Mark Twain famously wrote: “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it.” However, he’d probably never been fined by the Copenhagen Police.
Late last year, changes to the traffic law resulted in many cycling fines jumping from 500 to 700 kroner, and in some cases even as high as 1,000 kroner.
With that in mind, The Copenhagen Post hit the beat with the police to get the nitty-gritty on what we’re doing wrong, and to see whether the fine increases have actually deterred cyclists from breaking the law.
Joining officers Anders, Albrechl and Stürup, we took up our post on the road that passes under Ny Teater, linking Vesterbrogade to Gammel Kongvej. It is a narrow one-way street with no cycle lanes.
As officer Glenn Anders explained, this street, although clearly signposted as a one-way street, is a popular shortcut for cyclists travelling from Gammel Kongvej to Vesterbrogade.
“They know they can’t come down here; the street is too narrow and they run the risk of crashing into cars,” he explained. Eager to see whether this street was indeed as popular as Officer Anders thought, we stood and waited, and sure enough it didn’t take long to nab our first victim.
Within 30 seconds of taking up our position, the first officer was off and running to stop a cyclist cycling the wrong way down the street. In the minutes that followed, both remaining officers were also off and stopping cyclists, either for riding the wrong way or riding on the pavement to avoid the narrow road.
When asked whether they thought most cyclists were aware they were openly flouting the law, all three officers were unanimous in saying that the vast majority of people in Copenhagen, especially Danes, did know they were doing the wrong thing.
Eager to see whether cyclists agreed with the officers, we tried approaching people after they were fined, and while the majority of them declined to comment, we did manage to convince a few to talk to us.
Michell McSherry, 26, a Copenhagen local, was pulled over during the sting operation for riding against the traffic down a one-way street. He was fined 1,000 kroner.
When asked whether he knew he was breaking the law by cycling down the street, McSherry denied knowing it was against the law.
“I broke the law and it’s my own fault, but I really didn’t know, not at all. It totally surprised me,” he said.
McSherry explained to The Copenhagen Post that although the obvious rules are often in the Danish news, he’d never heard anything about not being able to cycle down a one-way road. “I was sure that rule only applied to cars,” he stressed, adding that it was disappointing because the fines are now so high.
When the officers weren’t busy fining people left, right and centre, they took time to explain the basic rules of cycling to us. “You obviously can’t go through red lights, ride on the pavement or talk on your phone,” Officer Albrechl explained.
It appears these are the ones that are catching most people out. “The majority of cyclists who get fines are caught going through red lights,” Officer Stürup said.
One such cyclist is 27-year-old Andreas Rasmussen. On his way home after a night out he was fined 1,000 kroner for going through a red light at a deserted junction.
Cold and eager to get home, Rasmussen waited for the light to change, but after a few minutes decided to cautiously cycle through anyway. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a cyclist in Copenhagen who doesn’t do it if there are no cars around, although this fine will definitely make me think twice about doing it again,” he said.
As for the bikes themselves, we offered up our own to see if it’d pass police inspection. Apart from not having lights on the bike, we luckily made the grade because it’s currently so light at night.
Officer Anders told us that cyclists must make sure they have working brakes, a bell, a lock, reflectors (white on the front, red on the rear, yellow on the sides), lights (white on the front, red on the rear) and if it’s a new bike, front brakes.
Over the course of 45 minutes the officers managed to issue 26 infringement notices, most at 1,000 kroner a pop. That’s the equivalent of 250,000 kroner per day. Whilst most cyclists took it in their stride, a few took offence to the way in which they were caught.
One such cyclist was David Hidtoft who questioned the police’s method of hiding behind pillars so that oncoming cyclists couldn’t see them until it was too late. “It’s ridiculous the way they hide; it’s like playing a cat and mouse game,” he fumed.
With time served, we were free to go, but before leaving we wanted to find out where cyclists could access the rules. With this it appeared we had finally stumped the officers and after debate amongst themselves they admitted that they weren’t really sure. They did agree however that the police website didn’t have the information – neither in Danish nor in English.
Eager to find out whether the information was freely accessible, we contacted the deputy chief superintendent, John Sckaletz, who suggested an internet search would bring up useful information. Whilst a Google search did indeed bring up the relevant information, it does beg the question of whether Danish police could be doing more to inform cyclists of their responsibilities on the road.
But this, of course, would probably hurt their profit margin.