Copenhagen, Denmark: Where the Bicycle is King and Queen of the Road

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

My tour of Copenhagen, Denmark continued amidst bright blue skies and balmy temperatures. It was ideal. I had already gone on an informative walking tour, complete with a stop at the royal palace, and a stroll through the eclectic Christina neighborhood. Next up was a walk on my own through old Copenhagen.

Men working, Copenhagen, Denmark, photo Denise Ames

I particularly enjoyed the street scene. There were street repairs and remodeling of buildings going on everywhere, and the streets bustled with a colorful display of activity. I have found that you can tell a lot about the culture of a country by seeing their workers in action. Are the workers engaged, focused on their work, and looking confident or do they have a hangover-from-the-night before look on their faces and despondency in their body language? I would classify the Danish workers as looking confident, energetic, and focused on their work. A good sign. They didn’t mind at all getting their photos snapped.

Street scene Copenhagen, photo Denise Ames

I strolled through neighborhoods, tiny sanctuaries tucked away in gardens as a refuge from the busy streets and endless bicycle traffic. I stumbled through construction sites to enter public building undergoing a facelift. Many of the businesses catered to tourists and English was everywhere. Since I don’t know one word in the Danish language, it was a plus.

One thing that you can’t miss when you traverse old Copenhagen is the number of people riding bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. It was astonishing. Bicycles were everywhere! Rows of bicycle racks provided a safe place to lock up, and they were on every street corner.

Copenhagen bicycles, photo Denise Ames

The Danish bicycle riders were very courteous. They diligently obeyed all traffic regulations. I never saw anyone dart in between cars or slide through a traffic light. But when the light turned green, the hoard of bicyclers waiting patiently for the light to change, surged forward en masse like a wave of penguins trying to waddle their way to the sea. It was a fascinating event to see.

All these bicyclists have earned Copenhagen a reputation as one of the most—possibly the most—bicycle-friendly city in the world. In fact, almost as many people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen as do those who cycle to work in the entire United States.

There are more than 250 miles of bike lanes in Copenhagen, according to the Danish Foreign Ministry, and some 600 miles of bike paths in the greater Copenhagen area. About 62% of the population commute by bicycle to their work or study places each day. And this means rain or shine. There are 675,000 bicycles and just 120,000 cars in Copenhagen, meaning bikes outnumber cars by more than five-to-one. Even the Danish postal service delivers virtually all mail in Copenhagen by bicycle.

Postal delivery

Cycling is generally perceived as a healthier, more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and often quicker way to get around town than by public transport or car. I couldn’t find figures on how much is saved by using bicycles instead of building and operating public transportation, but I imagine it would be substantial. Also, saving for individuals on car purchases, maintenance, and fuel would be considerable as well.

I was surprised to see that it wasn’t just the young and fit that were bicycling in busy areas but seniors as well. I couldn’t imagine myself bicycling in this jostling, speedy environment but if I had been doing it for many years, perhaps I would have adapted. I wasn’t going to try my luck at it though, walking was suiting me just fine.

Copenhagen, Denmark, photo Denise Ames

My traveling companion, Susan, and I decided to end our day with a tasty dinner at one of the charming street-side restaurants in old Copenhagen. Since the weather was still sunny and warm, we sat outside and watched the tourists stroll by. This relaxation gave me time to reflect on my brief encounter with Danish bicycle culture. 

I was trying to process why the Danes were so committed to bicycle transportation. I could only imagine reasons why. They are a prosperous country and have time and resources to address the environmental challenges we are all facing. Perhaps their commitment to non-polluting forms of transportation is one way they can contribute to alleviating environmental concerns. If my hunch is right, they are to be admired for their dedication.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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