Steph Loves Bikes: First Feelings (Copenhagen)

Our new co-director, Steph Nappa, is currently on a study abroad program, Sustainable Bicycle Transportation Planning in Europe, and she’ll be writing a blog series sharing some of her lessons and insights from her trip. She’ll be posting here every couple of days and you can also follow her on Instagram where she’ll be sharing her travels with #stephlovesbikes. Her first stop is Copenhagen, Denmark, a city where an incredible 2/3 of people use a bike as their primary mode of transportation!

Copenhagen Bike 1

Hello everyone! I’m looking forward to sharing what I’m learning here in Copenhagen and my experiences biking around the town. While my study abroad is focused on bicycle infrastructure, I’m also learning a lot about livability, walkability, and transit that I’ll be sharing here also. I’ll start off this series with my initial thoughts about how it feels to bike around in a city where bikes are quite literally everywhere and what that means for how comfortable and safe I feel on the road as a cyclist.

When I first arrived in Copenhagen my first thought was, of course, "Wow! There really are bikes everywhere!" Just outside the metro station there was a sea of bikes parked in the square, and on every street there were at least three people biking. When I moved to Eugene from Minnesota I had heard that it was such a bike friendly city and this is what I pictured. I'm not going to lie that I'm disappointed biking isn't as prevalent in Eugene and Portland as I had imagined, but I'm so happy my vision exists somewhere in the world! 

Getting on a bike for the first time was an entirely different experience here. While the bike infrastructure in Copenhagen is pretty great, the thing that makes me feel the most comfortable about biking is the simple fact that so many other people are on their bikes sharing the road with me as well. Being surrounded by other bikers really helped me feel that I had the right to claim my space on the road, even on streets that didn’t have designated bike lanes. There was one rather busy intersection I biked through that didn’t have any road markings for bikes, but I still felt completely secure in cruising through the green light in the middle of the lane. At home in Eugene I’m constantly worried that cars won’t see me in a busy intersection and I bike through with caution. Here I didn’t give it a second thought. All the cars were watching for me and respecting my rights on the road, and I have to say it was an amazing feeling.

I actually was more nervous about the other bikers here than I was about the cars. It was a little intimidating to join the mass of bikers who were so used to the system and the social norms that go along with it. I was afraid I would make a mistake and make somebody grumpy at me, or worse, cause a crash. Once I started, it was surprisingly simple. I just stay to the right of the bike lane and coast along behind the bike ahead of me. Left turns have their own process, which I will share in a later post, that makes them feel much safer than making a left turn in Eugene. After getting over the fear of being in another biker’s way, it’s pretty cool to realize that biking has become so commonplace that it has developed its own set of societal rules. Even though they were a bit unclear at first, they signal the strength of biking culture in Copenhagen.

Overall, I felt comfortable biking around pretty quickly. While I sometimes feel like biking to campus is a chore at home, here it’s fun and enjoyable. That may have something to do with the beautiful architecture and ambiance in this city, but I’ll attribute some of it to the simple ease and comfort of hopping on a bike and pedaling away.