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in Copenhagen
Part of our Low Carbon Copenhagen project ... project index >
introduction  •  how + why pedestrianisation started  •  Jan Gehl + Lars Gemzøe  •  transport integration  •  it is successful?  •  walking the city •  sources
key facts  •  urban planning timeline  •  pedestrianisation timeline  •  Denmark timeline
How and why pedestrianisation started
By the early 1960s, Europe was beginning to follow the American model — drive everywhere! Copenhagen was no exception but its planners soon realised that their city was becoming clogged with commuter traffic during the working day and was in danger of losing its residents to the suburbs by night. Something had to be done to reverse the trend.
The solution they came up with was a combination of making the inner city's public spaces attractive enough to lure people to them and making car access to the centre difficult. The oil crisis of the 1970s reinforced the realisation that people could not afford to rely on car travel for all their journeys.
As you can see in the pedestrianisation timeline, the five main thoroughfares that make up Strøget were the first to be pedestrianised. Car parking was gradually removed from city centre squares and eventually more than 3km of streets given over to foot traffic. It's now almost half a century since the process started and the city centre attracts more pedestrians than ever. The increase in pedestrian areas is shown on the map of pedestrianised zones.
Pedesrianisation in Copenhagen
Despite initial skepticism, Copenhageners took to using the new spaces from the very start. Why has it worked so well in Copenhagen? The city does have several advantages, including an intact medieval street layout and inner-city buildings at a human scale.
Persuading a succession of city mayors to support the pedestrianisation initiative has also been key. Another factor is not having out-of-town shopping centres, so shoppers have to use the city. Citizens are encouraged to live as well as work in the centre, which keeps the area alive after office/shop hours. Indeed, pedestrianisation is part of the city's overall urban planning.
But one of the biggest lessons learned is that introducing such big changes is best done gradually — giving people time to absorb them and alter their living patterns accordingly — and you need to make sure that the rest of the transport plan for the city is suitably adapted.
Copenhageners agree that their city has been improved by the pedestrianisation measures, even if they do still grumble about the traffic or the lack of trees in some public spaces. The numbers of people enjoying the city’s cafés or meandering through the traffic-free streets and squares speak for themselves. People-watching is a popular activity! ..... next >
Top links
International Federation of Pedestrians   www.pedestrians-int.org
for downloading The Copenhagen Experience - What the Pedestrian Wants, 2006 (pdf)
Hear Jan Gehl talking about Copenhagen pedestrianisation in an excerpt the Transportation Alternatives-produced movie on New York entitled Contested Streets ...
introduction  •  how + why pedestrianisation started  •  Jan Gehl + Lars Gemzøe  •  transport integration  •  it is 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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Copenhagen's 10 steps
to successful inner-city pedestrianisation
1  Convert strategic streets into pedestrian thoroughfares
2  Reduce traffic and parking gradually
3  Turn car parks into public squares
4  Keep the scale of the built environment dense and low
5  Honour the human scale
6  Populate the core
7  Encourage student living
8  Adapt the cityscape to the changing seasons
9  Promote cycling as a major mode of transport
10  Make bicycles available
Paul Makovsky
at  www.metropolismag.com
An ongoing process
In Copenhagen city centre, what you see is what you get — everything happens at street level. There are no underground shopping malls, no footbridges across the streets or high-level pedestrian transit networks, no tunnels or railways (until the Metro came along). All urban activities are concentrated into one plane — the public realm.
Although car-free space in the city increased six fold between 1962 and 1996, the total area of pedestrianised streets (about 28,000 sq m) has changed little since 1973. The increase has come through the conversion of squares and other public spaces into 'people first' zones. City planners are now experimenting with shared pedestrian-priority streets, where people on foot, on bicycles and in cars share the paved carriageway.
Another facet to Copenhagen life is the promotion of 'green and blue areas' — parks, beaches and sea-swimming pools. Two thirds of Copenhageners live within 15 minutes walk of a green or blue area. Parks such as Tivoli and Fælledparken in the city centre are popular with residents, who spend on average an hour in a park every other day.
Copenhagen city centre probably already has all the pedestrian areas it can support, and in the 1990s, the squares in the suburbs started to be turned into pedestrian zones, with cafés, street performances, etc. The conversion of public spaces in outlying areas of the city is part of the ongoing process.