Why York should look to Copenhagen…

It’s time we all went a bit more Danish. I am not talking pastries here or dark-hearted crime dramas on BBC4. No, this is a two-wheels-good, four-wheels-bad wish to be more Danish.

I have just read – and, yes, it was on the Guardian website – that bicycle sensors in Copenhagen have this month clocked that there are now more bicycles than cars in the heart of the city.

“In the last year, 35,080 more bikes have joined the daily roll, bringing the total number to 265,700, compared with 252,600 cars,” the report says.

Let’s stop to think about that for a moment. The Danish capital city has more bicycles than cars at its centre. What a fabulous achievement that is; and what a lesson to British cities, including this one.

York tries to be cycle-friendly, and the Millennium Bridge – across which I cycle often – was a fabulous addition for cyclists and pedestrians. A great bridge, but it was built years back.

Cycling around York is a mixture of pleasure and peril, with good lanes – such as the one near Clifton Bridge – and rotten lanes, such as those almost anywhere else. The poor examples squeeze bicycles into a narrow strip of often rotted tarmac at the edge of the traffic.

Here is one of my common cycling routes, from the west of the city to the university (for a twice-weekly game of squash). After coming down the hill from Acomb Green, the road is busy but okay. As you toil up the hill at Holgate, the journey becomes more perilous – especially if those council rubbish lorries are thundering past.

At Holgate’s iron bridge, a tricky right-hand turn takes you to Tadcaster Road. Once across this junction, the journey is on peaceful side-streets, with one main road to cross before reaching the Millennium Bridge. This part of the ride is to experience a mini-Copenhagen effect: cyclists and pedestrians and no cars at all.

Hospital Fields Road is usually thick with traffic near the junction and a degree of hazardous weaving may be required to reach the traffic lights. Once over the always-busy Fulford Road, a good track passes through the barracks and then crosses Walmgate Stray, where in early summer frisky cattle present the biggest danger (on dark evenings the baton is passed to students dressed in dark clothes who blend into the night without a shadow).

After the stray, there is a twisty path through the trees that brings you to the sports centre. Mostly a good cycle route and one that compensates for all the awful ones.

That’s one journey is the sort-of cycling city of York. Over in Copenhagen, proper and long-term efforts have been made to create a true cycling city, and in the past 20 years, bicycle traffic has risen by 68 per cent. Plenty of exercise and no pollution (apart from the sweat from all those wheeled hordes).

Since 2005, new cycling infrastructure in the city has included several bridges for bicycles and pedestrians, as well as the Cycle Snake, an elevated orange bike lane that wriggles over the narrow streets. This sky-bridge has two lanes for cyclists, leaving pedestrians to walk below unhindered. What a genius idea.

I don’t know enough about Copenhagen to tell you if that city has the equivalent of our anti-cycling types who bore on about bikes with no lights (sometimes true, often not) or people cycling on the pavement (sometimes true, often not).

Are there car-obsessed Danes who hate everything about cyclists? I couldn’t say, but it seems less likely than in York and other British cities. Are there Danish idiot motorists who drive by with half an inch to spare? Again, I couldn’t say.

By the way, I am not one of those anti-car cyclists. My trusty bicycle does not sport a sticker saying: “One less car on the road” or whatever. I have a car and drive it often at present, due to circumstances. For preference, I would cycle everywhere, but Horsforth in Leeds and Howden are not within pedalling distance. And only a few of my freelance jobs are cycle-friendly.

More cycling is good for everyone. It’s good for those who choose to cycle. And it’s good for drivers as there are fewer cars on the road. As for York, it’s a lovely place to live – but it could do with being a bit more Danish. Or indeed Dutch, as in Amsterdam 48 per cent of city-centre trips are said to be pedal-powered.

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