The Land of Two Spinning Wheels

If you ever visit the PEA headquarters in Allerød Denmark don’t be surprised if you spot the odd bicycle or two. We love cycling! It is an exhilarating feeling of freedom to be on a bike on a sunny summer’s day freewheeling down a hill with green fields either side of you. Unfortunately, cycling uphill in the wind and rain in the city centre in February is not quite as nice but we Danes don’t seem to mind too much. On average we cycle just under a mile a day on some of the best cycling facilities in the world. There are an estimated 4,300 miles of segregated dedicated cycle lanes in Denmark and the four biggest cities account for more than 840 miles with 378 miles in Aalborg, 320 miles in Odense, 280 miles in Aarhus and 256 miles in Copenhagen.

Why has Denmark, and Copenhagen in particular, embraced two wheels to become one of the most cycle-friendly countries in the entire world? The answer probably lies in the city’s historical development, because surprisingly many cities that today are packed with cars have a past as cities of bicycles. The bicycle was invented in the latter half of the 1800s and the first models were primitive and awkward to ride. Nonetheless they became fashionable being first used for sport and recreation, but in the late 1800s more practical designs came onto the market, and the public quickly adopted them.

Owning a bike meant ordinary men and women suddenly gained freedom of movement. It was their ticket out of the inner city’s cramped tenement houses and into the clean air of the growing suburbs. Ever since then Danes have linked bicycles with freedom and our cities became cities of bicycles in the first half of the 1900s. But sometime around 1960, car ownership became possible for more and more families due to the rise in the standard of living and our enthusiasm to shed the memory of 1930’s depression and the austerity of WW2. The car symbolized a brighter future ahead.

Swings and roundabouts
Cars heralded a time of prosperity but they also brought pollution, congestion and traffic accidents. Open pedestrian areas in the Copenhagen of today were mostly unsightly car parks in the 1960s. Much of Western Europe developed along similar lines but the point where we parted from everywhere else was when environmental pressure groups began to appear. It was also the time of the oil crisis which helped to shake the dust off cycling culture, which in the 1970s was beginning to experience a renaissance.

The Danish way
Then we witnessed massive protests against a proposed motorway across the lakes that separate the old quarter of Copenhagen from the newer suburban districts. It became clear that the solution had to be town planning that gave appropriate space to cars, bicycles, pedestrians and public transport. Out of this grew the Danish model with its extended network of cycle lanes along the roads, which continues to be developed today.

Most Danes associate the bicycle with positive values such as freedom and health and in recent years cycling has actually become a symbol of personal energy. For every 1,200 km cycled, the average number of sick days is reduced by one. Authorities in Copenhagen estimate that it has one million fewer sick days due to the fact that the inhabitants of the region are such diligent cyclists. For every km cycled rather than driven, Denmark saves 0,8 €. With 5.7 million Danes cycling 1.5 km a day, that’s 6.840.000 € per day- and that’s a conservative estimate.

So, there is method in our madness. Not only does cycling keep us fit, clean up our cities of pollutants and ugly car parks and reduce road accidents, it also means we save considerable amounts of money all of which can be redirected towards projects that help us to be the happiest country in the world. We think it is a lesson for everyone and we look forward to a time when every country prioritises bicycles over cars. To paraphrase George Orwell ‘Two wheels good – four wheels bad!’

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by Peter Toyberg

Peter Toyberg is Group Managing Director of PEA and holds an MSc in Economics from Copenhagen Business School and has extensive experience in the management of private equity funds. Peter specialises in technical fund structuring, tax reviews, AIFMD, turn-key back office services solutions, and depositary solutions. He is also a very keen cyclist.

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