Advocacy: Lessons From Copenhagen, Denmark

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Editor’s note: This advocacy column by Wendy Booher first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #13, published in October 2011.


Traffic light footrests, tilted trashcans, public bike repair stands, showers, lockers and guaranteed emergency rides speak louder than words to say, “Hey! We see that you chose your bike and we just wanted to say, ‘Thanks!’” Now, instead of advocates and well-intentioned businesses, the ones sending this message are increasingly governments.

Nowhere is this type of recognition more obvious than in Denmark, where nine delegates from four U.S. cities saw how cycling as transportation was built into urban design rather than added as an afterthought. The delegation traveled there at the end of June 2011 as part of the Bikes Belong Foundation’s Bicycling Design Best Practices Program. The objective of the trip was for the delegates to study, experience, and be inspired by Copenhagen’s advanced bicycling environment.

This Isn’t Europe

It’s not Danes’ DNA that influenced their attitude toward bikes, but rather a deliberate set of decisions starting in Denmark in the 1970s that changed the way they confronted an oil crisis and turned residents on to bikes as transportation. Now more North American cities are clamoring for solutions to their own urban woes, and public officials have singled out bike transportation as the most effective tool against traffic congestion, shrinking energy resources and obesity. The presence of cycling infrastructure, public bike sharing, bike parking and traffic calming all tell you that a community takes its cycling seriously; these extras shout out that cycling is a priority.

It’s the Little Things

“One of the biggest reasons people don’t ride their bikes—beyond feeling unsafe—is that they don’t have any air in their tires and that impacts the pleasure of the ride,” said Bruno Maier, vice president of Bikes Belong. Maier cited how the city of Fredericia, 137 miles west of Copenhagen, installed an electric air pump for anyone to use at the city’s entrance. In October 2010, the City of London commissioned local design firm Cyclehoop to create a heavy-duty, vandal-proof pump that looked modern and would fit in with the city’s street furniture. Cyclehoop seized the opportunity to launch its Public Bicycle Pump in February 2011. As demand for bike use grows across the U.S., Cyclehoop has fielded inquiries from Dallas, Cincinnati, Detroit, Denver and McKinleyville, California.

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Need a Quick Fix?

Dero Bike Racks introduced its Fixit public bike repair stand in the winter of 2010, and shortly thereafter the Fixit started showing up on university campuses including the University of Virginia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Southern Methodist University and a handful of California schools. The Fixit features a variety of tools—mainly wrenches, screwdrivers, and tire levers—that are tethered with woven steel cables to a metal stanchion and bolted to the sidewalk. The cities of Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Asheville and Wilmington in North Carolina have purchased the stands. According to Dero, property managers are the newest customers as they search for ways to enhance the value of their properties.

“We’d like to see them spread out everywhere,” said Dero’s Mark Skoine, “kind of like ‘install them and they will come.’”

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Who doesn’t know the boiling sense of frustration from a mechanical failure in the midst of a Friday night blizzard at the end of a punishing workweek? If you live in Minneapolis, you’re guaranteed a lift through Metro Transit’s Guaranteed Ride Home program. Commuters who bike to work (or school) three or more days per week are eligible for up to four rides, totaling $100, per year.

“I think that these amenities—whether it’s tilted trashcans that allow for quick and easy disposal of trash while you’re riding, water fountains, pumps, or bike counters—are subtle touches that just reinforce the message that cycling is important and we are going to take care of our cyclists,” Maier said.

Communities leading the way in bicycle enhancements started with cycling infrastructure. Now those same communities are declaring bike use a priority by implementing a range of amenities for their citizens who adopt cycling as a form of transportation. If you’re reading this article, you probably already choose the bike but don’t wait around for a “Thank You” note from the mayor; if you already enjoy some of the public amenities for bike users, maybe a “You’re Welcome” is due. Maybe it’s time the mayor heard from you.

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