Each day in Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen, more than 600,000 cyclists travel on more than 350 kilometres of bike track.
Children and adults alike use bikes as their primary mode of transport.
Since the 1970s, when environmental protesters took to the streets to demand government action, the city has been investing in cycling infrastructure. Cycle lanes, segregated from roads, have separate traffic lights.
Fergus Murphy, a Dubliner who has been living in Copenhagen for 16 years says that while cycling can be “a battle” back home, in Copenhagen it’s part of the culture.
“I think people will behave the same here as they do in Ireland, but the difference being that the culture has developed here from putting infrastructure in place and pursuing it and staying with it and evolving it all the time. It’s not [finished] at any point.”
“With cycle lanes, you’re less in the way of cars, you’re more visible, you’re less of a pain in the ass (… I’m a driver and a cyclist).”
In Denmark “there’s space for everyone” and “a place for everyone”, he says.
“But in Ireland it’s a battle being a cyclist. The busy parts of town where most people live are completely hairy, it just feels it’s dangerous. It’s too competitive for everyone’s good.”
Denmark’s cycling culture isn’t perfect, Murphy told RTE’s documentary “Now You See Me” last night, but he said there are huge lessons to be taken from it.
“It would be wrong to paint a super ideal picture here [in Demark] because people, they do go through lights on bikes, and it’s a very real world still. But… you need to take some of the ideas here and get the advice for free.”
Karen Larssen, who also lives in Copenhagen, lived in Dublin for a time also.
“Here the bike paths are separate. In Dublin you have the painted bike lanes. I mean they’re not really bike lanes are they? You can park in them, you can have cars going on them. Yeah, they’re really just for show I think,” she told presenter Blathnaid Treacy.
She added: “Often people [in Denmark] who also drive their car might drive their car one day and then the next cycle so they all know what it’s like to be the soft person in traffic, so they sympathise with them, and they take care.”
“We kind of acknowledge that we all have to be here together.”
Segregated cycle ways and speed limit enforcement are key to creating a city that’s safe for cycling, according to Mai-Britt Kristensen at the Cycle Embassy of Denmark.
“You need to also enforce speed limits; this is often the role of the police, so you have to always link legislation to enforcement or else it will only be empty rules and noone will respect them.”
“Change is difficult, it’s messy, you will meet opposition. Just maintaining a status quo is much easier, and cycling is often very political so it takes a lot of courage to go out and say, we will prioritise differently, both in our budget, in our legislation and in our use of urban space. People will complain.”
Back in Ireland, Ian and Corina Kelly and their two children swapped their cars for bikes for one week and recorded their experiences for the documentary.
Ian’s daily commute to work is ten kilometres while Corina travels the same length every Wednesday when she takes their children to swimming lessons. Their local shop and school are both a kilometre away.
Corina explained: “When we were away on holidays in July… we realised by the end of the holiday that you can do loads of cycling.”
“The functional cycling, which is the only way I can describe it, when you’re getting somewhere, was amazing.”
After one week, the couple told Simon Delaney that cycling was a pleasure “most of the time”, but they did have some “hairy” moments.
“The positives for me were exercise, hanging out with the kids,” Corina said, “Anna sitting in the bike, singing to herself, chatting away. I noticed things that I never would have noticed in the car.”
Ian said the hairy moments were “mostly phone related”.
“That to me seems to be the biggest problem. There’s one road that has quite bad bends; myself and Ethan (his son) were approaching it and a guy came around the corner talking on the phone.”
“The reason he was going too fast is he didn’t have the other hand free to change down the gears, so he just decided to take it maybe seven or eight miles an hour too fast.”
When asked what he’d advise motorists to do to make cycling safer on Irish roads, he said: “Put away your phone, turn it off.”