This past November, I received a travel grant for my Spring 2019 semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. Commonly known as the “most bicycle friendly city in the world,” Copenhagen served as my reference point to compare other European cities to. During different times throughout the Spring semester, I was able to travel to France, Norway, Northern Denmark, and the Czech Republic to study the cycling habits of people in these countries. I placed an emphasis on the value individuals in each country place on biking as a means of both exercise and transportation.
In Copenhagen, bike lanes between the sidewalks and the roads are on almost every street, with special bike traffic signals installed at most traffic lights. Even on the ancient cobblestone streets that make Copenhagen so special were bike lanes to be found. To see this when I first arrived in Copenhagen was a pleasant surprise, and I quickly learned that the city works very hard to instill biking as the primary means of transportation. Through a Sustainable Development class, I learned that majority of Copenhageners use a bicycle as their primary means of transportation with people’s top three reasons being 1. It is faster than vehicles, 2. It is more convenient, and 3. It is healthy/for self-well-being.
With this Travel Grant, I traveled to different European cities. In Nice, France, I observed only four roads with bike lanes in the entire city, substantial traffic, and no bicycle traffic signals. Most cyclists in Nice were biking for exercise as opposed to their primary means of transportation. In Oslo, Norway, I only counted two streets with bike lanes, however, many bikes were abundant, and most had “studded” tires in preparation for biking in the snow. Oslo also appeared to have more electric vehicles than not. In Prague, Czech Republic I found zero bike lanes. This may have been due to the hills throughout the city, a lack of funding, the historic preservation of the city, or the cobblestone streets. In a Northern Danish city, Helsingor, I was surprised to find only a handful of streets with bicycle lanes. This difference between cities in Denmark is likely a result of increased funding in and the modernization of Copenhagen compared to Helsingor.
My findings were not too surprising given the modernization of each city. Copenhagen was, by far, the most bicycle-friendly city, followed by Oslo, Nice, Helsingor, and Prague. The reasons for cycling also varied from country to country. After interviewing locals in each country, I found that Norwegians and Danes use bicycles primarily as a mode of transportation, while the French and Czech use bicycles primarily for exercise. To my surprise, few people in each city cited their primary reason for bicycling as a result of concern for the climate. To incorporate these findings back into my studies and life here at St. Lawrence, I hope to encourage students and staff to use bicycles, regardless of the weather. I also hope to meet with members of the local Department of Transportation and town government to discuss the possible implementation of bicycle lanes in Canton and the surrounding area. This opportunity would promote a healthy bicycle culture in the North Country, paving a path for a more sustainable, efficient, and healthy future.