Friday, February 1, 2013

Bicycle Commuting as a Way of Life: Take Copenhagen, for Instance

What makes commuting by bicycle an enjoyable experience?
  • Accepted
  • Safe
  • Easy
I think these three concepts make riding a bike in town a fun and fulfilling experience. They create an ambiance that allows for the relaxing joy of pushing the pedals to get somewhere.


Belonging to a group is a comforting thing--at least it can be if the group is protected and celebrated by the powers that be. In order for the citizens of a community to embrace bicycling, having the government embrace it first is a big plus. And that embrace must be on the social level, the regulatory level, and the structural level. The city must celebrate bike riding as a positive addition to the city's lifestyle, it must pass whatever regulations are needed to promote bicycling, and it must change the physical structure of the city to make folks on bikes feel included. Copenhagen, for instance, is a city that has made riding and parking a bicycle just as normal and natural as driving a car--more so, perhaps. Bicycles own the town!


Creating a city environment that provides safety for the cyclist is essential in order for people to choose riding a bike rather than driving a car. Some of these environmental changes must affect the emotions of the bicyclists. They must not only be safe but also feel safe. One means of providing this sense of safety is through the city's legislative decisions; the city must walk the talk so that others can . . . ride with pride? The biggest way of providing safety is to change the structural organization of the city, to adopt those street and traffic alterations and modifications that other cities have found to be effective means of making a city bicycle safe. One intersection in Copenhagen had ten serious bicycle accidents a year; with some changes to the environment, that dropped to one. Now, that's a measurable commitment to bicycling safety!


In my little Midwest town of Fairfield, Iowa, the streets are set up for cars. It's easy to get to where you want to go in a car, to park, and then to do your business. My town also has a wonderful system of lime chip bike trails. Some can be used a bit for commuting, but most of the trails are for recreational riding, not commuting. Therefore, the sense of commuting being easy and inviting can still be improved. Increasing the structural changes for riding in the city area and providing easier parking opportunities for bikes-giving them a higher profile--will allow those who would ride bikes and who don't to see and believe how easy commuting by bike would be. In Copenhagen, the city even has plastic cars which fill a street-side parking slot. The plastic can be raised in four sections to safely and securely harbor cargo bikes, which are bigger and more expensive than regular commuter bikes.

Below is a video where Americans who were attending an international conference on bicycling in cities speak out their reactions to how Copenhagen has made its environment a bicycle-friendly reality.

I think you'll like the comments and the visuals.

It is impossible to make Fairfield a year-round biking city, of course, because the winters are too harsh. Oh, yes, some hardy souls do bike year round, but ice and snow and blizzard conditions just don't make it feasible for everyone. There are some times when the conditions make riding a bike an extreme sport.

Still, for six months a year, bicyclers can give it a go in my hometown. For two to three months more, it is possible to bike, and for about three months, put biking up there wilth climbing Mt. Everest. The city should concentrate on promoting those easy months. Let's get Grandpa and Grandma out their on their bikes, along with everyone else.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

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