Monday, February 9, 2009

It's Worse than Parallel Parking

Copenhagen is known to be one of the safest cities in the world. The high standard of living and low crime rate combined with the Danes' friendly and honest nature gives the city a security that is very rare in today's world. However, the streets of Copenhagen hold a surprising danger. And that would be bikers. "Look both ways before you cross the street" is a phrase we all had drilled into our heads from a young age, but what we were taught to look for was cars. Here, cars pose less of a threat to pedestrians than bikers who ride as aggressively as if they were driving a pimped out hummer.

Commuting is an integral part of life in Denmark where gas and car prices are outrageous due to high taxes, parking spaces are few and far between, and an environmentally friendly conscious leaves little tolerance for wasting natural resources. Along with a traditional public transportation system, a network of bike paths parallels every main road in the city. For Copenhageners, bikes are the new cars, and in many regards, they act as if is no difference between driving a car to work and riding a bike. Instead of tennis shoes and iPods, bikers are equipped with high heels and cell phones. Traffic rules apply. Bike models range from something like a one person coup to a family sedan, complete with an attached buggy for bringing the kids home from school.

Bikers are no pedestrians here, and just as you would never step in the line of an oncoming vehicle, Copenhagen gives you a heightened awareness of biking traffic. Stepping out into a street unawares of an oncoming biker will, at the least, entice a great storm of bell-dinging and Danish cursing; and, more than once, I have heard the stories of Americans who, slow on the uptake, have been in pedestrian-bicycle collisions.

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