Copenhagen: The bicycling capital of the world!

If you love to ride a bicycle and are often nostalgic of the days when Pune was a cyclists’ city, Copenhagen will give you the pleasure of watching millions of bicycles on the road, jostling with tourists along its busy streets.  I and Poorva reached Copenhagen late night on Friday, May 27, 2011, having a multi-modal journey into the city. (Why multi-modal is a story in itself, which I can share over a cup of coffee sometime later). We emerged from the metro station, a little apprehensive, since we yet needed to find our way to our hotel and it was already past 10:30 pm. We need not have worried, as it was a Friday summer night and the streets were full of people, walking, cycling, having fun over pints of Carlsberg beer.

We walked down the pedestrian shopping street, with musicians along the way, with small crowds surrounding them, listening to the melodious tunes emanating from accordion, an occasional flute and sometimes a saxophone. The upturned hats with tips in front of the musician suggested a ‘dignified’ begging, but the musicians and the surrounding crowds were enjoying the give and take of music and friendly bantering.

A very interesting “cycling choice” by Copenhageners was evident in the way their cycles were ‘fixed’ or ‘retrofitted’ to accommodate their lifestyles. There were cycles, of course with child seats strapped to the carrier. Then there were cycles with wicker baskets to hold groceries and flowers and small household items. There were cycles with strollers fitted in the front to carry infants and babies. Then cycles were fixed with cell phone holders and bags to hold raincoats and blankets (its cold and wet unpredictably in Copenhagen). But to top off my delight at seeing all this, I saw people come out of train stations with small suitcases and put them onto small trolleys / carriers fitted on to their cycles.

All these, while amusing to see, also displayed a strong commitment to use bicycles as a regular and often, the only means of transport for most people. Share-A-Bike and Rent-A-Bike schemes were evident along all cycle tracks and public plazas, almost compelling everyone into riding cycles in Copenhagen. Small children were introduced to the concept of cycling though wooden bicycles without pedals to carry along as their parents walked alongside. Surprisingly, the early beginning was also seen in a 4 year old, happily cycling along (without support wheels) with her mother, who was carrying a baby in a stroller fitted to her cycle.

Both in Stockholm and in Copenhagen, the compactness of the cities was evident. It will be very interesting to explore if a new planning approach can be to allow Indian cities to accommodate its vast urban population and yet retain the compactness of neighborhoods?Can we think of a redistributed density instead of a centralized ‘crowding’ density, to facilitate smaller and more efficient neighborhoods, which eventually form a larger city.

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