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Copenhagen Bicyclists

Copenhagen – Where Bicycles Rule

by Jim Wood

The City of Copenhagen, Denmark is an example of best practices when it comes to bicycle friendliness. More people use bicycles to commute to work than cars. This wasn’t always the case however. In the 20th century the city was becoming more car-centric, but an economic crisis was a catalyst for a change in a more positive direction. The timing is right for Boca Raton to learn from Copenhagen. As Winston Churchill said: “never waste a good crisis.”


Copenhagen has about 800,000 residents and the metropolitan area is home to a little more than 2,500,000 residents. The city is on the Baltic Sea in Eastern Denmark, which is in Northern Europe. The 1973 oil crisis hit Copenhagen hard and many residents began using bicycles as a form of transportation. This had the advantages of helping the residents reduce costs, pollution, traffic and stay fit. But, because the infrastructure was not designed to accommodate the increase in bicycle traffic, fatalities increased. 

When government didn’t do enough to address the bicycle safety problem, residents organized mass protests. This resulted in an eventual change in political will in the 1980’s and budget money started shifting from car infrastructure spending to bicycle infrastructure spending. Residents demanded protected bike lanes (cycle tracks) on main corridors to improve safety and make cycling competitive in time and effort with other forms of transportation.  Since the 1990’s, government has implemented coordinated strategies to increase cycling in Copenhagen.

Current Situation

Copenhagen is now acknowledged as a world leader in implementing a cycling culture. The following statistics show the percentage of workers who commute by bicycle. Portland and Davis are included since they are leaders in the US regarding bicycle friendliness.

  • 1.6% – Boca Raton, FL
  • 6.4% – Portland, OR
  • 21.8% – Davis, CA
  • 62.0% – Copenhagen, DK

The following pic, courtesy of Mikael Colville-Anderson, shows residents commuting in Copenhagen. Urban planners prioritize bicycles over cars. Note the car stop line is in back of the bicycle stop line. This is so cyclists are more visible to motorists. Also note that there is a separate traffic signal for cyclists. The timing of the signal is such that cyclists get a green light before motorists. The city has also implemented “green waves” where the timing of cyclists’ lights is such that if cyclists ride at a certain speed, they encounter only green lights.

Copenhagen Bicyclists
Copenhagen Bicyclists

Copenhagen accumulates statistics on bicycle riders’ behaviors and is continually trying to improve the experience for cyclists. 

Lessons to be Learned for Boca Raton

Boca Raton needs to take steps to reduce vehicle traffic, and creating a positive bicycle culture is one way to achieve this goal. An earlier Bocafirst article describes the problem of increasing vehicle use in the City https://bocafirst.org/the-sweet-sound-of-silence/

In 2010 Copenhagen hosted an international bicycle conference. During this conference several North American attendees recorded their impressions of cycling in that city:

In 2015, West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio and executive director, West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority Raphael Clemente visited Copenhagen to learn about the city’s cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.  Also presented to them were processes to get it done. Since then West Palm Beach has implemented the Clematis Street Streetscape and has major plans for accommodating cyclists and pedestrians with protected lanes on Banyan Street: https://www.wpbmagazine.com/major-mobility-improvements-banyan-blvd-wpb/

In February, 2020 Boca Raton City Council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea Levine O’Rourke attended the Safe Streets forum in Fort Lauderdale where Mikael Colville-Anderson was the opening keynote speaker. He is the CEO of the Copenhagenize Design Company, which specializes in bicycle friendly urban designs. He is also author of the book Copenhagenize the Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism. Many of the facts in this article are from that book.

It is recommended that Boca Raton learn from the best practices in Copenhagen and start setting goals to reduce vehicle traffic by improving the cycling and walking infrastructure.

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