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What We Can and Can’t Learn from Copenhagen (gehlinstitute.org)
89 points by simonebrunozzi 78 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

It's worth mentioning that most of the cities in Denmark are similar. Nearly every town that isn't tiny has pedestrian/bike only streets, and the trend seems to be to expand these areas rather than making them smaller.

I live in Odense which is across the other bridge (the one that doesn't go to Sweden) and it is by far my favorite city in Denmark. Relatively recently, the busiest street that goes through the very center of downtown was closed in order to expand the pedestrian downtown.

Copenhagen is really charming with its canals and such, but it's incredibly busy and noisy and trafficked in comparison. Too much for me.

If anyone should be considering moving to denmark, Copenhagen is not the only place to be. Odense, Århus, Vejle, Ålborg and most other cities are built on the same principles, so if work doesn't demand you live in the capitol, expanding your search parameters is definitely worth it(and potentially very lucrative given the price of housing in Copenhagen).

Odense is know as the biggest village in Denmark, because even though it is one of the biggest cities it does not feel like it.

Hey IceDane, I've lived in Odense for a year now and don't know many of the HN types. If you'd be interested it could be fun to meet up. carlchatfield at the mail domain operated by google.

Just to add a bit of info: Aarhus has a quite happening software development scene, while Odense is the place to be if you want to work with robotics.

Aarhus looks relatively car-centric overall on satellite images. But I guess that is partly because it is small. It seems like you would have to live inside the few km of the city proper though.

I've lived in Aarhus the last 10 years with just a bike. Living downtown or near a lightrail stop outside the city, is certainly preferable though.

I'm sure it's a decent deal for anyone who has a connection to the place. There are just a lot more competition in being able to bike into a smaller city (which is almost any university town) compared to being able to live in a smaller city, being able to bike into a larger city or being able to bike in a larger city. For someone moving into the area it would then be more a matter of cost, opportunities and other things.

Is there more than one robotics company in Odense?

Looks interesting. That website is extremely fluffy in the usual 'next silicon valley way', but it should mean that you could find someone who at least knows where to get some hardware done. Which isn't nothing for a smaller city.

Speaking of crossing the bridge - I found Malmö even nicer than Copenhagen. It's tiny in comparison, but that's a great thing, and there's just as many cycling path and accessible architecture. It also has this feeling is "shared" city. If I had to choose I'd rather live there than in Copenhagen.

From an international perspective that is usually a completely different deal though. Second tier cities can sometimes be overvalued because of the premium paid by local residents, in this case being relative to Copenhagen. It really depends on the bang-for-buck for jobs, housing and entertainment etc.

From Wikipedia:

Copenhagen[a] (Danish: København [kʰøpm̩ˈhaʊ̯ˀn] (About this soundlisten)) is the capital and most populous city of Denmark. As of July 2018, the city has a population of 777,218 (616,098 in Copenhagen Municipality, 103,914 in Frederiksberg Municipality, 43,005 in Tårnby Municipality, and 14,201 in Dragør Municipality).[3][7][8] It forms the core of the wider urban area of Copenhagen (population 1,627,705) and the Copenhagen metropolitan area (population 2,057,737).

It's a fair bit bigger than 600k whichever way you look at it. Frederiksberg is entirely encircled by Copenhagen municipality, there's no difference in terms of cycling. There's easily 1M people who could cycle to work/school if they wanted. As a kid I could cycle, maybe 85% in bike lanes, all the way to the end of "the Copenhagen metropolitan area" from the centre.

My main gripe with the place is they seem to hate cars. I mean the trains, underground, bus, and bike lanes work for a lot of people, but not everyone. Say I want to bring my kids and my elderly parents somewhere. Realistically the only way to do that is to drive, but they're squeezing parking spaces massively.

There are definitely ways to move children and elderly people via bicycle, although doing both at once might be challenging.

I'm currently looking into buying an electric cargo bike called the Tern GSD: https://www.ternbicycles.com/bikes/gsd. I rented one for a day and I could carry my adult partner on the back with very little effort. Two children would fit on the back easily.

I really think electric bikes are a gamechanger for mobility for the elderly. My father has an electric bike that allows him to go to the post office, wander the bike paths etc. without overextending himself. Even if your parents are too old to safely balance on a bicycle, they might be able to handle an electric tricycle.

The problem is, that bike costs US$4k in Canada.

That’s the cost of an okay used car. Obviously the bike has fewer ongoing costs, but cargo bikes are still a niche product with very high margins or very high production costs.

Chinese ebikes/scooters are demolishing the cargo bike market.

I live in the Washington DC area and see kids and elderly people on the Metro and bus often. Seriously, there's no ban on them. I don't get the issue.

Children: stroller, nappies, toys, change of clothes, snacks. Will run into traffic if not man marked.

Elderly: wheelchair / cane, medicines. Will stop traffic due to slowness.

I'm not talking about people who are of ordinary mobility.

If there was much demand for parking spaces, could there be a business opportunity to provide private parking options? I remember seeing tiny parking lots in Japan a lot where street parking in general isn't allowed.

What I have heard of is some entrepreneurs who try to fine people if they inadvertently park in a private space. Not sure if it got off the ground.

> School children in Copenhagen start bike safety lessons early..

When I lived in SF a few years ago, I bought a bike and asked the fancy bike store what hand signals to use when biking. They weren't sure...

In Denmark it's a 100 USD fine of you don't signal turns and stops on your bike.

I grew up far from the bike friendly cities of the Øresund region, middle of Swedish forests. We still had a special bike day around 2nd or 3rd grade where the police came and marked our bikes. And we got to learn the rules of signalling and right of way.

Nothing says that schools in the US can't do this. It's all up to the school management to decide.

Isn't it just sticking out your hand in the direction you want to go everywhere? I'm annoyed by people not doing that properly at home, so it'd be ironic to now find out I've been signing incorrectly abroad.

Yes, but also, if you wish to stop (including stopping on the right after crossing a junction in order to turn left), you raise a hand straight up.

In theory. I don't know of anyone who have been fined for it (I am sure that someone somewhere has).

The fines I have seen have been for missing lights and running red lights.

Is that enforced? Because I'm pretty sure there should be fines for that in Germany as well, yet regularly people don't sign

I've lived in Copenhagen for 6 years and cyclists break the rules all the time and I've never seen anyone get busted. In fact, the only time I've seen a cop is when they are going somewhere else fast. In a car. (I still love Copenhagen including the bike culture.)

Bicycles (and related transportation such as electric scooters) are a really good mode of transportation between 0.5 km and 5 km; a lot of cities could benifit being more bicycle-friendly.

Copenhagen is not car-unfriendly given its size and history. Parking in the inner part of the city is expensive and getting around in car is slow because the city is not built for it (circa ++100 years ago). The newer parts of Copenhagen accommodates cars as any other modern city.

Another thing worth noting is that Copenhagen got is its metro quite recently (some 15 years ago) and it is not fully expanded. So the public transport alternative was busses and some trains.

Maybe the metro explains why there are so many more cyclists in Copenhagen than Stockholm: the daily ridership of the Copenhagen metro is 200k while the one in Stockholm has 1200k.

There is also around 350k that takes the S-train every day. I belive they think they will more than double the amount of passengers when the new line "city ringen" opens in the end of next month as well.

You should try and read up on the Finger plan [0] it was made in the late 40s for how to develop the Copenhagen area. It is called the Finger plan because at the time they made 5 train lines go out from Copenhagen so you could live outside the city and commute in.

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finger_Plan

That was very much a vision of creating nice neighbourhoods for families with a car.

I'd argue that any mode of transportation is good for trips that take between 5 and 40 minutes. For a bike that's distances between 1.5 and 15km or so. An electric bike a little more. That covers about two thirds of all car trips Americans take. The average urban car trip in the US is only 14km long.[1] Bikes are often just as fast or even faster than cars during rush hour traffic.

[1] http://www.solarjourneyusa.com/EVdistanceAnalysis7.php

There are benefits and costs to diversity.

We invented jazz music and snowboarding. And the Internet.

They get social cohesion and political buy-in for (relatively) progressive transportation and health initiatives.

I, like the author, have urban envy when I visit Copenhagen (and Zurich and Tokyo). But if I had to choose, I'd choose inventing jazz.

Are you comparing the US to a single city? Why not compare the whole of Europe to Minneapolis and see who made most inventions?

I live across the bridge in Malmö, and visit Copenhagen infrequently. It really is quite a lovely city, and our proximity seems to create a faux competition for Sweden. Since Malmö enjoys many of the same benefits in transportation but without such population density.

People -love- their cars. And Denmark/Sweden try to dissuade people from owning them with heavy taxes and expensive parking.

But I’ve noticed if you ever try to take a car from someone who has one they with fight you until you’re burger. To many people it means freedom, and until public transport and bikes are much stronger alternatives you’re not going to make any friends.

Which is a catch-22. You need to limit cars because they consume a lot of space and make a lot of noise (and can be dangerous) but few have an appetite for limiting cars.

I think if there’s a change it needs to be very gradual, over generations.

People love their car, they just hate all the other cars. That is why car adverts always show ridiculously empty roads and cities.

Sometimes you have to recognize that in reality things are unsustainable and we are stuck in a local optimum far below what could be. And no, gradual doesn't get you out of a local optimum, and besides, we don't have the time. It takes a modal shift, and it needs to happen fast.

> But I’ve noticed if you ever try to take a car from someone who has one they with fight you until you’re burger.

I don't own a car, and never have. I live in Stockholm, a very car-hostile city. I commute the 20km each way by bus/subway or e-bike (in the summer).

And it's absolutely miserable.

The commute that would have taken 20 minutes by car instead takes at least an hour, if everything matches up perfectly.

Any large shopping is an exercise in misery, where you're stuck buying one thing, taking it home, and coming back for the next thing in the shop next door, because you have nowhere to store stuff temporarily (and your (/bike's) carrying capacity is tiny anyway). And of course each roundtrip, again, takes 3x what it would otherwise.

Want to meet up with friends? Take the hour+ trip to downtown, then as much again to get to their place, since the system was only designed for getting people to work and back. Oh, and add another 50% since you're in the weekend/evening where the traffic is reduced further.

And then you wonder why there is a loneliness epidemic, or why people get mad when you want to take away the least depressing mode of transportation that they have.

The same also matches my experience of Copenhagen. But of course you're not going to see that when you live in a hotel in the middle of the city for a few days.

I am not so sure Stockholm is that car-hostile. There is a congestion tax, but they just spent $3 billion dollars on the Stockholm Bypass motorway. It is just very centralized, made worse by the housing market. Rush hour traffic gets jammed quickly in bottle necks. They also haven't built much subway in the last few decades. There isn't for example really a ring line, which most other systems have. So going anywhere but the city center is hard. Stockholm also has very near suburb, there are single family homes just a few kilometers from the city center. Built for cars no less, but quite expensive. They sort of tried to complement that with the "job/housing/work-areas", but that idea is mostly lost to time. I think it is more that greater Stockholm just isn't very well planned these days. But I guess Copenhagen could be similar, because it isn't cheap either.

And if you make owning car expensive, owning them becomes a wealth signal and symbol for success. And then many aspire to become successful so that at the end they are finally able to afford the car and all the taxes which come with it.

> People -love- their cars ... if you ever try to take a car from someone who has one they with fight you until you’re burger.

People also love guns. And particularly if they need them to be safe. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make them unnecessary.

Why faux?

Because Copenhagen isn’t competing at all.

Haha, I actually laughed. That's harsh man, but it's funny because it's true.

One thing you have to realize with Copenhagen, and Danemark in general is that it is flat. Another bike friendly country are the Netherlands, also flat. Bikes as an efficient transportation work better when it is flat, you can probably feel it in your legs.

Interesting that they compared it to Park Slope.

Another thing about Copenhagen and Amsterdam is that they are the ideal size. Bigger and a bicycle is not enough, smaller and you might as well be walking.

Maybe a more interesting city to study for its bike culture would be Tokyo. Huge city, not flat, and yet very bike friendly.

I think to would be better to say Toyko is 2-wheel-vehicle friendly. Some of those vehicles are powered by humans, some by an electric motor, and others by a 150 cc engine.

In my opinion it's better to focus on skinny vehicle overall than just bikes; just because the current motorcycle culture in the US is that of a mid-life crisis on wheels doesn't mean that the motorcycle can't play a role in the city of tommorow

The slope in Park Slope is very mild. I’ve never heard any suggestion it inhibits biking in any way.

The neighborhood is also much longer across the slope than up and down it, and the retail and recreational corridors are situated accordingly.

This article might just as well have been about the Netherlands, so for those interested in this, you might also like this lecture discussing the many small measures taken in Dutch infrastructure to make cycling a safe and pleasant experience: What can Seattle learn from Dutch street design? [1] It helped me find out that apparently I'm a public infrastructure geek.

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=l0GA901oGe4

I spent a week in Copenhagen a few years ago and, while it was incredibly expensive, I was very impressed.

But on further investigation I discovered it was almost impossible to get a long term rental there. I read that Danes would put their newborns on wait lists in hopes that they might be eligible for an apartment when they left home 18 years later.

Copenhagians, is that really true or just Internet Hyperbole?

As others have noted, it’s true in some sense. I lived in worked in Malmö for awhile that has a very similar system, but not exactly so I cannot speak to minor differences but from my understanding it works similarly to Denmark. Yes, you get on the “list” from a young age. But it resets after the first apartment that you rent after you leave your parents house. So you might find a nice place but after that you need to start looking for another nice longer term place. It’s also not really as much required as it used to be. You can rent a nice place without getting on “the list” as there are places these days that do not utilize or care about “the list”. However to rent the nice places not on “the list” it is generally a bit more expensive and you have to show a bit more renting history. In general I can summarize it as follows: something like x% of renters (I think in Malmö at least it’s like 70%) use “the queue” or “the list” or whatever you want to call it, the thing referenced in your post. About 30% do not, and rely on more typical means of judging your rentworthiness. So if your income is a little on the higher side you would have no problem finding a nice room to rent without the queue/list.

Anyone in Scandinavia if I have pointed out inaccuracies please correct me. I lived in Scandinavia for some time but cannot say I fully understand the system.

It's technically true (the best kind). The more affordable apartments are usually rented out by a 'boligforening' and it's relatively common to give a membership/waiting list spot as a birthday present to newborns when the family lives in or near Copenhagen. This helps getting an affordable apartment when people leave home later to study. But there are plenty of apartments that do not require 18 years of waiting, it's just that the rent is higher.

As for my own experience, I'm moving to Copenhagen in a month for a job and I managed to find an apartment after searching for about a month. I'm moving from Aarhus (the second largest city in Denmark) and my new apartment costs 2.5 times as much each month, for which I'll get a slightly bigger apartment but much further from the center of town. My guess at the reasons for the price increase is ~50% higher rent in Copenhagen, ~30% moving from a 'boligforening' to a non-'boligforening' and ~20% the extra square meters in the new apartment.

I think the quality of life in the Nordic countries is somewhat overrated these days. It was really dependent on having a low cost of living, but now many things have been sort of left up to the market. Which means that property is quite expensive, and so is everything else. Social systems are less extensive. But there are high taxes, punitive taxes and somewhat low salaries for professionals. So the culture is sort of adapted for all this, but that only really works for those who have been grandfathered in. So regardless of the specifics it definitely isn't something to jump into without thinking. Unless you are aware and that is the idea.

If you're planning on having kids, the Nordic countries are still a good bet. "Free" (tax financed), high quality higher education and "free", excellent medical care mean a lot!

Edit: I've lived in Denmark since '91, and I never thought it was low cost of living, but definitely value for money.

I live in San Francisco. It's hard to do things here, or in general in the Bay area.

One of my dreams is to bring together dozens or hundreds of people, and collectively buy and operate an entire block, making it using sound principles of "garden city" urbanism - vastly applied in Copenhagen, and also promoted by Jan Gehl himself.

I heard Copenhagen turned all of their fire hydrants to permit car parking in front of them.

That would never happen in USA/Canada. We must continue to waste 5%+ parking capacity in the unlikely event that it could delay fire fighting and to continue using parking-space wasting valve orientation.

Where did you learn this? I'm not sure how that would work given the hydrant needs to connect to the fire pump/hose on the truck, which would be located on the street?

It was just a forum comment that couldn't seem made-up.

Search for Copenhagen here: http://freakonomics.com/2006/07/26/parking-spots-and-fire-hy...

I was trying to research which countries prohibit parking in-front of fire hydrants, because many don't, and don't burn down in 6 seconds.

I think the 90 degree turns with the hose are fine and can be fit between parked cars. It's the valve facing the street that can be a problem if it's obstructed, possibly needing to smash windows, because there isn't enough space to route around.

The fact that Copenhagen even has fire hydrants is very amusing to me as a Swede because we have those valves in the ground.

That way no one can block them unless they park on the sidewalk or in the middle of the street.

Yet another strategy that cities could use to unlock revenue. There are places where each parking spot earns several hundred dollars each month.

Why not make them usable?

Or just let people park in front of them, and bash the very occasional car window as a cost of doing business.

Didn't we conclude here that more parking space is part of the problem? :)

I know. They probably looked at it as needing 5% less ashphalt for parking, or 5% fewer parking lots because they're not wasting space.

Well, I guess if you tax autos at 100% of their value where most people can’t afford them, that helps.

"a larger civic purpose: creation of a shared public realm. Copenhagen feels, in a way that no other American city does, like a group effort."

George Monbiot emphasizes a similar idea: public luxury. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/31/privat...

"securing private space through private spending. Attempts to do so are highly inefficient, producing ridiculous levels of redundancy and replication. Look at roads, in which individual people, each encased in a tonne of metal, each taking up (at 70mph) 90 metres of lane, travel in parallel to the same destination. The expansion of public wealth creates more space for everyone; the expansion of private wealth reduces it, eventually damaging most people’s quality of life."

I had this conversation today about Bali. The place is a mess. Lots of expensive private clubs extracting money from the local economy and siphoning it offshore. If they took just a portion of their (speculated) ridiculous profits to pay taxes (to a non corrupt non mafia government... Ie not what currently exists) they could solve some major problems very simply and actually make Bali a pleasant place to be in public.

Yeah Indonesia in general has very corrupt leadership which doesn’t so much make provisions for the population as seek to profit from them. It will require a proper political revolution to change.

Would the labor for the private clubs still be cheap if the money stayed in Bali?

I don't really care if labour is cheap. You're gonna be paying Singapore /Australian prices regardless. The point is more around when you pay those prices in sg or au your also paying for the government and the infrastructure that they fund with your tax money. What exactly are you paying for in Bali? To sit in traffic because no one thought to build footpaths or plan the town? It's just bad value for money and I feel the locals are getting robbed. All the costs (pollution etc) are internalised by them because they have no choice while all the benefits are privatised.

I don't understand why this was downvoted. It's pretty basic economics here by at least two mechanisms:

- when the money leaves the country, it reduces the money supply so less money is chasing goods and services like labor, thereby mitigating inflation.

- when money leaves the country, it reduces the demand for that country's currency, increasing the buying power of visitors from other countries when they are in Bali.

That said, the magnitude of the importance of these two effects is debatable.

When someone gets older and starts staring death in the face they start thinking about their legacy. “What is the world going to remember me for?”

This is when the real philanthropy starts. In addition to buildings, charity, endowed academic chairs, etc. I think buying and donating land would be a great thing to do. If I had N millions to donate then buying a city block, turning it into a park, and putting my name on the gate would be a pretty nice way to be remembered.

Except it never happens at any reasonable scale. It just seems like an excuse not to do what is needed.

That's the question though right?

Is philanthropy the reason the state does not do what's needed?

Or is the state not doing what's needed the reason for philanthropy?

Or perhaps it's both?

In any case we can't really figure out how to get to a game theoretic local optimum of maximum state participation and maximum philanthropy, until we can dig into the real reasons a lot of these things are and are not done.

Or perhaps it’s neither?

It seems obvious the state doesn’t do enough when you have a government that doesn’t believe in the state doing anything but the barest minimum that will get them elected.

On the scale of government spending philanthropy barely registers, it’s only raised as an issue in an attempt to distract from the real question.

I’ve thought about this a bit since I love urban green spaces. I don’t have N millions to give so it’s not a practical problem that I need to immediately solve, but what aim currently stuck on is if I bought up any block that’s currently a skyscraper and turned it into a garden, it would fill with homeless people very quickly. My city hasn’t figured out homeless people yet so most urban parks have people sleeping on benches.

The thing I liked about donating a park is the idea of people sitting on benches, reading a book, relaxing, dreaming of nature. Having my name over a park that is an adult nap zone for drunk people isn’t something I’m too interested in.

That works until social mores change and then some comment of action acceptable in your day becomes a controversy and they strip your name off your legacy.

Whenever you donate something now, make sure you have an ironclad agreement that prevents your name from ever being removed.

They did not build alternatives for people. They social engineered people to do what they wanted them to do. They slapped ridiculous taxes on cars and forced people to seek other means of transportation.

Then they made it difficult and unaffordable to park in the city and built those extensive bike lanes.

To me as someone who grew up in a communist country reeks of communism.

Dont take me wrong I am not saying cars are necessary but having a car to me equals having the freedom of choice.

Now I live in Seoul and I usually commute by taking the subway but If I need to go to a district that is not in the vicinity of the extensive subway network in Seoul I take the car. It's fast and reliable.

It's a great city, I still miss living there. I used to use public transport to go to work and it was awesome. Going to work by bike on large bike lanes is even better. Not to speak of the lack of car noise, which is the most annoying thing in cities - though you won't realise that until you experience a car-free day or zone for the first time.

I'm currently living in Lisbon, which also has a very good living quality, but I'd say that the living quality in Copenhagen is unparalleled. I'd move there anytime if I had a good job opportunity there. I still work in Academia and Copenhagen University does not have many open positions, so no chance for me. Not that I complain about Lisbon's sunshine.

You can still have a car in Copenhagen, if you really want one, you know. It's not a matter of choices, it's a matter of nudging people in the right direction and tax them in a way that improves living quality and society as a whole. However, living in a low/no-traffic area can only be appreciated properly once you've experienced it. IMHO, it's one of those things that need to be experienced before forming an informed opinion. That's why it can be hard to sell politically.

> the lack of car noise

This is one of my bugbears. Setting to one side the obvious GHG-emissions problems with moving people by cars, the noise they make and the visual impact they have are huge reasons why I prefer areas with as few cars as possible.

They social engineered people to do what they wanted them to do.

That is exactly what has happened in the car centric parts of the world. It took a lot of work by the car and road lobby to get us where we are now.

They turned two lane narrow roads into four wide lane undivided roads with no shoulder or sidewalk or crosswalk, other than traffic lights half a mile to a mile apart. They provided no public transportation. They subsidized fossil fuel production.

The freedom of the car is an illusion unless there are other options.

They're not ridiculous taxes, they more or less match the immediate cost to society of private car ownership: maintaining the road networks, health care for people involved in accidents or sick because of pollution, etc. If car owners paid the indirect expenses as well, environmental impact, the value of the land occupied by roads and parking, etc, the taxes would be much much higher. Even in Denmark car ownership is massively subsidised.

They didn’t make it expensive and difficult to park in the city. It is inherently expensive and difficult, because space is valuable and cars take up a lot of it. What they did is expose that expense and difficulty directly to the car owner rather than subsidizing it.

Surely having the government pay for a gigantic road network and vast amounts of parking spaces and making it all available to people for free is more like communism?

I agree. The opposite is true elsewhere: most cities in the world, especially in the US, subsidize cars and parking.

You could just as well turn all of those statements around and say the same thing.

There is some truth in what you are writing but many cities can become nicer by being more accommodating to bicycles without turning into high-taxed welfare societies.

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