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Should Chicago turn to Denmark as a role model for bike safety?

Tragic "dooring" accidents are catching Chicago bicyclists off-guard left and right. With the city's horrible bicycle safety statistics, Chicago is clearly lacking when it comes to keeping pedal-powered bikers free from harm. On the other hand, Denmark, and its capital city of Copenhagen, both boast envious bicycle safety records.

Could Chicago learn a few things about bike safety from its Nordic friends? The answer to this question is probably "yes."

In Denmark, bicycle riders get respect

Denmark is known as the country with the heaviest bicycle usage per capita in the world. According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, there are more bikes in the country than cars. In the city of Copenhagen, for example, residents own about 120,000 cars and 675,000 bikes. Believe it or not, in 2016, analysts counted more bicycles passing through the city center than motor vehicles. No one would ever imagine this happening in Chicago.

Here are a few more statistics from Denmark's Cycling Embassy:

  • Nine out of 10 people in Denmark have a bike.
  • Thirty-six percent of adult Danes commute to work on bikes daily or at least once per week.
  • Seventeen percent of adult men and 36 percent of adult women use a bike to travel to work or school in Denmark.

The ubiquitous popularity of bicycling in Denmark translates to one important thing -- with most people riding bikes, riders are respected and motorists watch out for them on Denmark's roads.

Bike safety is more than just having a lot of bicyclists on the road

Does having more bicyclists on the road create the need for stricter bicycle safety law adherence and more attentiveness on the part of motorists? Or, does more attentive driving and stricter adherence to existing safety law result in more people willing to ride bicycles? Although it's not entirely clear, for bicyclists, Denmark's roads are safer than Chicago's roads.

In 2016, bicycle-related death statistics totaled 183 in Denmark. In the United States, this number totaled 840 that year. However, considering the fact that Denmark's largest city, Copenhagen, has 5.6 times more bikes than cars, coupled with the massive use of bikes in the country, the per-capita bicycle-related death statistics in Denmark are dramatically lower than those for the United States.

One thing that helped make Denmark safer was the implementation of bicycle safety laws and bike-friendly city planning. For example, from 2000 to 2003, Copenhagen made a concerted effort to improve bicycle rider safety in the city. Here are the nine areas of bicycle safety on which Copenhagen focused to achieve this goal:

  • Set up cycling tracks and reinforced cycling lanes.
  • Created more green cycling routes.
  • Created better conditions for cyclists in downtown areas.
  • Merged public transportation and cycling to allow room for bicyclists to enter and exit trains.
  • Created bicycle parking.
  • Improved signaling at intersections.
  • Improved maintenance of cycling tracks.
  • Improved cleaning of cycling tracks.
  • Set up information and educational campaigns to promote bicycle safety.

Chicago could focus on these bike safety areas

Perhaps, if Chicago focused on some of the above areas of bicycle safety in Copenhagen, the city would also become a safer haven for bikers. Until then, bicyclists need to be careful and alert at all times. Bicyclists who have been injured by unlawful or negligent motorists may want to explore their legal rights and options.

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