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Bike-friendly Copenhagen faces backlash

COPENHAGEN -- In one of the world's best cities for bicycles, Copenhagen cyclists are earning a reputation for recklessness and arrogance, prompting calls for politicians to back-pedal on plans to further boost bike traffic.

Long considered one of Europe's two “bicycle capitals” along with Amsterdam, Copenhagen counts more bicycles than people, and 36 percent of those who work or study in the Danish city use a bike for their daily commute.

But as cycling has increased, so has the number of cyclists barreling down the city's pavements, car-free streets and even train platforms, to the dismay of spooked pedestrians.

“The cyclists aren't very good at sticking to the rules. They typically go into pedestrian areas,” said Mogens Knudsen, operations leader of the Copenhagen police's traffic unit.

“If you walk down pedestrian shopping street Stroeget, you will see cyclists zigzagging between the people, and they do so at a high speed,” he added.

For years city officials have prided themselves on Copenhagen's many cyclists, receiving politicians and journalists from around the world to study the city's infrastructure and its plans for an even more ambitious network of “cycle superhighways.”

The current goal is to increase the number of work- and study-related trips taken by bike to more than 50 percent of all journeys by 2015.

While a growing awareness of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions has made it unpopular to criticize the ever-growing number of bicycles on the roads, some are beginning to speak out.

The backlash has been fuelled by a sharp rise in deadly cycling accidents this year, following a decline over several years.

“I think cyclists believe they are above general traffic rules,” said Kjeld Koplev, a journalist and author whose ankle and shinbone were crushed in a cycling accident with a car 11 years ago.

“I think you are more careful in a car, because you know you are the stronger party.

Others put it more bluntly. Tom Joergensen, an art critic, irked Danish cycling enthusiasts last year when he claimed they were “Copenhagen's number one traffic problem.”

In an op-ed, Joergensen claimed that people who cycle tend to vote for leftist parties, but once they get on their bikes, they become raging individualists, caring little about fellow road users.

“It's nearing anarchy,” Joergensen told AFP.

“We pedestrians have completely disappeared from public debate on the issue. You talk about cyclists and you talk about motorists, but nobody is interested in those of us who walk on the streets,” he said.

“If you ask elderly people, I'm sure they will agree with what I say: that the biggest problem in Copenhagen isn't the drivers, it's the cyclists, who are extremely aggressive.”

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