. Even those who are not chic ride with an ease and elegance that borders on poetry.”
There are YouTube videos that show this “poetry in motion”. Copenhagenize.com links to one from the Netherlands that focuses just on the school-run. Hordes of young cyclists weave in and out of each other’s trajectories as they ride to school. Similar scenes can be witnessed in Copenhagen each day .
Copenhagen hasn’t always been wall-to-wall bikes. Its first purpose-built, segregated cycle path was created only 25 years ago. Colville-Andersen says the city’s bike culture was built almost from scratch. There was a political will to make it happen, funds were allocated. Funds are still allocated. “We’re not bike-friendly because it’s a flat city. We ride lots because of visionary political decisions.”
These political decisions were unpopular at the time. Now Danes can’t remember a time before mass bicycle culture. Cycle use in Copenhagen is 36% (the UK average is 2%). City officials want to see this rise to 50% by 2015, when it is hoped the city will become the world’s environmental capital. To reach this target, Copenhagen is closing major thoroughfares to cars, creating bike motorways in their place. Thirty thousand bikes a day, and only 15,000 cars, use Nørrebro Street, making it a prime candidate for closure to cars. Copenhagen also operates a “green wave” system on some streets: if you ride at a steady speed, you’ll hit green lights all the way. The city’s vice-mayor has proposed that when the pollution levels rise too high, all the traffic lights at the edge of the city will turn red, stranding cars in official gridlock.
It is this sort of radical thinking – and acknowledgement that such ideas will be unpopular at first – that will be needed by local politicians in Bristol, and in the 11 towns that were last week given “cycling demonstration town” status – Blackpool, Cambridge, Chester, Colchester, Leighton-Linslade, Shrewsbury, Southend, Southport with Ainsdale, Stoke, Woking and York.
Bristol wants to create a Velib-style on-street bike rental network, modelled on the successful Paris scheme. It also plans to build a “state-of-the-art facility for cyclists in the city centre providing showers, bike parking and lockers so commuters can have a wash and brush up before starting work”.
Why are British cycle planners fixated on personal hygiene? Cycling short distances across town in normal clothes isn’t a sweat-fest. Installing showers reinforces the view that cycling is difficult, smelly and, well, different. Copenhagen doesn’t force its biking populace to bathe: it takes space from cars and gives it over to bicycle and pedestrian use. The true test for England’s latest cycling demonstration towns won’t be which one can install the plushest shower, but whether they can ignore the pleas of motorists and truly “Copenhagenize” their streets.
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