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Copenhagen puts more cops on bikes in response to citizen concerns

The move is being made to fulfill requests for more police visibility on the Danish capital’s narrow biking lanes to encourage safe behavior, after a study found a third of young Danes bike drunk.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — For those who have yet to try it, riding in a bike lane in central Copenhagen during rush hour is truly a daunting experience.

Cars drive cramped on tiny roads, sidewalks are filled with walking kids and thousands of cyclists race for space while ringing their bells endlessly on the many biking lanes within Denmark’s capital.

As in any other metropolitan area, accidents happen in Copenhagen's continuous traffic, and cyclists can be especially vulnerable.

That is why Copenhagen police officers will start biking among Danes to boost safety and advocate for positive behavior in cycling lanes.

"In the citizens' council, we got the citizens' eyes on how we can make it safer to cycle. One of the biggest requests is a wish that we are more present among the cyclists to see and catch other offenses than those we typically see at intersections. It's a really good initiative that we've taken to heart," said police director Anne Tønnes in a press release on Tuesday.

The Copenhagen police citizens’ council was established last year to bring the department closer to residents. For the past six months, the council focused on how to make the city’s bike lanes safer and more pleasant for Copenhageners.  

As to the wish for more presence, Copenhagen police will now patrol on bikes several times a week, including during daily rush hours.

"Citizens also encourage us to increase the focus on traffic rules and point out that many offenses among cyclists can be due to cyclists' lack of knowledge of the rules and a lack of understanding of how you, as a cyclist, can be a nuisance to others," Tønnes said.

The announcement comes just days after the Council for Safe Traffic, a private organization producing infomercials on safe transportation in Denmark, published its findings from a study it conducted with analytical institute Wilke showing that 30% of cyclists ages 16-19 in Denmark have biked while under the influence of alcohol at least once within the last year.

“We are well aware that we cannot get all young people to park and leave their bikes when they have drunk alcohol. But we want to stop those who are most intoxicated. Unfortunately, it all too often goes wrong with serious injuries as a result, when young people bike drunk and crash,” said Morten Wehner, senior project manager at the Council for Safe Traffic.

At Rigshospitalet, Denmark’s national hospital located in Copenhagen, it is not uncommon to see young, intoxicated patients that have been in bike accidents after a night out in the city.

“We regularly experience that young people are affected by alcohol in connection with bicycle accidents, and we see more young men than young women with alcohol in their blood,” said trauma doctor Emilie Øberg of Rigshospitalet's Anesthesia, Surgery and Trauma Center.

The Council for Safe Traffic launched a new campaign on Monday aimed at preventing young people from biking intoxicated.

Young drunks are not the only issue Denmark’s cycling culture is facing. While it is known to be one of the best places in the world to ride a bike, the transportation landscape is changing in the Scandinavian country.

Despite the Danish parliament securing 3 billion Danish kroner ($417 million) to upgrade Denmark’s biking infrastructure by 2035, fewer cyclists are using the new lanes built in the last 10 years.

Numbers from the Danish Road Directorate, which is responsible for Denmark’s national road network, show that Danes bikes remarkably less today compared to 20 years ago, Danish broadcaster DR reported in June.

If an average of 100 cyclists used a specific route in 2000, that number on average shrunk to 94 last year.

“It is an indication that the Danes do not use the bicycle quite as much and in quite the same way as we have thought,” said Marianne Foldberg Steffensen with the Road Directorate.

“One had hoped that with all these cycle paths we had built, the Danes would cycle a bit more, and they don't quite do that,” she said.

According to Steffensen, urban areas are where most Danes use bikes. In the countryside, there is less will to cycle, most likely due to large distances between homes, grocery stores and institutions.

Nonetheless, Denmark’s bicycle infrastructure will continue to expand in the coming years and with police on the lanes, tourists and new cyclists alike can feel a little safer biking in Copenhagen.

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