03 September 2012

State of Copenhagen Congestion - Part 2

Policeman Hunting Cyclists
The State of Copenhagen Congestion - Part 2
by Lars Barfred
(with additional info by Mikael Colville-Andersen)

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 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 soundly ignore recommendations from the City, the Road Directorate and the Transport Ministry 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. In their last century mentality, less bicycles means less accidents - instead of working towards reducing the root of the problem - the motorists and their cars. The Copenhagen Police are legendary in their ability to Ignore the Bull.

Despite successes in places like Paris and Belgium, 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 that 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 (or lack thereof), however, 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. Fortunately, movements like 30 km/h zones and traffic calming are serving to reverse this last century mindset. Well, not in Copenhagen...

If a road past 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 it means that a right-turn lane must 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 entity. 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 Police mind. 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 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. What is worrying is that Mr Wiborg is seeking to extend his influence to politics, representing the Social Democrats.

A couple of years ago, Mikael debated with another Copenhagen Police representative, Mogens Knudsen, at the National Cycling Conference. The ignorance of the Police was exposed for all to see.

In Copenhagen, the city tries to make all one-way streets contraflow for cyclists which, in most cases, is rarely a source of accidents. Nevertheless, you guessed it, the police believe it to be incredibly dangerous and will not allow it unless a painted, double line separates bikes from cars (yes, a painted line). 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 accidentsstatistics, research or any other fact-based reasoning. Not to mention rationality.

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, nor should they act as a one-sided enforcer of the motorist-lobby.


The Police don't encourage citizens to take the law into their own hands and play policemen, and rightly so. There are things the Police are good at. But they happily dominate and restrict traffic planning and the quest for safer cities - a field they know absolutely nothing about. Although it doesn't stop them from hunting cyclists for fun and profit.

The Police in Copenhagen have blood on their hands because of their reluctance to assist traffic safety and the development of a more liveable city, and yet they are not accountable to any other authority. In addition, no politicians seem willing to challenge the Police's brutal domination of our city life and our streets. It's unacceptable and must be stopped.

Other examples of Police ignorance stopping plans in Copenhagen:

The famous Nørrebrogade solution launched by former Mayor Klaus Bondam, which transformed the busy artery with wider cycle tracks, green waves for cyclists, restrictions on through traffic for cars was a much bolder project. The idea was for a completely car-free street. The proposal, to everyone's amazment, sailed through the different departments in the City, getting a stamp of approval from the most unusual suspects - given the visionary nature of the plan. Car-free and bicycles and busses sharing the asphalt.

The idea sailed on to the Police and it was promptly killed by a desk cop - with no logical reasoning, just a comment that bicycles and busses sharing a street "wouldn't work". The result was a reworking of the proposal that the police finally approved - wider cycle tracks, cars allowed - but no through traffic - and bus zones. It remains a major setback for a much-needed paradigm shift for liveable cities.

The other issue is mentioned above - speed limits. Despite recommendations from people who actually know what they're talking about, the Police refuse to allow lower speed limits in densely-populated areas. Imagine that. The 30 km/t zone movement is 25 years old. Over 80 cities in Europe have implemented them - with amazing results for improved traffic safety - and yet the Copenhagen Police don't have a clue about them. Blood on their hands, indeed.

Read more about 30 km/h zones here:
- 30 km/h Zones Work!
- 40 km/h Zones Stopped by Police
- Avoidable Tragedy with 30 km/h Zone?
- Facebook group for 30 km/h zones in Copenhagen



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