Copenhagenization: The contagion that could change the way we think of bicycles

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?

On road with a rented bike

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.

Photos:

Numerous bikes crowding an ice cream parlor in Copenhagen's city center

 

Bike with baby trail parked in front of the apartment

 

Parked for a visit

 

Bike taxis at your disposal

 

Night on the Town by Bike

 

Eight lanes of traffic at Tarnby (near Cph.): Outmost lanes for pedestrians, followed by bicycle lanes and two lanes of traffic before meeting the center median

 

Cycling in the wildernis outside Copenhagen near the airport

 

 

Rows of bikes at Copenhagen Railway Station

 

Example of a traffic jam at Norreport (Cph)

 

 

The City of Lights

In the next month, the Flensburg Files takes you back to the border town in Germany as well as some of the surrounding areas in Schleswig-Holstein and neighboring Denmark. Some of the columns will be written in cooperation with its sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. This article is the first installment of the series by the columnist and photographer.

 

St. Jürgen's Cathedral taken from the west end of the harbor. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

Revisiting the town for the first time since Pentecost, I’ve already found a few nicknames that makes this city a unique place to visit, let alone live there, if the opportunity knocks. Apart from it being a border town, as it borders Denmark and is next to its neighboring city of Padborg, the city is the birthplace of rum and still is a powerhouse in that area, despite its loss of significance in the past two decades. An American counterpart exists in Minnesota, which a commentary will be written about it at a different time. It is a very popular place for clippers and sailboats, as they cruise along the Fjord and provide some impressions from many who are fascinated by them. When I was there last year, I considered Flensburg as a City of Solitude, where people go to find their inner piece and reflect on themselves. One can also add that it is a City of Solidarity, where friends meet and prosperity exists no matter where you go. Part of that was due to its coexistence of Germans, Danes, and other foreigners alike. In other words, it is truly multicultural where you witness several languages and cultures, and experience the history that makes the city of nearly 90,000 special.

The author on his latest visit over Easter found a brand new nickname that makes Flensburg what it is: The City of Lights!  While the city may look like any other city when you enter it, with all of  shopping areas and freeways tangenting its way around the city. However, when you drive in the direction of the city center, past those areas, past the very large but vacant EXE Center, which hosts many events including outdoor concerts and flea markets, and head down the hill towards the harbor, you will know what I’m talking about.  Both sides of the harbor are well lit that it not only presents passersby with some unqiue attractions worth stopping to visit, but also (especially with the areas along Roter Strasse and right on the harbor’s edge), it resembles Flensburg as a place where everyone goes out on the town until the wee hours in the morning. It may not be like the bigger cities, like Berlin, Leipzig, or Frankfurt (Main), but the town never sleeps at night, unlike some of the towns its size, including Bayreuth or Eisenach.  No matter where you go at night, there is always something going on at the harbor area.

 

Flensburg's skyline at night- it is just as active as its looks. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

While it is impossible to describe every aspect of Flensburg at night, as it would take up a library’s worth of the column, the author decided to choose the most important pics worth seeing (with a few notes) to show how attractive the City of Lights is and how lively it is, no matter where you go. So without ado, here it goes:

1. St. Jürgen’s Cathedral: This is one of the first sites you will see when entering the city center and harbor area, as it overlooks the area from the east end of the harbor on the hill. The second tallest building behind the city hall (built in the 1960s), one can be awed in its beauty from a distance, regardless of the time of day. However, up close and personal, you can see why people flock to this unique historic place of interest.

 

All photos here were taken in April 2011

 

 

2. Roter Strasse/ Norderstrasse: The 2 kilometer stretch beginning at the Nordertor and ending at the Sudermarkt provides the tourist with a shopping mall-like atmosphere at night regardless if all the shops are open or not. A lot of the places along this stretch show their true colors at night that it would be a sin not to photograph them. This includes the former sugar factories and rum distilleries along the Rum and Sugar Mile, the Nordermarkt, Marienkirche, and Alte Post, located between the bus depot and Sudermarkt

 

Roter Strasse

 

 

Nordermarkt

Marienkirche next to Nordermarkt

Altes Post Building- a former post office now converted into a bank. Photo taken in May 2010

 

 

3. The Harbor Front. Between the Roter Strasse and the harbor front on the west end is bustling with activity at night, as a dozen restaurants, bars and eateries attract a huge crowd through the wee hours of the morning. Most notable include Hansen’s Restaurant and Brewery, Piet Henningsen, and a pair of Irish Pubs located in the vicinity of the bus depot. This is a complement to the other activities that can only be done in the daytime, such as boating, swimming and and city tours. The only time of the day in which the city lies empty in this section is early in the morning between 4 and 6am, except on the days of rest, where in this case, many people elect to sleep in a couple hours more.

 

East side of the harbor with the Goethe School in the background

West end of the harbor with the Marienkirche sticking out.

Hansen's Brewery and Restaurant- one of Flensburg's finest local diners located on the western edge of the harbor.Â

 

 

 

4. Goethe, Christian-Paulsen-Skole and Altes Gymnasium Schools.  The first is located not far from the St. Jürgen’s Cathedral; the other two are on the west end, with the second one being a Danish School. All have recently been in the limelight; especially at night, where one can see all three of them from the tip of the harbor or from the north end near Murwik. All of them have one thing in common and that is its pride in educating the city’s population.

 

Goethe School- taken from the hill near the Catholic Church

Altes Gymnasium High School

The Paulsen Danish School

 

 

 

Then there are some other night pics that are worth mentioning even though they don’t fall into the four categories. There is a reason for these shots, as they will be explained in each pics.

Goldene Lillie near Sudermarkt

 

The St. Nicolas Church

Former Matz Distillery now a police station and hotel.

 

 

 

While Flensburg may be a really attractive place at anytime of the year, one wonders if the city really stands out as a tourist attraction and place to party at night, then the question is what would the city look like when the Christmas markets come to town at the end of the November and stays there until right before Santa Claus comes to town…  We’ll find out eventually. In the meantime, let’s do some window shopping along the Rum-Sugar Mile, shall we?