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Odense More Than Just A Fairy Tale

I continue to document my 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference experience …

Odense has two major claims to fame. The first is that it’s home to Hans Christian Andersen, celebrated author of fairy tales. Second, it’s from this Danish city that the Safe Routes to School idea emerged in the mid-1970s and more recently Odense was Denmark’s national cycling laboratory. OK, so this last one didn’t somehow make it into the tourist literature I picked up at the railway station and information center today…but it should in there right up alongside Denmark’s “cosiest zoo”!

Rather than battle long lines at the COP15 Bella Center headquarters, and possibly either police or protesters, I decided instead to head west and island-hop over to Fuyn, where Odense sits astride a river of the same name, and the main train line from Copenhagen. As I watched from the train window, we headed into a heavy band of snow just as we arrived in Odense. I felt a bit like a secret shopper, showing up unannounced to see how this cycling city copes with a heavy snowfall.

Odense citizens bundle up for the ride!

Odense citizens bundle up for the ride!

The answer is they seem to keep on riding right along. The only concession I saw to the 10-12cms of snow was some folk who would walk their bikes where the streets or cycle tracks had not yet been cleared – and yes, the cycle tracks were being cleared of snow at least as extensively as the motor vehicle lanes, and there were special pieces of equipment out there sweeping the sidewalks and bike facilities. Through the snow, I could just make out the colored lanes, advanced stop bars, bicycle signal heads and other common features of Denmark’s bicycle friendly communities.

Obviously the first snow day of the season wasn’t the best to view the city’s credentials. Traffic of all kinds was down, and the city had that slightly eerie, snow-dampened quiet about it – with the exception of the bustling pedestrian-only shopping streets which seemed to be doing a brisk business. There were lots of people out riding still – and that wouldn’t be the case if there weren’t a LOT of riders on better weather days! The city has an automatic traffic counter on one key route into the city center and some 635 riders had passed by at around 10:30 in the morning already. (A similar counter in Copenhagen was over 1,500 riders as I passed by at 9 a.m. on my way to the train station.)

Check out the photos I took in Odense, and a couple from Copenhagen. Expect to see more like this tomorrow; the snow followed me back along the train line and there’s now a few centimeters on the ground in CPH. Should make the wait to get into the climate change talks that much more ironic, chilly, and damp.

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