How bikes make Copenhagen’s neighborhood business districts thrive

June 09, 2016

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

We're reporting from Copenhagen this week — here's why.

It's normal for a city's center to be its most famous, most photographed neighborhood. But most of a city's life happens outside the core.

So the other day I grabbed a public GoBike and pedaled southeast from downtown Copenhagen until I stumbled across Amagerbrogade, a more or less middle-class arterial street halfway between the city's gleaming harbor and the airport.

Like just about every significant arterial in Copenhagen, especially those outside the medieval city center, Amagerbrogade had a raised bike lane on each side of the street, wide enough for two or maybe three friends to pedal beside each other if they wanted to. Though downtown's fabulous public spaces are better known, it's districts like this one that make bicycling part of Copenhagen life and culture rather than just Copenhagen's image.

And in half an hour on a Wednesday afternoon, it was obvious that bicycling is fully integrated into life along Amagerbrogade, right down to the little business-sponsored bike racks that shopkeepers apparently haul out each morning:

not to mention the people cruising past a gas station that seemed to be serving mostly taxis and freight trucks (if my math is right, the gas prices listed come out to $6.13 per gallon):

As on many Copenhagen streets, the bike lanes disappear at some corners to become mixing zones.

This design has its ups and downs. But because there are so many other bikes on the street, also merging with right-turning cars, people generally expect to see bikes and the overall effect isn't bad.

A few other photos from the Amagerbrogade area:

A few days later, I took a trip north out of town, into the tonier parts of Copenhagen along the sea. On the way I passed through another district that looked a lot like plenty of American ones, except maybe with one or two more stories of housing above it: Strandvejen.

I spent a fair amount of time outside the grocery store pictured above. Here's its entire auto parking lot:

In both of these commercial districts, it was very clear how bicycles (along with bus service, only occasionally visible but also essential) were making commerce possible. Because each store didn't need its own sea of parking, stores could be within walking distance of one another and of the homes of many customers. Because businesses don't need to set up shop on the city outskirts to find enough space for parking, most residents of Copenhagen have their essential businesses within a mile or so of their house.

Because of both these things, these districts have freed themselves from dependence on public or private auto parking spaces — and, by the same token, many of their customers have freed themselves from dependence on owning a working car.

Any way you slice them, both of those things are good for business.

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