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Copenhagen's 'best city for cyclists' goal

Copenhagen street scene

By Maddy Savage
BBC News, Copenhagen

Rush hour in Denmark's capital seems anything but rushed.

City workers glide through the streets - trousers tucked into their socks and briefcases slung on to the side of their bicycles.

Some even have children following on behind, wrapped in waterproofs and perching on special trailers known as cargo bikes.

The air feels fresh and there is not a traffic jam in sight.

With less than four months to go until Copenhagen hosts the United Nations climate change summit, the city has announced its vision to become the world's best city for cyclists.

In Copenhagen, a third of people already cycle to work, school or university.

There are about 350km (217 miles) of cycle routes around the city.

Cyclists have priority over cars and pedestrians at many major junctions and traffic lights.

Cyclist Bettina
It's a big part of our culture and with all the environmental problems, even more people are starting to use a bike instead
Bettina, cyclist

City officials have just announced their plans to get half of commuters using bikes by 2015.

"The city has worked consistently to improve things for cyclists," said Andreas Rohl, who is in charge of the city's cycling programme.

"Everything you see in Copenhagen today is due to decisions taken back in the 70s and early 80s.

"For people here, going on a bicycle is a bit like brushing your teeth, you don't think much about it!"

He said the new targets for cyclists were "realistic but very ambitious".

Common to be car-free

Two of the city's main bridges have recently had a makeover to help encourage more people to cycle.

One is now completely car-free, the other has been developed to include double cycle lanes on both sides.

The city is planning to widen other existing cycle lanes.

It is also considering congestion charging although the legal procedures to do this are not yet in place.

Bettina, a student, uses her bike several times a day.

"It's a big part of our culture and with all the environmental problems, even more people are starting to use a bike instead," she said.

In Amsterdam, residents already use bikes for more than half of all journeys under 8km.

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'Cycling is like brushing your teeth'

But, while the Dutch city has long been thought of as the cycling capital of Europe, Copenhagen has beaten it to the top spot in recent surveys by both green campaigners and travel companies.

"I think it's quite convenient and you are faster than with a car or a bus," said Kristina, another keen cyclist.

"It's not so common to have a car here, even for a whole family, and it's highly taxed."

Research shows that the more people who travel by bike, the safer it is for each individual cyclist.

Five cyclists were killed on Copenhagen's roads last year, half the number killed a decade ago when there were fewer bikes and people cycled less often.

Copenhagen's safety record also compares well with other similar sized cities in Europe.

Six cyclists died on the roads in Dublin last year, even though the city has more than 80% fewer cyclists.

"We are very focused on the safety. Since the mid-1990s we have reduced the risk of having an accident when you travel by bike by 65%," said Andreas Rohl.

"The health effect of going on a bicycle is seven times higher than the actual risk of going on a bike."

But what about driving in the city? Most roads are clean and smooth, and most car owners you speak to will not complain about cyclists, mainly because many of them ride bikes too.

"It could be difficult for a new driver in this city but you get used to it!" said Ibrahim, a taxi driver.

"The Danish government advertises that it is good to have bikes. Good for the health and good for the community. It's very green. No pollution."

Changing mindsets

Officials believe they are on track to reach their new cyclist targets within the next six years.

Cycles in Copenhagen
Cycling is safer in Copenhagen than many other European cities

They are hoping to share their ideas with the world at the UN climate change talks in December and at the city's first international cycling conference next year.

There are signs that other European capitals are already looking to follow Copenhagen's example.

Paris, Barcelona, Montreal and London are among the cities openly committed to improving cycle routes.

But it may be much more difficult to persuade countries like China.

Once known as the world's kingdom of bicycles, it is now a growing car market, so achieving investment in cycling there could be a much greater challenge.

"It's all about changing people's mindsets," said Mr Rohl.

"But it really can be the easiest and the most flexible way to get around."



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