In the 1970s, Copenhagen made a decision to change. Hit by the worldwide energy crisis and riding the wave of a newly energised environmental movement, the Danish capital pursued a revolutionary new policy that afforded cycling the same priority as motor vehicles. The move was controversial, with many politicians sceptical about the long term ramifications.
Today Copenhagen is regarded as one of the world’s best cities for cyclists, and sustainable mobility initiatives receive wide political support. Each day people cycle 1.2 million kilometres, with 36% commuting to work or school using a bicycle. A further 28% use public transport, while 7% walk. The city offers 346km of cycle paths separated from the road and over 40km of green cycle routes. Cycling saves 90 000 tons of CO2 emissions a year when compared to travelling by car.
Copenhagen’s exemplary transport policy, which aims to make cycling the most used mode of transport by 2015, helped the city secure the title of European Green Capital 2014.
As part of its Green Capital celebrations, Copenhagen will host a series of "Mobility days" from 23 August to 5 September, which will encompass conferences, master classes, guided tours and more. Citizens from across the continent are invited to attend.
"Our overall vision is quality of life and green growth, which is the cornerstone of our integrated approach to mobility,” says Mayor Morten Kabell, Technical and Environmental Administration of Copenhagen. “Our focus is on mobility and accessibility instead of traffic and transport. Green mobility is our priority, which includes walking, cycling, public transport and efficient use of Copenhagen’s transport systems."
As well as infrastructural improvements, such as constructing bicycle bridges and cycling super-highways, the city has carried out a first class communications programme, keeping citizens informed and engaged on the topic of sustainable mobility.
Aware that most citizens are not ardent environmentalists (in a recent survey, only 9% of Copenhageners cited environmental reasons for cycling), the city’s information campaigns focus mainly on the convenience, health benefits and lower costs of cycling.
Copenhagen’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) has been integral to setting and achieving mobility targets. The city’s most recent SUMP details the integrated approach to sustainable mobility. “Our SUMP’s aims are to build a green and dense city, create a better supply of green transport modes, influence people’s mobility choices through incentives and regulation, and create room for innovation and new opportunities." says Mayor Kabell.
“Copenhagen’s SUMP has proven to be a very important tool, which helps us to secure better integration of transport and urban planning, as well as structure and improve the involvement of stakeholders in the planning process.”
Perhaps the greatest testament to the city’s transformation from traffic choked to cyclists’ paradise is birthing the internationally recognised term “Copenhagenisation” – a description for cities that are becoming more cycling friendly.
As European Green Capital 2014, the city offers a stellar example of how politics and citizens can combine to create better urban transport and a more pleasant urban centre – one that offers inspiration to cities the world over.