This semester, I am living and studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. Having never lived or spent much time in a big city, moving to Copenhagen has been a series of huge adjustments, filled with new learning experiences every day. So far, my favorite part of living in Copenhagen is the ardent bike culture here. Fighting with Amsterdam for the title of “Most Bicycle-Friendly City in the World,” biking is a dominating feature of life in Copenhagen. Everywhere you turn, there are bikes—parked by the hundreds in front of apartments, cafés, and train stations; leaning against random light posts; and whizzing by you from the bike lanes of every street. Rain or shine, the inhabitants of Copenhagen rely on their bikes to commute to work, school, shopping, and everything in between.
The biggest difference you will notice when looking at a street in Copenhagen versus one in an American city is that there is a bike lane on each side of the street. These special lanes are on practically every road, many of which even include their own turning lanes. Given just as much priority as the cars—much more than the pedestrians—these lanes have their own street lights that change with the flow of traffic.
In an effort to join the Danish culture—and to give myself an alternative to my boring commute to class on the bus every morning—I rented a bike for the semester. The first day that I joined the morning commute on my bike was more than a little bit intimidating. You have to be extra aware of the people around you, because everyone is in a rush and will not hesitate to squeeze by you, with little more than a small ding of their bell as a warning that they are coming up on your left. I found myself peddling hard to keep up with the flow of people, many of them dressed for work in fancy clothes and shoes, others with babies strapped in a seat on the back or a basket in front. The most challenging part for me during the first few days (and even still now) was getting used to all of the stopping and starting. Bikes follow the same traffic laws as cars, and thus have to stop at each stoplight and move into the correct lanes. When the light turns yellow, the bikers quickly start moving again, not even waiting until it turns to green. It definitely takes some practice to get from a complete stop to full speed in a matter of seconds!
It amazes and impresses me how many people in Copenhagen use biking as their primary mode of transportation around the city. Even those with long commutes from outside of the city will favor their bike over a car or train. The prevalence of biking in Copenhagen has reduced the amount of cars being driven on the road, contributing to their status as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world. Not only does this help the environment, but it allows the money saved due to biking to be spent on important things such as healthcare and medical research.
It has been about three weeks now, and I would like to think that my city biking skills have much improved. I still get a little nervous when a car passes me by very closely, but no longer do I get frazzled by the many bikes in such close proximity, and I have gotten used to staying on the right side of the lane and signaling when I have to turn. The best part is that my 20 to 25-minute bus ride to class has now turned into a quick 15-minute bike ride, which wakes me up much more effectively than any other commute I’ve experienced before. Not only is it great exercise, but the feeling of fresh air on my face in the morning readies me to face the day, and never ceases to remind me of why I chose to live in this wonderful city. I feel truly grateful to have been introduced to this culture, and although there are nowhere near the amount of “bike-friendly” accommodations in America as there are in Copenhagen, I hope that remembering my experience here will give me the motivation to dust off my old bike at home and to start using bikes as the incredible resources that they are!