The State of Copenhagen Congestion – Part 2

Previously published on
An unlikely authority plays an an active role in maintaining a high volume of car traffic in the city and ensures that bicycle infrastructure and facilities are not allowed to proliferate.

The Police officer in the background refuses to ticket the car parked on the bike lane across the street, he is only out to ticket bicyclists, which is typical for 19 out of 20 traffic razzias in Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Police fight virtually anything that would risk increasing bicycle mobility. Bizarrely, they can veto any initiatives that the city suggests – without having to base it on accident statistics or research and they even consistently ignore the guidance from the National Police, who support allowing cyclists to turn right on red. They also gladly ignore recommendations from the City, the Road authority and the Ministry of Transport that lower speed limits should be implemented in the city.

The Police share the same concept of traffic safety as The Road Safety Council. A concept of judging what saves most lives in each unique situation. Unfortunately, they have no real understanding of the traffic system as a whole, which makes it easy for them to maintain very strict rules for vulnerable road users.

They have no concept of the many side-effects of bad bicycle mobility or the general health consequences for road users or their surroundings. The result is that they sub-optimize the traffic system. Or rather, optimize it for cars.

Indeed, regarding car traffic, they have an altogether different concept which makes car mobility trump the mobility and safety of vulnerable road users. They are completely and utterly unable to explain to anybody why this is. It just has to be like this, otherwise they can’t control traffic, they say.

If a certain spot on the traffic map has a high accident rate, the Police seek solutions that reduce bicycle mobility. 

Despite successes in places like Berlin and Bruxelles, bicycles are still not allowed to turn right on red. Even though:

- 76% of cyclists deem this safe

- research shows that turning right on red is neither more or less safe than doing so on green

- it is technically legal within the framework of the highway code

- the police are incapable of proving that it leads to more accidents.

When it comes to local car restrictions, the police’s theories are based on what they believe the motorists can accept. Many of you may find this hard to believe but it is true.

The speed limits of a certain road are set based on the 85th percentile concept. “The speed at or below which 85% of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions past a nominated point“.

This remains a standard for traffic engineers in many regions, but it is hardly suitable for 21st century cities. Movements like 30 km/h zones and traffic calming, remains a laughing matter for the Danish Police, literally, they actually laugh when it is suggested in debates, ans shrug it off as impossible to control.

If a road which passes a school has a 60 km/h speed limit, the police will only approve a lower speed limit if the road design is changed so drastically that 85% of the motorists would not be speeding. This means that lowering speed limits becomes very expensive, instead of being a question of buying new speed limit signs.

If the city wants to make a cycle track, it must not go through the intersection if this necessitates a right-turn lane to be sacrificed. Even though right-hook accidents are what kill the most cyclists. Why? Because this would reduce car mobility and the police won’t accept this. And remember… don’t ask them why, they don’t have a clue.

The police also have a firm understanding of car traffic – well, all traffic modes – as a fixed entities . They do not consider that people could make active choices and change transport modes. If a road has 50,000 cars it’s a law of nature in the mind of the police. They must be catered to, period. Traffic evaporation and induced traffic are not concepts that the police’s mental model of traffic can handle.

At the moment, Copenhagen Municipality is preparing a new 5-year Traffic Safety plan, and held a conference to get input and ideas from stakeholders. The Police respresentative – Søren Wiborg - had two contributions:

1) He was outraged that the Danish Cyclists Federation did not advocate mandatory helmet use

2) he thought that cyclists ran too many red lights

Both of these comments were volunteered completely out of context, and the Police has no empirical data, own or external, to support his claims. Now Mr Wiborg may also be extraordinary in favour of cars, as he is both a police officer and runs for local office as a Social Democrat.

In Copenhagen, the city tries to make all one-way streets bi-directional for cyclists which, in most cases, is rarely a source of accidents. Nevertheless, the police believe it to be incredibly dangerous and will not allow it unless a painted, double line separates bikes from cars. This makes parking on that side of the street impossible, since a car can not cross a double line.
In the city centre, the ruling Social Democrats cannot accept less, cheap public roadside parking, so no matter how small the street, no matter the fact that a car never drives more than 20 km/h in the street or that the street provides ample space for two way cycling – the Police will not allow it. And, once again, the Police are unable to back up their views with accident statistics, research or any other fact-based reasoning. Not to mention rationality. 

The “tie-solution” to make contra-flow cycling legal in one-way streets is a favoured solution by the City and cyclists alike. It’s all that is needed and it is cheap, which means a high degree of quick implementation and much improved
bicycle mobility. The Police now deny the city this solution, claiming without proof that they consider it to be unsafe, although city traffic planners can document otherwise. 

There is a double standard, which by all extents favours the motorists. You really have to wonder where that car favourability comes from, because it is not a part of the policing jurisdiction or their responsibilities.

As a result, new bicycle infrastructure becomes absurdly expensive, and is increasingly seen as invasive by pedestrians. This translates into the non-growth in modal share since 2003/2004 in Copenhagen.

The Police have a responsibility to help keep the public safe. They should not take an interest in how transport modes are prioritized in our cities. 

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