Lessons from Sweden: Day 4

Sweden? Yes. I traveled by train today to Malmö, Sweden, the third largest city in Sweden and just across the Øresund from Copenhagen. Admittedly, our hosts noted that Malmö is not a typical Swedish city (it is more modern and cosmopolitan in its demographics and economy), but is more bike friendly than any other place in the country. If Copenhagen is the old world city that has embraced bicycling throughout its bustling, gritty, and urban metropolis, Malmö is its sleeker, quieter, and more modern brother that likes bicycling, just in a different way.

What does Malmö do differently than Copenhagen?

The most obvious difference is that instead of one-way cycle tracks on each side of the street, Malmö chose instead to construct two-way cycle tracks on both sides of the street. This makes navigation both easier and trickier at the same time. Maneuverability and the ease to ride on either side can make getting around easier since there often isn’t a need to cross some intersections to head in a particular direction. Simultaneously, when you do need to cross an intersection, maneuvering right-of-way from an unexpected travel direction can be a bit unnerving. Fortunately, automobiles are extremely courteous of bicyclists, almost always yielding to cyclitsts entering the roadway.

Another major difference was the well developed system of shared-use trails from center city to the outer edges of the municipality. We took a scenic ride out to the newest planned development almost exclusively along shared-use trails and quiet, neighborhood streets. It was clear that this network of trails had been well planned and implemented over a long period of time.

Our Malmö hosts pointed out that the facilities there provide more horizontal separation than their counterparts in Copenhagen, which they felt were generally more comfortable for children, women, and seniors to ride on. They were also very proud of the many underpasses they had built at major intersections to keep cyclists moving and to avoid complicated crossing movements that would be necessary with the double two-way cycle tracks.

How do cultural differences between Copenhagen and Malmö present themselves in cycling?

Honestly, I didn’t notice too many differences between riding in Copenhagen and riding in Malmö. There were fewer cyclists in Malmö – only 23% of all trips are made by bike – but the style of bicycles and handling was almost like being in the same city. If I had to be picky, I would say that there was a general lack of turn signals by bicyclists in Malmö and they seemed to enter intersections with reckless abandon, relying on the good will of automobiles to stop for them (which they did, but it still unsettled my American nerves).

Also, Malmö has incredible playgrounds…