Denmark doesn’t ride bicycles like the rest of the world.
In the winter months, snow plows clear the bike lanes before the roadways, and “green waves” allow cyclists to sail through traffic lights where cars stand still.
“Many middle class families with kids in Copenhagen don’t even own a car,” states the official website of Denmark.
That cycletopia contains 7,500 miles of cycling routes, and it’s one many cities around the world are now trying to replicate.
Tokyo and Stockholm are both beefing up their bike lane infrastructure to great success, using protective barriers to insulate cyclists from motorists.
In Silicon Valley, Google is conducting behavioural economics research to learn why more of its employees don’t take their bikes outside the Google campus.
Inquiring minds all want to know: How did the Danes do it?
In reality, Denmark has always been a bike-friendly country, but popularity really took off when Copenhagen saw its first formal bike lane installed in 1892. In the 15 years that followed, the city saw the number of bikes rise from 2,500 to 80,000, with growth steadily increasing until World War II.
Then came the cars.
By the 1960s, air pollution and traffic-related crashes had hit a high-water mark in Denmark: both consequences of the automobile rush in the years after the war. The worldwide energy crisis especially crippled Denmark, who, in 1973, depended on oil for 92% of its energy. Only 2% of energy sources were renewable.
Out of necessity, much of the country saw its conscience go green, and bikes — those trusty friends once cast aside — now seemed like much more than just cheap exercise. They offered liberation from a gas-guzzling world.
During much of the 1980s, Denmark saw a bicycle renaissance. People protested the construction of bridges over lakes once encircled by bikes. They demanded the government install bike lanes in the cities. And the near-dead Danish Cyclists Federationgained new life.
Today, Denmark sets a gold-standard for renewable energy and efficiency, and apparently “40” is the magic number: 40 years after the energy crisis, 40% of the country’s energy is renewable and only 40% of Danes own a car. In the US, meanwhile, 95% do.
The system works in large part because bikes are given priority over cars. During rush hour, the traffic lights are synchronised so that bicyclists can sail through a string of green lights uninterrupted if they maintain a speed of 12 mph — a phenomenon known as a “green wave.”
Here it is in action:
With $US417 million invested in cycling projects around the country, even the central government has come onboard. Today, a full 63% of the Danish parliament commute by bike every day.
For a moment the country had stopped riding its bikes, but it never forgot how. Now it stands up as a beacon for other countries that may finally be coming to grip with the fact that cars cost money and natural resources to run, while human energy can always be renewed.
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