Note: Ryan Miller is a Seattle University student majoring in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Copenhagen and will be writing blog posts for Great City about his experiences and impressions of the Danish Capitol (and possibly other locations around Europe).

Drowning in the Green Wave

In my daily commute to and from school I have the great privilege of utilizing one of the prides of Copenhagen’s transportation system, the so called “green wave” streets. Streets on the “green wave” system have had their traffic light timings for rush hour adjusted so that a cyclist traveling at 20km/h will have nothing but green lights for their entire trip.

In theory, this system should create an environment which encourages cycling over other forms of transport during the times when traffic would be its worst. However, in practice, I find the green wave street I ride to be a mixed blessing at best. Perhaps I betray my racing roots a bit much when I say that 20km/h (12 mi/h) is a maddeningly slow pace for me to attempt to ride, especially when I’m running late to my economics mid-term. So what ends up happening is I set off from an intersection, get up to speed, and then come to a stop at every single intersection where I will put my foot down for 15 seconds as I wait for the timing to catch up with me. Conversely, when I do attempt to ride slowly I will constantly get stuck behind a cargo bike moving at 15 km/h and have the same problem in reverse.

That’s not to say there aren’t some benefits to the system, the closer I get to the city, the more congested the bike lanes are, and once just enough people are clogging the lane, the fast traffic will move at the 20km/h needed to get the timing right. And when that happens, riding in Copenhagen is pure bliss. However, you have to be very lucky for that to happen.

Despite my own personal objections to timings, I could not say they speak for the Danish population as a whole. My experience thus far is that the “average” Danish commuter is that they typically ride at closer to the correct pace than I do. So perhaps in time my riding style will become more accustomed to the green wave, and my annoying habit of getting stuck at every light will go away.

It is also important to remember that the people adversely affected by this light timing extend beyond the individual car traffic the system is supposed to inconvenience. One of my worst experiences with Copenhagen mass transit comes from attempting to ride a bus that was routed along a green wave route. The busses, having no dedicated lane on these streets, are stuck in the (planned) traffic jam that results from the green wave.

There are plenty of individuals who are unable to ride their bikes into work for a number of very valid reasons (e.g. the physically impaired), yet are still making the decision to not take their cars into the city. Why should they be punished in the same way car users are? I know that the street would have ample room for bus lanes if the on-street parking were removed. It seems to me that by giving these streets bus lanes instead of on-street parking you kill two birds with one stone. Not only are you avoiding the dilemma of punishing mass transit users, but you are also discouraging car use in an extremely effective manner.

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This is an important election season for Seattle and the region. As a 501(c)(3), Great City does not endorse political candidates, but there are a number of other items on the ballot that are of great importance to the city that we would like to endorse. They are:

Approve the Housing Levy: Providing affordable housing solutions to ALL citizens of Seattle is a key component to creating a socially and environmentally sustainable city and supports the goals of sustaining a thriving regional economy, promoting vibrant communities and ensuring healthy landscapes by easing sprawl. Since 1981, Seattle voters have approved one bond and three levies to create and preserve affordable rental and ownership housing. The current levy, which Seattle voters passed in 2002, expires this year. The proposed 2009 Housing Levy will produce an estimated 1,670 units of rental housing while the Rental Assistance program will help 550 households per year. Current market conditions make the levy all the more vital in creating and preserving our legacy of affordable housing stock.

Reject Initiative 1033: Tim Eyman’s latest initiative would place a cap on state and local taxes based on this year’s tax level. As a result, our state, county, and city governments would be locked into a level of spending reflecting this country’s worst economic recession since the 1930s. If we are to be serious about creating a sustainable and livable urban environment, we must give our city and county the tools it needs. Initiative 1033 would be a financial disaster for our region – Great City urges voters to reject this proposal.

Approve Referendum 71: In April, the Washington State legislature gave same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by married couples. The current Referendum, if rejected, would rescind these rights. Great City believes strongly that providing the same basic rights to ALL of our citizens is tantamount to creating a great city, a great region, and a great country. Approve Referendum 71!

Budget Hearing Tonight: If you haven’t already, please send city council an email encouraging them to designate funding to implement our Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans today. This is a tough year for the city, but we must keep our eyes on the city’s long term priorities. Bike and pedestrian infrastructure and amenities are core requirements of a healthy, vibrant, and environmentally sustainable city. We would also encourage you to stop by city hall this afternoon at 5:30 to give public testimony.


Note: Our friends at SDOT have asked us to pass this along to the masses:

SDOT has recently released a DRAFT parking plan for the Capitol Hill study area. Residents, businesses, and property owners will be receiving a mailer with plan details within the next few days. In addition, you can find details of the plan on our Community Parking Program-Capitol Hill website, which is:

Also on the website is a link to a web survey where you can review the plan and submit comments and give your feedback.


This next Monday, October 26, Seattle City Council will be considering whether or not to repeal the Employee Hours Tax (aka, the “Head Tax”). Regardless of how you feel about the repeal of the tax, the potential loss of a funding mechanism for Bridging the Gap sends a dangerous signal about Seattle’s transportation priorities. The Mayor has stated he wants to make Seattle into the most pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city in the United States. This is the time for us to walk our talk! The improvements identified by both plans make it safer for our children to walk to school and in their neighborhood. They help our seniors to continue to be mobile. They help us reduce our reliance on the automobile and reduce our carbon footprint. They also ensure the health of our business districts and other community places.

Please email city council members today and urge them to allocate funding sources for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. And if you are free, please consider attending the city council hearing on Monday at 5:30 pm at the Council Chambers in City Hall.


Yesterday, Great City released a Land Use White Paper to the campaigns, city council, planning commission, and city leadership. The impetus for the paper was the belief that Seattle is being presented the urgent opportunity to be bold and visionary with its land use policy. Freshly elected officials, a new administration, and an economic recession that has temporarily slowed new development will provide the city a chance to reevaluate its current approach to planning and development.

It is Great City’s goal to widen the dialogue on land use, both during what remains of the campaign season and into a new administration. The white paper issues a broad challenge to Seattle’s leadership and citizenry while also providing some recommended strategies to create a more livable, economically vibrant, and socially just city. We look forward to working in partnership with new and existing leadership, the city, the non-profit community, and our citizens to do just this.

great_city_land-use-white-paper.pdf (Small PDF)

Seattle Sunrise photo via


Note: Ryan Miller is a Seattle University student majoring in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Copenhagen and will be writing blog posts for Great City about his experiences and impressions of the Danish Capitol (and possibly other locations around Europe).

Oh Hipster, Where art thou?

(A quick word of warning: This post, while loosely related to Danish cycling culture, mostly devolves into a longwinded discussion on Danish culture as a whole.)

It is peculiar that even though Copenhagen seems perfectly suited to riding “fixies,” I have only seen a grand total of 2 ridden during my time here. I can find more of those in an hour riding around Seattle. By Seattle standards, I should be up to my neck in them, I live by not 1, but several college campuses, in what is considered the “cool” part of the city, yet there are none to be found. Even the bicycle messengers don’t ride them, instead they ride the run-of- the-mill road bikes for their business.

Initially, I found this dichotomy puzzling. After all, it would make sense that a city that is better suited to fixies (especially one with such a love for cycling) would have more of them, yet somehow the opposite is true. Admittedly, my experience with fixies stems from me racing at a velodrome, and not from “the streets,” so my perspective on this particular aspect of cycling culture is likely to be severly flawed. However, in my experience I have definitely observed a direct correlation between “hipsters” and the people who typically ride fixies in Seattle.

For those of you not aware of what a “hipster” is, I suggest you take a short trip to Capitol Hill, and look at every other person there. These people will be instantly recognizable by their thick, black, plastic glasses, their “ironic” facial hair, second-hand clothing (preferably with pants that could have been painted on), and a fierce shunning of “conformity.”

Oddly enough, Copenhagen does not lack hipsters due to any distaste for their appearance*, but rather are lacking in hipster quantity due to the society itself. Denmark is an extremely homogeneous society, so much so that differing from what society considers “Danish” is to be both feared and avoided. Much of this stems from Denmark’s historic territorial losses in the mid 19th century creating a country filled with only those who were ethnically Danish.
However, as much fun as 19th century Danish-Prussian relations are, I think we can skip forward a couple chapters in cultural subtext to the so called “Law of Jante.” This is a concept written on by a Norwegian author in the 1933, which is still widely regarded as the “Ten Commandments” of Danish society and mentality. For reference, I have included them below:

  • Don’t think that you are special.
  • Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us
  • Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
  • Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
  • Don’t think that you know more than us.
  • Don’t think that you are more important than us.
  • Don’t think that you are good at anything.
  • Don’t laugh at us.
  • Don’t think that anyone of us cares about you.
  • Don’t think that you can teach us anything.

While these “Laws” may seem overly negative, they underscore some of the most positive aspects of Danish society, their humility and egalitarian attitude. By stifling people’s belief that they are “superior” to your neighbor, you create both a sense of community and the desire to cooperate to solve your problems. The creation of this mentality is in many ways what created the basis for the Danish welfare system and their cooperation and compromise based political and labor system.

While admittedly it is almost impossible to see this mentality at first glance, when one looks closer at the Danish people, this mentality can be seen manifesting itself in a myriad of interesting ways. For example, talking to a Danish person about programs for “gifted” students elicits a look of confusion similar to if you had just suggested that all classroom instruction was conducted on a tightrope. To them, the idea of treating certain students specially seems extraordinarily unfair to the rest of the student population.

Additionally, Jante Law can be seen in the way people dress. Below this paragraph is a photo taken at random during my first few days in Denmark. When you look at this I would like you to count the number of people not wearing a black coat.

If you look closely, you may find 2 or possibly 3 that match this description (and this is a fairly “touristy” street, when riding the Metro with Danish commuters you will see even fewer colors). I will freely admit that black is a common color for coats. But when it is the only color I can find I take notice. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but it does emphasize how little the Danes value “sticking out.”
As Denmark becomes more and more globally interdependent and integrated, the Law of Jante has been slowly loosing prevalence in Danish society. However, I feel Denmark is a long way from having the same sort of fixie culture Seattle has.

*Now before you think I am too critical about on this particular population, let me freely admit that I am (quite literally) lost without my thick, plastic-framed glasses, and that you can more often than not find me hanging out in Café Vita and Easy Street records scoffing at both Starbucks (too cooperate) and artists on major record labels (sell outs). After all, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Discovering Your Inner Transportation Engineer

Hello Copenhagen fans,

Here is another report from our friends at International Sustainable Solutions:
Tools to Signal the Importance of Pedestrians and Bicyclists: Options and Specifications Overview (PDF 16.6 MB)

The report was presented to City Council last fall. It describes tools European cities have used for automating bicycle counts and improving pedestrian flow through intersections.

There is also an article from Seattle’s own Daily Journal of Commerce about cycling in Copenhagen (32% trips by bike – Dreamy) but be forewarned: its falls towards the end of the PDF and you have to sift through some serious wonk to get to it.

Thanks once again to I-Sustain for lending us your report!

Note: Images of TTS Bicycle Counters from I-Sustain Report

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