Before we go into another topic on the environment in the classroom, I decided to throw out a question for you to answer. In every German city, including Ulm, where I photographed this picture, we have signs like these popping up on the streets before entering the city center: the “Umweltzone” signs with a color-coded symbol indicating what is “frei” (allowed) and what is not. Sometimes these signs are accompanied with a bike and pedestrian trail sign, indicating a trail running alongside the streets. The Flensburg Files Frage für das Forum is: What does the Umwelt sign stand for, including the color-coded signs? What other signs have you seen that are similar/ in connection with this topic?
Place your comments, photos and suggestions here or in the comment section in the Files’ facebook page. The answer will come very soon. Happy Guessing!
Here’s a pop quiz for you to consider before you read the column further: What is Copenhagenization and who thought of the idea to begin with?
When I first heard of the term Copenhagenization, it was during the time I was teaching the city planners English at the university and the crew at CNN and its host, Richard Quest filmed a documentary about this subject as part of the series on Future Cities (Link: http://business.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/07/tackling-copenhagens-traffic-with-bicycles/ ). Basically Copenhagenization, which originates from the Danish capital, is the process of encouraging people to use their bikes on a regular basis instead of the cars, by constructing bike trails in areas needed the most and in many cases, such as wandering through Copenhagen on a sunny day, making bikes available for people to use. As one can see while wandering through the city, one will see the most basic characteristics of Copenhagen and the much dense bike trail network: bike racks full of bikes in the city center and the railway station filling up a Wal-mart SuperCenter store, six to eight lanes of traffic; two of which are designated for bikes only and 1-2 for pedestrians only, traffic signals for bikes only, and a recent development which Mr. Quest pointed out in his documentary and I can only confirm from my own personal experience, bike jams!
Unlike cars, which clog the streets with fumes from the engine and lots of noise (a major problem in the 1950s which led to the Copenhagen city council to convert the city center into a car-free bike and pedestrian zone and push cars back to the outskirts) bike jams imply that there are too many bikes on the trail, making it impossible to pass anybody in front of you who is going slower than your speed. While the jam was not bad during my time in Copenhagen, it can be potentially worse during rush hour traffic; especially when people commute to places outside the city as well as its Swedish neighbor across the sea, Malmø.
But while biking through the city, I can see with the few cars that are on the streets, the close quarters many of the residents live in, and the lanes that are designated for bikes only, bike jams are only a part of daily life that most people have to deal with. It is as if people biking to work is the way of life in the city, and from my own point of view, there are many advantages to biking around a city like Copenhagen than by travelling with the car. You can meet new people along the way, reach your destination in the city with little or no complications, and if you’re like me and have a hobby like bridgehunting, you can visit and enjoy the places that clearly belong to your hobby (Please refer to the sister column’s article on Copenhagen’s bridges for more details).
For me though, while Copenhagenization also has a hidden meaning, which is reduce the carbon dioxide emissions and make the capital a carbon-neutral city by 2025, it does provide people with a chance to get acquainted with the city and its surroundings while at the same time, be awed and amused at the type of bikes that are being used on the city’s designated routes. I rented a city bike for the day and toured the city before heading to the shores of the Baltic Sea in the vicinity of the Øresundbro-Bridge, going through many villages, like Ørestad, Tårnby and Dragør, and even going through a large section of birch tree forest, which represented a scene from a fairy tale with a white deer roaming through. More on the harmony between nature and city-life will be in a later article. On the way to the foggy shores of the Baltic, I encountered many fancy types of bikes that residents use for getting from A to B and realized that when there is a will to go places (with or without cargo), then there is the bike. Apart from the 2-3 man tandem bike, there is the bike taxi, where the biker transports people sitting in the back seats from one place to another. As far as children are concerned, while parents would place their kids on a seat behind them on the back carrier or on the horizontal frame in front of them, there are 3-wheel bikes where the compartment is at the very front of the bike-supported by two wheels. One can use the compartment for transporting goods if he does not have a child to transport around. Others use bike trailers that are attached to the back of the bike to carry their goods around. And then there are the homeless who use their bike to carry their belongings around and camp out somewhere where no one sees them. No matter where you go, there are bikes everywhere. When taking a break on the bench, you will see an average of 40 bikes passing by in the span of only two minutes! Compared to US or even German standards, that is a lot; especially since Americans are more automobile oriented and Germans are more dependent on public transport. Admittedly though, the trend is changing as more trails are being constructed in both countries (more so in the former) so that more people are encouraged to use the two-wheelers for getting to work and back. It is no wonder why in Copenhagen, two wheels rule the streets!
In case there are some people who think differently about biking and prefer taking the car, one should list the reasons why the car is more convenient than the bike and then look and even ask the residents in Copenhagen (and even the Danes, in general) why they choose the bike instead of the car. When looking at how Copenhagenization is influencing the way city planners both in Europe and America are making the streets more convenient for cyclists and pedestrians and seeing how each town- big and small- are introducing the bike trails in their communities, there are three underlying motives for encouraging biking: cost reduction, improving one’s health and the environment, and most of all, convenience. While it may be a pain in the popo for those who were accustomed to using the car, in the end when looking at how the Danes treat biking as if it is a way of life and thinking of the long-term benefits, biking is well worth the efforts that are being encouraged by the communities and those who favor them. Speaking from the experience of a cyclist who has been biking in Europe for over 12 years and has seen the expansion of the bike trails over the years, I can say that Copenhagen deserves to be recognized for not only its efforts to encourage people to bike and make it convenient for them to get to their destinations without using the car, but also influencing others to consider making their streets and other areas of the communities biker-friendly. The more bikes that are on the streets and trails, the more people will leave their cars in the garage and take their two-wheelers to the streets and enjoy a beautiful day, like I did going by bike through Copenhagen.