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Middle class Danes cycle because they "can't afford to drive a car", claims former US ambassador to... Denmark

Carla Sands has been ridiculed for failing to realise why Danes might actually want to choose cycling over driving, despite living in the country for a number of years

A former US ambassador to Denmark, of all people, was ridiculed for suggesting that Danish people cycle and take the train because they "can't afford to drive a car." Referring to recent rises in gas prices in the US under the current president Joe Biden, Carla Sands asked her social media followers if they wanted what the Danes have for themselves... to which the overwhelming answer seemed to be "yes".

You might be familiar with the tired old trope that people only cycle because they can't afford a car; however you'd probably expect better from someone who supposedly immersed themselves in Danish culture during their tenure as an ambassador to the country, whose capital city Copenhagen is regularly voted the best in the world to cycle with bikes actually outnumbering cars for the first time in the city back in 2016.  

Couple this information with Denmark's high GDP and standard of living, and it starts to become apparent that maybe there are other reasons for the choice of many Danes to cycle rather than drive.

Sands served as Danish ambassador under the Trump administration and lived in the country for a number of years, clearly demonstrating with her Twitter post that the actual reasons the Danes might choose to bike passed her by.  

Sands claimed that while serving as US ambassador between 2017-2021, her embassy driver "would bike an hour in the snow to get to work."

"That’s the future team Biden wants for Americans. Is this what you want?", she added. 

Benny Englebrecht, a former Danish transport minister, replied: “As former minister of transport I can assure you that using the bike for urban mobility is a question of choice, not economy for most Danes", while current Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke accused Sands of "spreading disinformation". 

Some posted pictures of royalty and other wealthy Europeans riding bikes to rubbish the claim that Danes cycle because they can't afford a car. 

While no one appeared to be in agreement with Sands for the economic reasons Danes might cycle rather than drive, some were a bit more hesitant about the US being able to embrace active travel to the extent some parts of Denmark have, with one saying: "It would work in some areas, and not in others. There are whole states where you really need a car to get around, and few American cities have the infrastructure to support bikes, let alone a way to secure them." 

Sands' comments come as gas prices reached $5 (around £4.03) a gallon for the first time in the US, prompting some people in a mostly car-dependant nation to say that they will now be looking at "cancelling travel" and considering alternative methods of transport, according to the CNN report Sands was commenting on.

Those prices, while being the highest ever seen in the US, are still significantly lower than prices at the pumps in the UK, with a US gallon (around 3.8 litres) currently costing an average of £6.93 according to Sky News

President Biden has accused oil companies, specifically Exxon Mobil, of stunting production to drive up demand and increase profits. Exxon objected to this, with a spokesperson telling CNBC: “We have been in regular contact with the administration, informing them of our planned investments to increase production and expand refining capacity in the United States." 

Going back to Ms Sands, perhaps she will be more enthused by the sight of the Tour de France departe that is taking place in Copenhagen, starting on 1st July; as if there's one place you can always guarantee to find a comforting quantity of motor vehicles, it's at the back of a World Tour peloton. If it was up to Copenhageners themselves, this might not be the case... 

Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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19 comments

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OldRidgeback | 2 years ago
0 likes

It's telling that the person was an ambassador under the Trumpster and reveals the total lack of insight and understanding you'd expect.

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lonpfrb | 2 years ago
4 likes

Having lived and worked in Copenhagen I can confirm that cycling to work is encouraged and supported by employers, and above all it is safe. Combined with the health benefits of starting your day with some exercise the reduction in travel stress is wonderful. Infrastructure is not only built, it is maintained including clearing leaves in the autumn and snow in the winter. It's like the city council not only cared to build but also to make it year round practical. Result!

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Rendel Harris | 2 years ago
10 likes

It's true that cars are madly expensive in Denmark due to the sales tax on new vehicles (25% VAT plus a sliding scale of registration tax ranging from a 25% base up to 150% on any part of the purchase price over 202,000 dkk (about £23,000)) but there's more to the nondriving culture than that: I have an English friend who lives in Copenhagen and according to him the concept of using a car for a short journey is generally met with bemusement and/or ridicule, and people driving expensive cars are often simply laughed at, it's regarded as vulgarity to display your wealth in that way. The same applies to ostentatious housing, it's not uncommon for a CEO and a low-level employee to live in the same area or even on the same street. Many companies have salary policies that tie executive remuneration to the salary of the lowest-paid employees, so if the people at the top want more money they have to raise the salary of those at the bottom. It all sounds rather healthy really.

 

 

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marmotte27 replied to Rendel Harris | 2 years ago
6 likes

They're one of the happiest people. No coincidence.

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chrisonabike replied to marmotte27 | 2 years ago
0 likes

Raise you Dutch children.  But of course that's got nothing to do with independent mobility, it's probably Sinterklaas or the ubiquity of hagelslag or Stroopwafels or something.

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antigee | 2 years ago
6 likes

Meanwhile the Dutch Ambassador in New Zealand sells the official car and buys an ebike....
https://i.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/wellington/128749385/mode-shift-dutc...

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ErnieC replied to antigee | 2 years ago
1 like

And a MP that commutes a good 30km to the city. 

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Dnnnnnn | 2 years ago
2 likes

Cars per head of population isn't much lower in Denmark than here, despite punitive purchase taxes. And fuel isn't much more expensive (at the moment). So - given their relative wealth - it seems unlikely to be primarily a cost thing. They have designed their roads to be cycle-friendly, their cities aren't so sprawling, and their public transport probably better than most of the UK (and certainly the US). So less car use is probably a positive choice in most cases. Having visited friends there a few times, it just seems a normal thing to do for people of all ages.

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Dnnnnnn replied to Dnnnnnn | 2 years ago
1 like

NB there are a lot of amusing replies on that Twitter post.

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belugabob | 2 years ago
6 likes

Carla, the sands of time are running out, for you.

As we speak, I'm on a week long break between a job with a 30 mile each way drive, and a job with a 4 mile each way cycle. Far from being too poor to afford a car, I'll be cycling because its the best option for my time, my health, the planet and my bank balance.
I will actually be wealthier, by cycling.

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chrisonabike | 2 years ago
2 likes

Presumably they eat rye bread because it's more affordable than wheat, and pickled herrings are popular because they don't require expensive cooking?

It is true that cars are expensive compared to bikes.  And I'm sure they are not cheap in Denmark.  Thing is though for generations we have both subsidised motoring and made it a "requirement".  Partly through deliberate policy (Carlton Reid can put you right on that) and partly "it just happened that way".  Question is - who's brave enough / has enough energy to rebalance things so that they "work" with much less car use?  I see very little of that at the larger scales of politics.  I believe there are a lot of people who would be cycling more given suitable conditions.  Few have the time / energy / commitment to push hard / shout loud for that though.

Ubiquity wins (and is self-reinforcing) even if it's expensive and bad for everyone by most measures.  That might explain this kind of thing.   Unless you think it's something in the water which has somehow spread to Paris, Seville, Malmo...

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Hirsute | 2 years ago
6 likes

"In Denmark, most people eat Smørrebrød. Because even the relatively richer Danish people can't afford a second slice of bread to make a proper sandwich. Very sad indeed!"

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the little onion replied to Hirsute | 2 years ago
7 likes

They can't afford proper ready made children's toys, so they buy plastic bricks and assemble their own

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hawkinspeter replied to Hirsute | 2 years ago
0 likes
hirsute wrote:

"In Denmark, most people eat Smørrebrød. Because even the relatively richer Danish people can't afford a second slice of bread to make a proper sandwich. Very sad indeed!"

Food and drink are very expensive in Copenhagen so that could very nearly be true

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Hirsute | 2 years ago
7 likes

"I'm Danish, and this is true. Whilst biking to work in the constant snowstorms we also have to fight off at least ten polar bears and angry mobs of jotuns! We have to share our toothbrushes with the entire neighbourhood AND are only allowed to eat state rations of kale!"

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Jimwill | 2 years ago
4 likes

I thought it was more a sign of wealth that you could afford to live close enough to the office, that you didn't need a car.

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Dnnnnnn replied to Jimwill | 2 years ago
1 like

That's surely true in London and some other British cities. Probably French ones too. Not sure about the property market in Denmark - and of course its cities are much smaller.

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Miller | 2 years ago
13 likes

The relevant phrase here is 'ambassador under the trump administration'. That is, another republican nutjob.

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eburtthebike replied to Miller | 2 years ago
4 likes
Miller wrote:

The relevant phrase here is 'ambassador under the trump administration'. That is, another republican nutjob.

I was surprised that she didn't add that Trump won the election and it was stolen from him.

Fortunately, anyone so closely associated with Trump is unlikely to be treated seriously.

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