Friday, 20 September 2013


These past few weeks, for various reasons, I have had to drive a lot more than usual. It has meant that instead of riding my bike to work almost every day, the bike has become the exception.

What it has brought home to me is just how tedious driving a car everywhere can be. I remember years ago I had a paper round. The thing about paper rounds is that you can build up your skills and speed to a point but beyond that you cannot get any faster. You still have to walk up all the stairs and deliver the papers. Driving the car around is a bit like that. You can try and reach the speed limit as quickly as you can and use side streets to try and shave time of your journey but sooner or later, you have to stop either at a red light, a give way sign or behind a line of traffic.

Generally your view of the world is this:

or if you're lucky and you get to see two flash German cars, it might be this:

What driving around also showed me is just how unattractive taking the bike or bus looks as an alternative - despite how dreary it is sitting in a car.

The buses are all stuck in the same traffic. The passengers get to catch up on Twitter or play Angry Birds but that seems to be their only advantage. On all of the routes I took, there was not a single part of the road where it was made easier for buses by allowing them to bypass the traffic. Indeed, their ability to keep to the timetable seems to rely almost exclusively on the generosity of motorists in allowing them to pull out.

From where I was sitting, I did not see that many people riding their bikes. A few passed in the opposite direction and there was the odd one that got past me while I was stuck in a traffic jam, which was the majority of the time. When they did, it was not quite like all those pictures of groups of Danish people speeding past traffic on those wide raised lanes along Nørrebrogade. No, it was usually a single cyclist creeping along in the gutter propelling themselves forward with their left foot on the pavement (that also served to stop them falling over because of the lack of space).

Those cyclists you see invariably have the fluoro yellow top, the tight pants and the obligatory grimace. I did once see a pretty young lady on a Dutch bike, which was a very pleasant though rare change.

Another thing I noticed was just how few roads actually have bike lanes. Those you do see are routinely ignored. It is weird. It is as if they are totally invisible and drivers instead use the gutter to guide themselves. The painted lines seem to be treated as if they are either decoration or a leftover from another time.

I also noticed how poor a condition some of our roads are in - not just the roads, the bike paths too:

That hole was not put their by overweight cyclists by the way. It was something a little heavier:

That lane is on Light Square. It was coloured green to prevent motor vehicles from being driven on it. Surely a corner like that needs something like this (at the very least):

It must have been an unusual couple of weeks for me. If the comments pages are to be believed, there are crazy lycra-clad cyclists swarming along roads, speeding through red lights and generally putting car occupants in mortal danger. I didn't really see much of that. I was keeping my eye out but managed to see a total of two scofflaw cyclists. One was riding on the pavement - because the road, including the painted bike lane, was completely blocked by two lanes of car traffic. The other went through a red light. It was at a pedestrian crossing. The lights were still red but about to change to green and nobody was crossing. The cyclist (in his 60s) was approaching slowly and riding uphill. You could see that it would have been a pain for him to have to slow down and restart. He just carried on travelling at about 8 km/h in the bike lane. He was halfway across the empty crossing when the lights changed. Is that really so bad?

All of this revealed one obvious truth. From the point of view of your average punter sitting behind their windscreen, the thought of taking any of their journeys using any means other than their motorcar is light years from their mind. Riding a bike looks fairly awful. You wouldn't let your kids do it and you probably wouldn't bother yourself. Riding the bus is only marginally better and then only if you really want to play Angry Birds. You still have to wait in a queue to get on and then sit in the same traffic as everyone else.

It shows that we still have a lot of work to do.

I'm back on the bike this week - out of breath and feeling chubby. The temptation to make an excuse why I need to take the car is strong. However I have given the bike a polish and taken the luggage rack off the back so it feels marginally lighter and looks good. Also, it's spring and the sun will soon be shining, Apple has released not one but two new iPhones and Mikaell Colville-Andersen is a keynote speaker at Velo-City 2014.

All good.


  1. Thanks for your perfect analysis and putting things in perspective. There is a long long long way to go. To say that improvements to bicycle infrastructure are peacemeal would be an exaggeration which is a result of limited funds and lack of visions on all levels of government.

  2. Thanks Ken. I am really looking forward to Velo-City to provide some further inspiration and a decent kickstart.