Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Copenhagen part 5: winter and... bikes

Winter came quickly, early and harshly this year, the Danes agreed. It started to snow the day I left for Norway in the end of November, and when I returned winter was firmly established. It got bitingly, dramatically cold, offering grand views and low sunlight.
The biking conditions, however, deteriorated badly, and I got to regret forgetting the winter tires in Norway. But the metro - after a bad start the first week-end, quickly got back to running as scheduled.
This being Scandinavia, after all, despite the delay in organising winter clean-up crews (which the Danes claim is equally large each year, and I suspect is deliberate in order to save money). And so the important things were quickly back in place: the bike-lanes got cleared and salted, the sidewalks got closed off (I woke up one morning from the sound of snow and ice crashing to the pavement from the building I live in - yes, walking on the sidewalks can be hazardous to your health) and I realised why the Danes think insulated rubber boots can be fashionable. Not that I don't understand the love of rubber boots, but if it's so cold I need them insulated, it's normally dry, you know. Not so in the city, where things melt and freeze at random, and water tends to accumulate over the frozen drains positioned exactly where you want to cross the road.

So, I had a month away from biking, which I kind of appreciated. I got to learn the routines of the coffee cart outside Danmarks Radio, and I bought more than one cup of coffee out of pity with the poor, frozen people working there in the bitter, windy mornings. I took the metro and walked through a snowy city lit everywhere for Christmas, enjoying a somewhat slower pace. Also, this let me see Copenhagen in a somewhat more friendly light.

When I got hold of the winter tires after Christmas spent in incredibly beautiful Volda,
I realised that people in Copenhagen sincerely hate bikers. Due to the snow, there's less space for the bicycles than usual, and even with spikes I don't want to ride over large chunks of ice, so I, like everybody else, have less space in which to ride. In the 10 minutes it took me to get from where I had the tires changed and home, I saw more rude honking of horns, was overtaken by more scooters in the bike lanes and heard more yelling than at any other similar trips. Only one of those were directed at me - that from a man only perhaps 10 years older than me (what's with the men, by the way? They are so unpleasant! Just this fall I had gotten through a bikers gate in a fence and up on the sidewalk. I was off my bike and standing still, when this group of men came towards me. I was looking at them, thinking that hmmm, they didn't look half bad, and men my age were actually pretty attractive, when they started telling me I should get back out into the bike lane, and get off the bloody sidewalk. This was of course because me standing there caused them to have to split up in pairs rather than walking 4 men broad, so buhuhu, but you know, it only took them a few seconds to drop from looking like a nice bunch to looking like a pack of sour, bitter old men.) who probably hadn't seen me there on the middle of the sidewalk turning into the narrow opening to the lane I was going up. He came at high speed out of a parking garage, and considered it just to correct me for his lack of attention.

It's an odd tension running under the policy of a green city and the wonderful infrastructure for biking, but I suspect it is caused exactly by that infrastructure. After all, all the bike-lanes and bike parking lots take space which in other cities is devoted to cars. It's as if the people not riding bikes have a mathematic deficit which does not let them compute the question of how many more cars they would have to share the roads with, if each biker was in a car instead.

Anyway, this morning I was back on the bike, and due to winter the bike-lanes are a bit less busy, which causes less aggression among the bikers. There's always a silver lining, and so on.

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