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Dane-ifying Dane County

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Posted: 3:45PM June 18th, 2015 | Comments

A few weeks ago, I returned to Madison after studying sustainability in Copenhagen, Denmark (heaven) for five months. Voted the 2014 European Green Capital with plans to become carbon neutral by 2025 and nearly half the population biking to school or work each day, I couldn’t have chosen a better place to study and live. Lucky for me, I get to keep the sustainability train rolling through the summer as an intern at Sustain Dane.

One of the most impressive aspects of Copenhagen’s commitment to sustainability is its incredibly successful bike culture. With nearly half a million bikers on the road each day, biking in Copenhagen has become a part of everyday life. It is not uncommon to see someone talking on the phone, having a coffee and pastry, or rocking sky high heels as they stroll to work on their bike. The first time I was part of a morning rush hour on my bike, I couldn’t help but smile like an idiot the whole time. It was so exciting and refreshing to be a part of this community that doesn’t think twice about hopping on a bike in the poring rain, blustering winds, or freezing weather.

The success of the bike culture in Denmark begs the question, why? Why do people choose to ride their bike day in and day out? For exercise? To save the earth? For fun? It turns out, the answer’s pretty straightforward. People bike because it’s the most convenient method of transportation; it is the fastest and cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B (to point X, Y, and Z). Simple as that. However, this bike utopia didn’t just happen by chance. The municipality very deliberately created it for its beloved Copenhageners.

Over 250 miles of paved, elevated, and curbed bike lanes have been put in over the last few decades and bike infrastructure and maintenance remains a priority for the city. A beautiful new bike only bridge called the Cycle Snake has been built as a shortcut over the canal for bikers. Bike lanes are the first to get plowed when it snows. The Green Wave allows commuters to hit every green light on their commute once they reach a certain stride. There are tilted garbage cans on the sides of the roads for mid-ride coffee tosses. Bikes even have their own traffic lights at intersections. It’s plain to see that the city’s investment in biking has paid off, with Copenhagen heralded as one of the most bikeable cities in the world.

I gladly reaped the benefits of this investment, as I flew past the buses on my way to class each day, sipping a latte and reveling in my newfound bicycle haven. By the end of my stay in Copenhagen, I had almost forgotten what it was like not to be surrounded by bikes all the time. It became my new normal and I stopped being surprised by it. This is what I hope for Madison; that a pervasive bike culture becomes the new normal. Of course, Madison is light years ahead of many other US cities in terms of bike accessibility and infrastructure, but I have seen the light (Copenhagen) and I know we can get there too! 

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