Once the stomping grounds of Al Capone, Chicago’s ambition is now to become the number one cycle city in the U.S. In July, they journeyed to Copenhagen to seek counsel and inspiration from members of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark on how to become “Chicagohagen.”
By Mai-Britt Kristensen, Danish Cyclists’ Federation
When one visit just isn’t enough
The study tour was led by the organisation Bikes Belong, who has brought study groups to Denmark for a couple of years now. The Chicagohagen trip actually sprung from a study tour in 2012 where a mixed delegation from Chicago, Portland, and San Francisco visited the CED. Chicago was so inspired that they asked Bikes Belong to arrange another study tour exclusively for them. This time, the 18-person delegation counted Deputy Mayor Steve Koch, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, and three Aldermen, as well as business and community leaders. There is no doubt about it: Chicago is getting serious about bicycles.
What Chicago learned in Copenhagen
A study tour about cycling naturally included several bike trips so that the delegates could get first-hand experience on Copenhagen’s cycle tracks. In between, the group met with Gehl Architects, Unwire, HOE360Consulting, the Danish Cyclists’ Federation, the City of Copenhagen, and COWI. The group was particularly interested in the story of Nørrebrogade and the socio-economic analyses that COWI has done on the ROI on several infrastructure projects like Bryggebroen, the walking and cycling bridge across the harbour in Copenhagen.
On the question of what the number one thing is that he will work for in his Ward back in Chicago, that was influenced or inspired by his experience in Copenhagen, Alderman William Burns replied:
“I was impressed with several aspects of my trip to Copenhagen. The City of Copenhagen is extremely adept at merging the utilitarian and the whimsical – from cycle tracks to painted bus/cycle lanes to distinctive place-making public art. The Fourth Ward is a distinctive political community in Chicago. It contains several of Chicago’s most diverse communities and boasts a rich history of progressive action and urban planning. For those reasons, I am very excited about engaging in a community planning process to add more bike facilities to our commercial corridors, explore the creation of pedestrian streets, and include more distinctive place-making concepts for parks and the streetscape.”
Inspiration a two-way cycle track
The international guests are not the only ones benefitting from the exchange. According to Jens Loft Rasmussen, Director of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and a member of the CED:
– When international decision makers, urban planners, and organisations seek counsel and inspiration in Denmark, it serves as an eye opener to Danish politicians, who suddenly see the Danish bicycle culture in a new light. They realise that Danish cycle solutions are best practice and this makes them more positive toward further investments. From Chicago in particular, we can learn from the impressive dynamics of change that spring from the cooperation between local authorities, the business sector, universities, and civil organisations.
While the Chicago delegation is now home working to transform their new-found knowledge into action for the benefit of Chicago cyclists, Bikes Belong and the CED are busy coordinating the next study tour which will take place in September. This time, the delegation will consist of officials from Austin, TX; Memphis, TN; and Washington, DC.
For further information on how to visit the CED, please visit our website www.cycling-embassy.org.