Strøget, the first pedestrian street was opened in 1962. Hosting the main franchise shops of the city, it is only ten meters wide, but has a flux of 85 000 people a day.
Bianca Hermansen categorizes streets in Copenhagen in three categories: pedestrian- or car-dominated, and shared space streets.
In comparison, HC Andersen Boulevard, the main street, is four times wider, measuring 40 meters in width and hosts 65 000 cars per day. On average, there are only 1.2 passengers per car, and only a part of the road is for cyclists and pedestrians.
Shared space streets such as Strædet, give equal priority to all road users: pedestrians, cyclists and cars. From our experience, navigating together among all groups without hierarchy keeps road users alert and speeds as a minimum.
"We don't always have to protect each other from each other, we can trust the fellow citizens", Hermansen explains.
Cycling is planned for the majority
Mobility statistics across countries prove that safety correlates with the amount of cyclists, not with gear. The more there are cyclists, the safer it is to cycle.
It is essential to plan for the majority, not only for the hard-core cyclists. Spandex riders in their sports gear are only but one sub-group of cyclists as road users. According to a story, when Danish cycling experts were consulted about the proper width of a cycle lane, the answer went as following:
"Every bicycle lane needs to be wide enough for a couple riding on bikes and holding hands, and a cargo bike passing this couple."
Helmets, a traditional point of debate actually protect only in two per cent of all accidents. In Melbourne, the introduction of a helmet law reduced the number of cyclists by 17 %.
Following Hermansen's argument about the numbers as the main driver of safety, it may be interpreted that in this case, the effect of the helmet law actually was a weakening of the road safety.
Use your budgets where the people are
Landmark buildings vast in size alone hardly create a vibrant city. Therefore, Hermansen asks architects, city-planners and policymakers to focus on where people are.
Pedestrian zones in Copenhagen use three shades of grey to reflect the activity of a street. Where there are many pedestrians, stones are darker and you are expected to walk slower.
Pedestrian streets of today imitate traditional cobblestones in their design, but are kept flat to allow better mobility and tackle the unevenness troubling street users.
Paving in downtown Copenhagen matters because when people walk, they consistently look down – on average in a viewing angle of 72° – to know where they are going. Attention to detail matters.
Winter is a fact, not an excuse
During winter in Copenhagen, bicycle lanes are cleared of snow every day as a first priority. Starting from 4am onwards, 80% of cycleways remain free of snow. Car lanes have second priority, the municipality starting clearance from snow at 7am, keeping both road users happy. This resulting in 80% of the perople who bike, continue throughout winter.
Next to the sea, Copenhagen experiences strong wind and rains throughout the year, and snow in winter. In the global perspective, weather is not a major factor inhibiting cycling. Policies matter more.
CPH employs 'The Principle of 3 Cs' in mobility: coherency, consistency and connectivity.
Cycle lanes, for instance, are marked coherently, they connect logically to each other everywhere, and the cycle road network maintains its high standards all year round.
All areas are required to reserve bicycle parking space in city planning. In contrast, parking space for cars is not obligatory, but a possibility. For over 35 years, car parking in Copenhagen has each year been reduced by 1%.
In urban planning, cross-disciplinary projects are needed to consult all stakeholders and to maintain the culture of participatory democracy and citizen participation.
Changes are always consulted from the citizens.
Interaction between spaces
In the urban fabric, people make the city. A city is interwoven of multiple layers, each of them affecting each others. Urban space can be categorized into four categories: public, semi-public, semi-private and private.
Most interaction occurs in the semi-public and semi-private zones. This is perhaps analogous to the natural world where highest biodiversity may be observed in the cross-sections between habitats such as water edges, connecting different spheres of life.
Reductionist and old-fashioned approaches that focus on efficiency and speed cannot grasp the complexity of a city. Most cities throughout the world have followed the simplistic view of the modernistic turn. Weak urban planning has enabled cities to become dominated by cars, not the people.
In Copenhagen, bicycle projects are 'the icing on the cake', symbolic to a working relation between different types of citizens. Being able to cycle throughout the year enables people to move quickly. Sharing public space also teaches trust and improves the quality of life.
"Copenhagen has no cyclists. Copenhagen has ordinary citizens who ride bikes."
Dodo did a study trip to Copenhagen in June 2013 and toured in Copenhagen inner city and Nørrebro with Bianca Hermansen (Architech MAA, Urban Designer, PhD Fellow). Hermansen is working for Jan Gehl Architects who have implemented livelihoods and urban culture projects in the Danish capital. Bianca is currently also working with Copenhagenize Design on various pilot projects for introducing bicycle urbanism in the US.
Text: Joni Karjalainen and Saija Vuola. Photo: Valtteri Maja