Life in the Bike Lane

Canada is busy working to install more bike lanes, create ride-share programs and make cities more bike friendly. Municipalities in Vancouver have installed “neighbourhood greenways” where intersections are closed to vehicular traffic, and Winnipeg has transit systems with attractive bike-parking areas. As our country speeds towards a thriving cycle culture, we look to cities like Copenhagen for inspiration.

Mikael Colville-Andersen is a Danish-Canadian who works with cities and governments around the world to make them more bicycle friendly. He is the CEO of Copenhagenize Design Company, and he firmly believes in designing cities rather than engineering them. In the following Q & A, Canadian cycling champion Tammy Thorne poses questions to Mikael to see what Canada can learn from the Danish city.


Mikael Colville-Andersen – CEO, Copenhagenize Design Company


Tammy Thorne – Canadian cycling champion and Editor-in-chief of dandyhorse magazine, Canada’s arts and culture go-to source for cyclists.

The number of people cycling to work in Toronto has risen over 30% since 2001, but planners there, and in other major Canadian cities, are still asking: what is the key to getting more people to ride bicycles as a primary mode of transport?

First thing to do is to take the bicycle seriously as a mode of transportation once again. Protected bike infrastructure, that is, portions of roadways set aside just for bicycles that typically exclude motorized traffic with a vertical barricade, has been around for over a century, so it’s nothing new. It has been tested by hundreds of millions of bicycle users in dozens of countries and the best designs have been figured out. By building bicycle infrastructure, you make people safe and you make them feel safe.

What makes a bike lane safe?

A cycle track runs adjacent to the sidewalk, not between the door zone of parked cars and moving traffic, and it is one-way on both sides of the street, with a minimum width of 2.3 metres. Combine this with traffic-calming measures and you are well on the way. One hundred and fifty cities in Europe, including Paris and Barcelona, now post 30 kilometres per hour as their baseline speed for cars. These measures save lives, reduce injuries and make the city human again.

What are the key elements that make Copenhagen a city so friendly to bikes?

A cohesive, intelligent network of cycle tracks that covers the whole city is key. Copenhagen has made the bicycle the fastest way to get from point A to point B – that is why people ride. That is all Homo sapiens want – a fast way from A to B. If you make that the bicycle, using infrastructure, people in any city in the world, regardless of climate or topography, will ride.

What about during the winter months?

Seventy-five percent of Copenhageners cycle all winter. There are many winter cities where cycling continues year-round. Oulu, Finland, has a modal share for cyclists of 14%, even though they are near the Arctic Circle.

That must require fancy winter cycling clothes?

Not in Copenhagen! In North America, cycling has become a sport/recreation, and the industry has excelled at making people think that, in order to cycle, you need “gear.” We dress for our destination, not our journey. There is no difference between our pedestrian clothes, public transportation clothes or cycling clothes.

What sort of innovations that exist in Copenhagen might be adopted by other cities?

Copenhagen has pioneered innovation in cycling infrastructure. One example is what’s called the “green wave” for bicycle users. During rush hour, if you ride 20 kilometres per hour down the main arteries leading to Copenhagen’s city centre, you will hit green lights the whole way. This makes traffic flow continuous and quick. Copenhagen is also installing seven new bicycle bridges across its harbour, and has added things like garbage cans mounted higher than normal and at an angle, which allows cyclists to toss trash into the cans as they cycle past.

Did you know Canada’s new federal minister of the environment rides her bike to work? Do you think it helps, when it comes to producing positive bike policy, when politicians also cycle to work?

In Denmark, 67% of the members of parliament ride to Parliament – not to be demonstratively green, just because it’s the quickest way to get there. But in re-emerging bicycle countries and cities, it is imperative that politicians show the way in every aspect of life, including transportation.

Let’s talk about health. Are places with an ingrained bike culture like Denmark healthier overall than countries without a cycling culture?

The health benefits of cycling to the individual and to society are well documented.

It’s been calculated, for example, that for every kilometre someone cycles in Denmark, society earns 23 cents, but for every kilometre driven, we pay 16 cents. And people who cycle live longer than average and are healthier overall. So that means they call in sick to work less often, and we spend less money treating illnesses.

In Copenhagen, 63% of people cycle to work or school. That means there is a €233 million contribution to public health each year. That’s a key cost-benefit calculation for any city to make when it considers bicycle infrastructure.

What is your number one suggestion for Canadian leaders to get more people using bikes for transportation?
The bicycle is transportation. Some people will ride for sport or recreation. That’s nice. But take the bicycle seriously as transportation again – it is the most powerful tool in our urban tool box for building better cities. There is no excuse anymore for not modernizing cities with bicycle infrastructure. Cities around the world are doing it. Cities in Canada are doing it, too, and you already see the difference.

Ready to ride?

Check out the new Manulife-sponsored bike-sharing program Bixi in Montreal to see how you can get moving.

Photo Credits:
Some images generously provided by Copenhagenize Design Company,


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily imply endorsement by Manulife.


Victoria has 11% of bike commuters:

Winnipeg 400km of Bike Lanes:

Vancouver Neighbourhood Greenways:

Copenhagen facts and statistics obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark:

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