Danish Ambassador: In Britain, cycling is only for the few

Says that in Denmark, 'it's like brushing your teeth'

by Sarah Barth   January 21, 2013  

Copenhagen (picture credit Ludovic Péron_Wikimedia Commons).

The Danish Ambassador has said that cycling in Britain is an activity for the few, contrasting the cycling culture with that of Copenhagen, where she says cycling is as natural as brushing one's teeth.

With impressive diplomacy, Anne Hedensted Steffensen, Denmark's ambassador to the UK, said that she 'enjoys' cycling in London, but that she takes care in the traffic.

In a comment that might seem surprising to those who assume bike paths, as common on the continent, are not as quick as hitting the main roads, she says that riding alongside the traffic is 'slow'.

"I enjoy cycling in London because it's often the quickest way to get around, although I am very well aware that I have to be careful in the traffic," she told the Guardian. "It certainly helps me feel safe that the traffic in most parts of London is very slow."

"For many Danes, cycling is a completely normal thing to do on a par with walking or brushing your teeth. In Britain, I sense that cycling is still to some extent seen as an activity for the few."

It's a view that's echoed byTom Godefrooij of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, an advocacy quango that aims to extend the cycling wisdom of the low country to towns and cities as they try to develop a cycling strategy.

He said: "The whole traffic environment is pervaded with the notion that cars come first. Cycling is perceived to be for the brave and adventurous, those who dare. Some streets and roads have occasional facilities, but it is clear that cycling is not considered as a fully fledged mode of transport."

A symposium was held in London late last year exploring how Dutch-style cycling could be brought to the UK (there were also events in Manchester, Bristol, and Edinburgh. And the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has signed up to the Love London Go Dutch campaign run by the London Cycling Campaign, as part of his mayoral pledge.

A detailed description of the three principal Love London, Go Dutch demands can be found on the LCC website, but in brief, they are, in the group's own words:

1 - Implement three flagship Love London, Go Dutch developments on major streets and/or locations

2 - Make sure all planned developments on the main roads that they controls are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions.

3 - Make sure the Cycle Superhighways programme is completed to Love London, Go Dutch standards.

10 user comments

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The Danish ambassador is not wrong. As someone who attended the 'Love London, go Dutch' event I did think there were some interesting eye openers. The presentations were good for the most part and I learned some good pointers from the round table sessions.

But some of the 'good' examples of cycling infrastructure the event revealed were anything but. The innovative cycle rack for instance may have taken up little space, but its flimsy construction and the compact space it left for each bike meant it was by no means secure. I pointed out how flawed it was to the proud team presenting it, and probably upset them into the bargain.

And even when I arrived and wanted to lock up my bike, the organisers said I could lock up my bike in the basement garage, but the guy there said he had no knowledge of this so I went back round the front. The organisers at the front then said they'd ensure he was informed but I said I wasn't a keen tennis player and would just lock my bike to the railing instead, since the bicycle rack so thoughtfully provided, was useless.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
21st January 2013 - 10:26

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London, London, London, London, London...why do I get the feeling her comments about riding in 'Britain' are really just about riding in LONDON.

posted by iamelectron [103 posts]
21st January 2013 - 10:31

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iamelectron wrote:
London, London, London, London, London...why do I get the feeling her comments about riding in 'Britain' are really just about riding in LONDON.

Funny, I was just thinking the exact same thing...

posted by stevebull-01 [61 posts]
21st January 2013 - 11:14

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stevebull-01 wrote:
iamelectron wrote:
London, London, London, London, London...why do I get the feeling her comments about riding in 'Britain' are really just about riding in LONDON.

Funny, I was just thinking the exact same thing...

Probably as that's where she lives and works and spends most of her time. I've ridden in Denmark and the Netherlands, but only in Copenhagen and Amsterdam as it happens. London does probably attract a higher proportion of foreigner visitors than most other parts of the UK after all.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
21st January 2013 - 11:49

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Indeed any "foreign" visitors coming to Northumberland to cycle had better also be experienced potholers! Smile

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
21st January 2013 - 18:03

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And she's probably correct in view of the fact that there 55 million fewer people in Denmark than in the UK and a higher proportion probably ride a bike. It's also true that Denmark has a population density of 130 per sq km against the UK's 257; London has a particular issue with 4760 per sq km, but hey, why shouldn't we be like Denmark? We have a RIGHT to be like Denmark.

Ok, enough of this silly debate. It's becoming tedious. Go Dutch? Move to Holland. Want to cycle like you can cycle in Copenhagen? Move to Copenhagen. London - and many other parts of the UK as other posters point out - but especially London, is never going to be like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. It was set out centuries ago and hasn't changed much in terms of street layout. It's sprawling, it's huge, it's very busy. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are villages in comparison. It has too many people in it even to walk around easily, never mind ride. Aspire to cycle around towns, fine, it's not that hard provided you take care like Ms Steffensen, but don't bitch on with the I'm-a-saint-'cos-I-ride-a-fuckin'-bike-and-everywhere-has-to-put-bikes-first militant brigade, because it's belligerently impractical.

@bikecellar - seconded on potholes. It's a problem everywhere. For my taxpaid money, local authorities should spend dosh on fixing roads and making them good, safe surfaces that cyclists can depend on (and so keep your eyes on the traffic) rather than spend it on blue-coloured (sorry, London centric again...) cycle routes and other gimmicks.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
21st January 2013 - 19:02

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dullard wrote:
Ok, enough of this silly debate. It's becoming tedious. Go Dutch? Move to Holland. Want to cycle like you can cycle in Copenhagen? Move to Copenhagen. London - and many other parts of the UK as other posters point out - but especially London, is never going to be like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. It was set out centuries ago and hasn't changed much in terms of street layout. It's sprawling, it's huge, it's very busy. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are villages in comparison. It has too many people in it even to walk around easily, never mind ride. Aspire to cycle around towns, fine, it's not that hard provided you take care like Ms Steffensen, but don't bitch on with the I'm-a-saint-'cos-I-ride-a-fuckin'-bike-and-everywhere-has-to-put-bikes-first militant brigade, because it's belligerently impractical.

What ignorant nonsense. Are you really trying to tell us that Amsterdam and Copenhagen were not set out centuries ago and that their street layout has somehow been completely changed to allow cycling? What about New York, Barcelona, Paris and Bogota. Have these piddling little villages somehow changed their entire street plan to fit proper cycling infrastructure?

Size has nothing to do with it. There is room in London for proper cycling infrastructure. All that is required is the political will to build it and take some space away from the cars, which are after all, the most inefficient means of getting about in a city.

Bully for you if 'cycling is not that hard as long as you take care'. 98% of the population don't agree with you though. Telling them to move to another country if they want to cycle is simply elitist and bigoted.

You have either completely missed the point of Ms Steffensen's article, or deliberately ignored it.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
22nd January 2013 - 15:22

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stevebull-01 wrote:
iamelectron wrote:
London, London, London, London, London...why do I get the feeling her comments about riding in 'Britain' are really just about riding in LONDON.

Funny, I was just thinking the exact same thing...

Any real innovation in the way we treat cycling as transport is likely to happen in London first, then hopefully spread to other cities and towns. So its not really surprising that London is where the discussion is centred at the moment.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
22nd January 2013 - 15:26

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@don_don

I'm neither elitist nor bigoted (I don't think you know what that word really means, by the way). Read the first bit of my post. This is about density of population and traffic and overall size, and how a city works. This is where London is vastly different. Copenhagen and Amsterdam are small by comparison - no, they haven't changed, they are, SIGH, fundamentally different (and smaller) urban areas, hence the (hopefully slightly ironic) allusion to villages. Why bring in Paris, New York and Bogota? What do they have to do with the article or comments? But okay, while we're there, Paris is a fucking nightmare to ride in, probably worse than London. But Bogota?? Er, is it great to ride in? Dunno, never been there. But hey, what about Anchorage while we're at it. Or Moscow?

You sound like a well-meaning person but just sanctimonious, churning out insults about ignorant nonsense etc. And it's not just about political will. There are practicalities involved. And what is your 98% based on? You're saying that over 55,000,000 think that cycling is too hard even if you take care? I think you've been watching too much of Lance Armstrong and making stuff up.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
23rd January 2013 - 19:41

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I like the comment from Mr Ambassador about how it's safe in London because the traffic is slow. After 20 years commuting in London and 6 years now in Liverpool I can certainly say that smaller cities have more people driving at speed.

Our neighbourhood has wide straight residential roads perfect for safe cycling but almost completely devoid of bicycles. Instead they're full of the residents travelling at 40-45 mph in a 30mph whilst bemoaning the fact that it's "too dangerous" for their kids to cycle to school. The irony is totally lost on them.

I'm eagerly awaiting the proposed 20mph speed limits and the gradual sharing of the roads that the new speed limit will eventually bring. It may take until 2020 to work but the change is coming.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1029 posts]
9th February 2013 - 23:04

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