A delegation of elected members of the Copenhagen Parliament were in Portland for an exchange with First Stop Portland the weekend of July 6-9. First Stop Portland organizes study tours for delegations visiting Portland. They provide logistical and planning support for those interested in learning the story behind Portland’s livability and sustainability policy and best practices.
Left: Steve Durrant from Alta Planning + Design leads a tour from Copenhagen.
Right: Group ride with Niels Tørsløv, director of Copenhagen’s traffic department, on the right.
I had the opportunity to visit with the Copenhagen delegation twice, including helping to lead a tour of Portland by bike. It was a fascinating chance to engage in a dialogue about what was working in both cities and what were challenges.
There were a few things that they witnessed that were pleasant surprises for them. For example, there were several times on the ride that Portland car drivers pleasantly stopped for us to let the whole group go by. “That would never happen in Denmark”, according to Niels Tørsløv, Director of the Traffic Department at City of Copenhagen. This started a dialogue about the difference in driving behavior. While the Denmark drivers might be more agressive than Portland, I shared that not all drivers in the United States are like what they saw this day.
Interestingly, while the drivers might be more agressive, they pay a much heftier punishment for illegal behavior. Driving is considered more of a privilege in Europe, rather than the right it is here in the States. Did you know that you can get 20 moving convictions in a 5 year period of time before you lose your license in Oregon? When I shared that with Niels, he was horrified.
The delegation was impressed with our efforts on Safe Routes to School and the intersection repainting at the corner of SE 33rd and Salmon.
There were a few head-scratching moments for the delegation. They wondered why we put sharrows in the middle of streets. All local or residential streets are for bicycling, in their mind. You wouldn’t put a symbol in the street, it is understood.
When we got to the intersection of NE Couch and NE Grand to see the design of the intersection with the sign that detects bicyclists and lights up when they are present, they felt unsafe. They would treat the intersection much differently. First of all they would create an advanced bicycle signal to allow bicycle traffic to go through prior to releasing automobile traffic. They would also add a right turn arrow preventing right turns until the bicycle travel has stopped by a red light.
Excellent advice! This type of shift in thinking that puts safety first and prioritizes active transportation modes is a big shift. I asked them what they did with pedestrians at such an intersection, and they thought that it is better for pedestrians since they also have a signal in advance of turning traffic. When Portland fully adopts a Vision Zero safety priority, we will truly see a similar shift in design.
I enjoyed my time with the delegation. It made me really want to visit their city to get inspired further.