02 November 2009

Copenhagen vs London 1: Broadly speaking

Copenhagen is a model cycling capital, as readers of the excellent Copenhagenize blog will be aware. I was there last month, and this week I'll be making a few comparisons between there and London.

The first thing that strikes you as you stroll out from Copenhagen railway station into the city centre is the sheer amount of cyclists. Billions and billions of them. (In London, by contrast, the first thing that strikes you will most likely be from the side.)

To London eyes, Copenhagen's cycle lanes seem oceanic in their width. Even with the generous acreage of the bike lane above right (it's Torvegade, just over Knippelsbro in Christianshavn) there's still space for a separate bus lane as well as one for motor traffic.

But compare that with a London bike lane in a broadly similar location (it's Nine Elms Lane, just over Vauxhall Bridge in Wandsworth). The keen eye may spot a subtle few differences between the two. No wonder the lone cyclist here has taken the safe option of the road instead of the 'facility'.

Then note that 36% of Copenhagen's inhabitants cycle to work or education every day, compared to a figure for central London that's more like 3%. (Of course, this could be just coincidence, like evolution or gravity.)

Many of Copenhagen's lanes are wide enough for several bikes; even for a couple of Christianias (right), those cargo bikes whose front boxes could accommodate the average London studio flat. You see Christianias in London, but they're rare.

Now, sure, many of Copenhagen's grand central boulevards happen to be wide enough to accommodate big lanes; many of London's pokey and narrow 'main roads' are not. But even where there is space, such as Nine Elms Lane above, most of it is turned over to cars; any 'cycle lane' will be thinner than a Dan Brown plot.

Even in the rain, most of the Danes seem to be smiling (right). Evidently a 50%-plus rate of income tax and lager at six quid a pint doesn't affect their quality of life too adversely. And they all seem to be wearing normal clothes too (presumably bought from M&S on their last trip to London for half the price they are at home).

A London cyclist posse at the lights will have a few smilers too, but most people will be wearing fluorescent jackets and helmets, turning the ASL into a giant lemon-sorbet sweet trolley.

People talk about Copenhagen as the 'world's most liveable capital', but not everything is perfect. London's nocturnal wail of police sirens and thudding of helicopters, for example, is almost totally absent in the Danish city. That made it very difficult for me to sleep there. I lay awake worried who was catching all the criminals.


  1. It's a coincidence, as any ve-hic-ular cyclist will tell you if you dare to suggest we might want some of those dangerous separated cycle lanes they have in Denmark...

  2. "Evidently a 50%-plus rate of income tax and lager at 6 quid a pint doesn't affect their quality of life too adversely"

    Where do you think the money for the bike lanes comes from? :)

  3. i love your blog and i'm just jealous, full stop, of all the pro-cycling stuff that happens in the northern hemisphere! - you should try it 'down under'!!!!

    currently i am appealing a criminal conviction for riding a bicycle without a helmet - i greedily peruse all these blogs and just wish it could be the same here - and it really can't be until helmets are made optional!

  4. @Sue - hi. Sorry to hear about your problems with the law. Seems bizarre that you should be criminalised for such a thing. Like me and that misunderstanding with the sheep.

    I've just been in Spain, where the helmet laws are a little strange. They're compulsory except in built-up areas, where presumably accidents never happen because of the increased number of vehicles. And except up hills. And when it's hot. I'm not joking.