Transportation

Copenhagen Wasn't Always a Cycling Mecca

By Jason Leach
Published December 13, 2009

A great piece on Copenhagen in Saturday's Toronto Star outlines yet another world city that has taken steps to encourage people to use various modes of transportation instead of being forced to use cars exclusively like many North American cities - including Hamilton.

I've always found it perplexing that in a so-called democratic society we are given no choice and virtually no infrastructure for basic transportation modes like walking and cycling.

A great tidbit in this story is the fact that Copenhangen, like many European cities, wasn't always this way. They decided to make good decisions and planned infrastructure that everyone can use.

"Copenhagen was designed for the car in the 1950s through the 1970s," [said Fred Sztabinski of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation]. "We need to get the message out that the majority of European countries were pursuing policies that favoured car travel in the decades following the Second World War as the car became easier to own.

"Things didn't happen overnight. These aren't cities that were always bike-friendly. They had to start over again. We're where they were 20 or 30 years ago," Sztabinski said.

A common argument heard when a local wants to thwart bike lanes but has no good reason to is, "this ain't Europe". Well guess what: Europe wasn't "Europe" 30 years ago either. People make that statement trying to convince the listener that Europe has always had better bike infrastructure and that people are born on bicycles there.

In a few places this may be true, but by and large, European cities have seen proper leadership, planning and have worked hard to develop balanced transportation systems. Is it any wonder we spend lots of money to visit their cities with envy and a longing to see North American urban life improve?

It all starts, and ends, with leadership.

Associated Photos:

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By spicandspan (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 09:19:28

These days the only leadership comes from the people

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 13:37:33

"I've always found it perplexing that in a so-called democratic society we are given no choice and virtually no infrastructure for basic transportation modes like walking and cycling."

Jason, you have truly lost your mind. Did all the sidewalks suddenly disappear into the thin air? Virtually every street in Hamilton has a sidewalk (two in fact). Wanna ride your bike? Ride on the road. Isn't that what you have been crying for?

You never cease to amaze me with your nonsensical rants.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 18:34:58

Hmmm, so if our current state of bike lanes and sidewalks is more than sufficient to be considered top notch infrastructure, why don't we treat our roadways in the same manner? Almost everytime I plot a walking route through Google Maps in order to get somewhere I'm warned about the "lack of sidewalks or dangerous walking paths on this route". And that's just things like a simple walk from Dundurn to Westdale etc....

Imagine planning your route via car and being told that roadways don't exist or are just dirt paths? Bike lanes are virtually non-existent in Hamilton. Nonsensical is believing that certain people deserve to be treated better than others. I'm simply suggesting that our city provide equal access and equal ease of movement for everyone. I'd hate to live in a society where that is considered 'nonsensical'.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2009 at 22:32:07

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 10:24:52

I was in Copenhagan last year, and was very impressed with its whole transportation infrastructure. In fact, I used all the modes (except cycling): walking, regional train, and driving. As a regular cyclist, I could see how well cycling was integrated into the whole network.

An important point (which has been made repeatedly) is that encouraging the appropriate mode for each trip makes the whole network more efficient: walking for short trips of less than 2km, cycling for up to about 5km, trains for inter-regional and cars between rural destinations (or from the city to the countryside). Copenhagan appeared quite wealthy, with lots of high end shops on the pedestrianized streets. The efficient transportation network allows a much higher density of people in the core, which is the essential ingredient for a successful city.

Responding to the point that "if people don't want now it, we shouldn't do it" is the case of Nyhavn.

This is the old port of Cophenhagan which is now one of the most popular tourist and restaurant destinations. However, until the 1970s (or so) the narrow streets lining the harbour were used for parking. Photos show that there were few people on the sidewalks, and business was not great.

The City then began a revitilization programme that involved removing the parking and improving the streetscape for pedestrians. The merchants howled that this would destroy their business, but the City went ahead. The result has been a much more economically productive area, and a tourist destination.

The moral? People tend to imagine that change is only incremental, and everything else will stay the same. Of course, if the parking had been removed and nothing else changed it would have been a disaster. But everything else did change, and that was the point of the revitalization. (The other lesson is that merchants will always oppose any reduction in parking...)

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 13:21:23

"Almost everytime I plot a walking route through Google Maps in order to get somewhere I'm warned about the "lack of sidewalks or dangerous walking paths on this route". And that's just things like a simple walk from Dundurn to Westdale etc...."


Let me give you directions:

Begin at the corner of Main and Dundurn and walk west down Main. Once you reach Longwood walk north till you hit King Stw west. Make a left down King st west and in about 500 feet you will be in Westdale village. This whole trip is fully serviced with more than adequate sidewalks.

Is that not good enough for you or do you need someone to hold your hand while you cross the street?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 15:05:42

I don't need someone to hold my hand, but if you're offering how can I pass that up?? Lol.

Try the same directions from Fortinos along the south curb of King towards westdale (usually they try to give people the shortest route to a location). Shocking that the folks at Google don't consider walking on highway ramps to be 'safe access'. Who knew?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 15:36:56

Jason, you are right about King to Dundurn on the south side (thank you Google street view) however the north side has a sidewalk with the exception of a stretch with the highway on-ramp (how do you expect cars to get on the highway?). When you get to the highway ramp just be sure to look both ways when you cross over and wait for a break in the traffic. I remember learning this in kindergarten.

Sorry if Hamilton is not 100% to your specifications Jason. We are not all so high maintenance in this city. The remaining 99.999999% of the city should not be an issue for you. Get over it.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2009 at 16:19:17

Because we need to move the cars around so fast. getting to westdale from Fortinos means you have to walk east to dundurn first. You have to cross east. Then cross North. Then cross West. Then cross a highway ramp.

On a Bike, I'm not even sure how you are supposed to do it... you can't ride on the sidewalk, and I don't think there is a left turn from fortinos onto dundurn. So to access that bike lane, you'd ride out the fortinos parking lot, south onto dundurn. left onto main. left at the next side street. left on king. cross 4 lanes of traffic to the bike lane. and still have to cross a highway overpass.

This intersection is a perfect example of what is wrong with the transportation network in this city.

That you can't see that this is not a balanced system speaks volumes to your state of mind.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2009 at 16:21:20

btw I expect cars to get on the highway by using an intersection with a light, the way they do in most other cities.

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By birdie (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 16:29:19

btw I expect cars to get on the highway by using an intersection with a light, the way they do in most other cities.

Bravo! Why does King Street have an off-ramp anyway? I thought only highways had off-ramps.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 15, 2009 at 17:22:45

Great analysis Seancb. I'm glad that it wasn't just me and Google who had noticed this less than stellar means of walking in our fine city. If desiring to not be run over by a speeding car on a freeway ramp (let's all be honest, the ramp starts the second the light at Dundurn turns green. If you don't believe me, go stand there and watch the show. All we need now is Danika Patrick standing at Dundurn waving the flag to get things started) makes me 'high maintenance' then so be it. I'd like to live a little longer. I know, I'm such a demanding guy.

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By Ben (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2009 at 20:09:08

I remember when I attended the Jarvis Street bike lane debate at Toronto City Council a few months back. City Councilor Denzil Minan-Wong, surely the biggest dufus since Rob Ford, was asking why cyclists couldn't use the DVP trail or Sherbourne bike path to go north and south.

I remember thinking, why is it OK to ask cyclists - who are so much slower than cars - to make a 3 block diversion to get from A-B? Would we close a road and tell motorists to do the same?

I also often wonder, when I'm strolling along a busy sidewalk arm in arm with my missus - why most sidewalks are not wide enough to walk 2 people astride both ways? Why do I have to keep ducking out of people's way?!

There is a definite bias towards the car when planning our transportation infrastructure. It's as if we see the car and the truck as the life blood of our cities: The car keeps everything ticking. But is this really so? What would happen if we turned every extra car lane into a bike path?

(PS Ryan - Heeeelp! I can't login!)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2009 at 21:46:09

(PS Ryan - Heeeelp! I can't login!)

I reset your password. The system should send you an email that you can use to log in and set a new password. Send me an email if you have any problems with it.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted December 19, 2009 at 11:29:45

It was a trip to the Netherlands which opened my eyes to another way of living. The bike routes! Large bike lanes, with intersections, running parallel to major highways. And well-dressed people riding sensible bikes. Wow. I wanted to move there. But, bring me back to Hamilton, and I went back to my car-life. I drove everywhere, and wanted to get through downtown Hamilton as quickly as possible. I was also eye-rollingly opposed to making James Street two-way. But James Street made me a believer. I'm ready to sacrifice some of the convenience of my car (sacrifice - but not eliminate). I guess this is a rather long way of saying - let's make the changes. Bring on the two-way streets. But try as I might, I can't resolve the King/Main/Dundurn Gordian Knot. Those on and off ramps...I'm thinking maybe a route through Cathedral Park with a bike/pedestrian bridge over to Glen Road. But it's not really in the spirit of shared space. Still, positive change.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2009 at 01:58:24

This is easy - put a light at each of those ramps and turn them into standard controlled intersections. It's not that hard to join one lane of traffic (to or from the highway) to main and king as two way streets. Every other city does it with no problem, and often with double lane off ramps.

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