Riding in the City – Scandinavian Style

I just spent two weeks in Scandinavia. The itinerary was Stockholm – Oslo – Copenhagen – Malmo – Copenhagen – Stockholm – Reykjavik. In each city, cycling was an unremarkable, no-drama part of life. With the exception of Copenhagen which can be a bit hectic, there was no honking of horns, no cussing, no bird-flipping, no road rage. The food chain is the reverse of the US: pedestrians come first, then bikes, then transit, then cars.

Gas costs upwards of $6 per gallon making for few cars, most of them compacts and subcompacts (except in Iceland where big, offroading vehicles are more common). Except for Reykjavik, transit goes everywhere with incredibly high frequency. And it is integrated in the sense that buses and metros and ferries and commuter trains and intercity trains and high speed trains to the airport all can be connected to without leaving one system for another. In both Stockholm and Copenhagen we bought a single transit card that allowed us access to most local transportation. (The exceptions being the every-ten-minutes high speed train to the airport in Stockholm and the train from Copenhagen to Malmo across the Baltic Strait.)

Bikes were allowed on metro and commuter rail. In Stockholm, each commuter train had at least one bike car (with racks to hold the bikes). In Copenhagen, bike parking at the central train station was absurdly abundant and stuffed to the gills with bikes. The racks were double decked and every other bike slot was offset so that handlebars didn’t clash.

I saw bike share systems in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo.

Copenhagen has the reputation for the best biking city in Scandinavia, but I’ll take Stockholm’s system any day. Copenhagen’s bike traffic is insanely busy. Car traffic is heavier than Stockholm, too.

One thing that surprised me a bit was the fact that about 1/2 the Stockholm rush hour commuters were wearing helmets.

Each mode – pedestrian, bicycle, car, train – had separate traffic signals and separate lanes. Everyone obeyed the rules scrupulously. Pedestrians didn’t look both ways when crossing the street. They just crossed with absolute confidence without the slightest concern about getting hit by a bike or a car or a train. Kids learn to ride in this environment and are much more competent and confident than US kids of the same age. Cyclists give way to pedestrians.

Nearly all bike commuters wore street clothes. Most commuters rode upright bikes with platform pedals and baskets on the front. Bike commuters seemed to go no faster thanĀ 10 miles per hour. Slow bikes kept to the right. After work, the lycra crowd showed up.

It is so frustrating coming back to DC and seeing tweet after tweet describing car/bike conflicts, harassment of women cyclists, and horrific stories of cars mowing down cyclists. I wish every state and local DOT head, every mayor, every governor would go to Stockholm and see what I saw: a graceful flow of traffic. No anger. No stress.


Stockholm Mode Separation
Me in Front of Just a Few of the Copenhagen Central Station Bike Racks


Postal Bike in Roskilde Denmark
Postal Delivery Vehicle in Roskilde, Denmark
Stockholm City Bike.JPG
Stockholm City Bike (Bike Share)
Bike Channel on Stairs.JPG
Bike Tracks on Stairs to Copenhagen Metro