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    Philly verses Copenhagen: Cycling in the City

    Philly verses Copenhagen: Cycling in the City
    Photo: Creative Commons

    After a Green City showdown between Philly and Copenhagen last week, we’re breaking it down further about cycling culture.

    Philly fell short of Copenhagen’s cycling prowess, but why? What can Philly learn from Copenhagen?

    Let’s compare Copenhagen’s famous cycling culture and progress with Philly’s blossoming bike culture.

    Copenhagen: Biking Sherpas

    Copenhagen is a cycling city without a doubt. Bikes and cyclists are found almost everywhere, even in winter when snow hits the ground.

    Cycling has become integrated in Copenhagen’s culture, and will not leave anytime soon:

    • Cycling starts at an early age. It’s common to see toddlers pushing themselves along on training bikes down the sidewalk. Primary school kids pedal along on the bike lanes with their parents nearby with a steadying hand, too.
    • Majority of Copenhageners own a bike. Many own multiple and ride almost daily.
    • About 40% of commuters ride bikes to school or work, more than the US’s bike commuters in total. (In fact, 76% of Americans drive to work solo.)
    • Copenhageners bike in all weather, year round. The city maintains the bike lanes top-notch, keeping them open in rain, snow, or ice and throughout construction projects.
    • Families bike too; many don’t even own a car. Instead, they travel by cargo bike with a large bucket in front to hold groceries, shopping bags and even kids.
    • Danish Cyclists have bikes racks, storage baskets AND seats or buckets to carry people. Imagine my double take seeing newlyweds bike-on-by with the bride in a cargo bike, pedaled by her new groom. Romantic, eh?!?

    Cycling is very popular in Copenhagen’s culture; proven time and time again by the sheer number, innovation of two-wheelers by people young and old.

    Copenhagen did it First

    Philly verses Copenhagen: Cycling in the City
    Photo: Creative Commons

    The city can brag about many firsts in the urban cycling community including:

    • Establishing a bike-share system in 1995. The original program came to an end a few years ago, but news on a re-vamped program is starting to come out.
    • Named the 1st official Bike City in the world by the International Cycling Union (UCI) from 2008-11.
    • Part of the world’s first Cycling Embassy. Founded in 2009, the Cycling Embassy’s mission is to unite companies, NGOs and public institutions to establish Copenhagen as hub for bicycling innovation, knowledge, and discussion.
    • Establishing bicycle highways, creating a safer track for cycling commuters on raised bike-only bridges, bypassing motor traffic below.

    Copenhagen’s Futuristic Bike

    Not to be satisfied with mortal bike lanes, Copenhagen is progressively growing cycling infrastructure.

    • Many main streets have raised bike lanes or painted version, separating cyclists from motor traffic and pedestrians. This totals to over 390km of bike ways.
    • Green Wave enables continuous travel for cyclists (and motorists) where maintaining a speed of 20km/hr syncs with green lights, allowing for smooth, uninterrupted travel.
    • Cycling traffic lights give bikers a few seconds of a head start on motor traffic.
    • Bike-friendly public transit enables cyclists to bring their bikes on regional trains, the metro (less trafficked hours), and buses, some with specialized bike cars.
    • Bike share revamp. While the city’s original bike-share ended two years ago, the new system began this past winter complete with screens to navigate trips and coordinate station returns.
    • Big goals. Copenhagen plans to escalate the number of bike commuters to 50% in its bid to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and encourage healthy, active lifestyles.


    It is more common to ride a bike than drive a car in the Danish capital, unlike in any of the United States’ major cities, including our own.

    Philadelphia Biking Culture

    Philly verses Copenhagen: Cycling in the City
    Photo: Creative Commons

    While Copenhagen has a bit of a head start in the urban cycling department.

    But Philly’s bike culture is making progress too:

    • Philly has twice as many cycling commuters per capita than any other large US city.
    • 151% increase of bike commuters from 2000 to 2009.
    • South Philly and Center City were among the country’s top 25 most bicycled areas.
    • An increasing number of female cyclists, a common indicator used to test a city’s bike-friendliness.
    • Growing number of bike lanes, leading to better cycling behavior such as less wrong way and sidewalk riding.
    • Select streets, like Spruce and Pine, are implementing the “Green Wave” with specified speeds for uninterrupted bike travel.
    • Bike-friendly transit on SEPTA and PATCO.

    Philadelphia also has plans to increase the city’s bike friendliness, outlined in the Greenworks and Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan:

    • 100% increase in the number of cyclists traveling across the city due to East-West Bicycle Corridor on Spruce and Pine Streets.
    • Over 450 new Bike racks have been installed across Philly since January 2012.
    • Center City-to-Airport bicycle access plan has been created, bringing travelers along many bike friendly trails and roads.
    • Bike share! Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) is planning to launch Philly’s first bike share in Spring 2015, bringing 60 stations and 600 bicycles in neighborhoods across the city, including lower income communities.
    • Pro-cycling strategies encourage biking, like Bike to Work Day, regular maintenance of bike ways, Women Bike PHL that share information from the Bicycle Coalition, increasing convenience through improved lanes, etc.

    Although we haven’t seen many toddlers strapped to the front of bicycles, Philly is creeping up on Copenhagen’s progress.


    Tell us in the comments readers, what should Philly do for next steps to become a leading bike city in the United States? What did we miss as progress? Where can we improve?

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    Linh Kostiuk

    About Linh Kostiuk

    Linh studies Architectural Technologies at Philadelphia University and spent a previous semester studying Sustainability in Copenhagen, Denmark. These experiences home and abroad inspired her to take a closer look at her personal impact on the environment and ways to lessen it. Whether she's reminding others to recycle or supporting local farmers markets, she knows those small steps can add up to a greater positive change.

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