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In Europe, Grescoe gets bowled over by Copenhagen, the "post-automobile city" that he calls the most walkable and bike-friendly spot on Earth.
Copenhagen is the celestial pole of Grescoe’s quest, whereas keep reading on and you’ll be able to guess which city is the accursed pit.
In the 1960s Copenhagen was just another car-packed city, and the official policy, mirroring the North American car-centric ethos, was to prohibit cycling because so many cyclists were getting mowed down by cars. But after tens of thousands of cyclists mounted an anti-car protest, followed providentially by an OPEC embargo that rocketed the price of gas to $7.50 per gallon, suddenly bikes looked like the smarter choice.
Nowadays cyclists get the regal treatment. Snow plows clear the bike lanes first, before the car lanes. Stoplights are timed to give a green wave to cyclists. Cars are banned from the city core. Apparently everybody cycles — seniors, execs, workers, royalty. Over a third of all Copenhagers, including over half of downtowners, travel to work or school by bike. The icing on the cake is that Danes regularly come out on top in international surveys of life satisfaction nowadays, and Grescoe figures the fitness that comes from cycling is part of the reason.
Now, don’t get me wrong but as soon as someone starts citing some Scandinavian paragon, I can’t stop yawning. It’s like your parents declaring how well-behaved are the kids next door. Pretty soon you have a mental reaction where you make them irrelevant. Besides, Copenhagen is only half a million people. The star attraction is the Little Mermaid statue.
I realize how uncosmopolitan I must sound. Let me take those words back.
What I mean to say is that, speaking for America, we've got an immense situation where politicians and planning departments do the bidding of the auto industry as if under a hypnotic spell.
We should never have allowed cars into cities in the first place. If you study old paintings and photos, you see people occupying the streets since time immemorial. But bit by bit the car makers and auto clubs campaigned to kick people off the streets, to squeeze them onto the side. Curbside parking meant that even an empty vehicle had more entitlement to the street than a pedestrian.
Even Moscow, the Workers’ Paradise, even Paris, the City of Light, occasionally stooped so low as to funnel pedestrians thru tunnels under the road while cars ruled the surface.