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Pedestrianisation
in Copenhagen
Part of our Low Carbon Copenhagen project ... project index >
introduction  •  how + why pedestrianisation started  •  Jan Gehl + Lars Gemzøe  •  transport integration  •  is it successful?  •  walking the city •  sources
key facts  •  urban planning timeline  •  pedestrianisation timeline  •  Denmark timeline
Is pedestrianisation successful?
The perceived success of pedestrianisation can depend on the viewpoint of the user — someone on foot might like it more than a delivery driver. However, there seems to a general concensus that it does work in Copenhagen, where people are voting with their feet!
Some cities lend themselves to pedestrianisation more than others. Copenhagen is suited to it, in part because it's a relatively small city on predominantly flat ground, with a medieval pattern of streets and squares readily adaptable for pedestrians and cyclists. Copenhagen has also shown that there are ways to achieve success, such as proceeding in increments over a long period, and ensuring integration with the city-wide land use and transport plan.
Pedesrianisation in Copenhagen
In many other cities, planning decisions, such as allowing purpose-built shopping areas to be constructed in the centre, have altered local character and restricted potential incentives for people to spend time at all hours in central localities. Accidents of history too can play their part in undoing urban cohesion.
A mix of uses keeps a city centre humming round the clock — a definite plus for successful pedestrianisation. The residential parts of Copenhagen's centre prevent it from becoming a ghost town at night — the potential for more than 6,000 lighted windows brings a feeling of security after dark. Shops and galleries are encouraged to leave some lights on after closing time.
Copenhagen is also a university city, like Oxford and Cambridge, and the students who live and learn there generate income year round. They also use public transport, ride bicycles and walk more than they use cars.
Climate plays a part too. In Copenhagen, the city centre is a dense mass of mostly low-rise buildings, which not only allows the prevailing winds to pass over it but also maximises the penetration of sunlight. The outskirts of the city, where streets are wider and buildings taller, tend to be colder and windier.
It's a very different city for pedestrians in summer and winter. The café 'season' begins in April and continues til October/November. Owners provide cushions and blankets for customers in spring and autumn, which helps to extend the season. Danes value sunshine and tend to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Outdoor people-watching is a major activity for Copenhageners. However, in winter most cafés close and people don't linger.
Copenhagen's experience had been that once traffic is removed from public spaces, they quickly fill with other activities. It has been suggested that a variety of independent retailers brings in more money than High Street chain stores. Pedestrians also spend more money locally than commuters do. However, a boost to local outlets can be reversed if pedestrian numbers get too big (as in Venice) and people don't get the chance to pause and buy on impulse.
There's no doubt that the concerted effort over many years by the city authorities to ensure that Copenhagen's city centre does not become swamped with cars or lose its diversity underpins the success of its pedetrianisation schemes. The human brain apparently best takes in information from its environment — sight, smell, sound, touch and even taste — when moving through it at walking pace. This is surely reason enough to celebrate this success ..... next >
Top links
Pedestrianised towns say: we want cars   www.independent.co.uk
Description of pedestrianisation in London's Soho (1999)
Retail One-Stop   www.eps.net.au
How pedestrians can boost retail, based on experience in Austrlalia
introduction  •  how + why pedestrianisation started  •  Jan Gehl + Lars Gemzøe  •  transport integration  •  is it successful?  •  walking the city •  sources
key facts  •  urban planning timeline  •  pedestrianisation timeline  •  Denmark timeline
image  courtesy Tim Beatley
sources and references  see sources
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Fact file : Copenhagen
outdoor city-centre cafés (1995)  126
providing  4,800 seats
hours of daylight June/July  18.5
hours of daylight December  7
What's happening elsewhere?
German cities have the largest pedestrian street networks. Freiburg and Nuremberg have three times more kilometres of pedestrian streets than Copenhagen.
Increases in pedestrian facilities should be balanced by improvements to public transport if there are fewer car parking spaces. This can be something cities fail to address adequately. Portland in Oregon is one American city that has got this right.
In the UK, Norwich is one place where pedestrianisation has not been well received. Although city centre streets are car free, few people live in the centre and pedestrians, especially lone women, do not feel comfortable walking through after hours. Rents are too high for shops other than large chains, and once the shops are closed there are few other venues open.
In London's central Soho district, the pedestrianised area with its pavement cafés has attracted tourists and street performers — and more vagrants and thieves.
People worry about being accosted by groups of youths hanging about in under-used pedestrian areas. In the UK, pedestrian zones are often retail-based and — apart from a cinema, perhaps — in general do not have the cultural dimension that is so important to Copenhagen.
see  sources list