Lessons From Copenhagen: How Can We Improve Tel Aviv’s Biking Culture?

I just returned to Tel Aviv from an eye-opening trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, that Nordic paradise of modern design, LEGOS and magical pastry (the best Danish and cinnamon rolls ever, seriously).

But perhaps what struck me most on an aesthetic and urban planning level was how Copenhagen is undoubtedly ruled by cyclists. And while it’s not quite fair to compare Denmark’s longstanding bike culture and infrastructure to the ragtag, quickly-assembled city of Tel Aviv, my visit nonetheless got me thinking about how the TLV Municipality could apply Danish design thinking to Tel Aviv today, particularly when it comes to cycling.

Copenhagen is pretty much the best city in the world for being a cyclist. Almost all of Copenhagen’s streets contain ample bike lanes on BOTH sides of the streets. Better yet, they are placed between the pedestrian sidewalk and the street for cars, and there is often a line of parked cars in between which serves as a barrier between cyclists and moving vehicles. Even cooler, there is a traffic light system that’s just for bikes which ensures that cyclists follow the same rules as motorists.

Simply put, the Danes have prioritized cyclists over automobile drivers and the result is a clean, quiet metropolitan haven for pedestrians and cyclists.

Tel Aviv has made great strides in the past few years with the introduction of the Tel-o-Fun bike share system and the introduction of many bike lanes and paths around the city. However, much more could be done to truly make Tel Aviv a more bike-friendly place:

1. Connect the dots in bike lanes: While Tel Aviv already has dedicated bike lanes on main thoroughfares around the city (Ben Tsion, Rothschild, Ibn Gavirol, etc.) there are still large gaps where it is dangerous and uncomfortable to be a cyclist. Over time, the municipality should seek to add additional space for bike lanes on both sides of the street when renovating roads, even if it comes at the expense of street parking. While Tel Aviv also obviously has a parking problem, prioritizing cycling is better for the city in the long run.

2. Increase visibility of bike lanes: Most Israeli drivers still seem unaware of existing bike lanes, which are not always well-defined. In Copenhagen, many bike lanes are completely separate from the main street or painted in an unmistakable bright blue. Tel Aviv can do more to make their bike paths visible and to educate citizens on their existence.

3. Institute a bike traffic light system: Just like Israeli drivers, Israeli cyclists are not always apt to follow the rules, upping the chance of accidents. Instituting a separate traffic light system for cyclists in high traffic areas may go a long way in curbing bad behavior.

4. Institute a car/congestion tax: If Tel Aviv really wants to get serious about making Tel Aviv a biking-predominant city, it could institute additional tax penalties for driving a car in the city at certain hours of the day, similar to London. The revenue raised from these taxes can be reinvested in improvements to public transport and the bike lanes.

5. Crack down on bike theft: Bike theft is a huge problem in Tel Aviv; most of my bike riding friends expect theirs to be stolen at one point or another. In Copenhagen, most cyclists have a simple rear wheel lock and don’t even tie their bikes to poles. Tel Aviv can crack down on rampant bike theft by increasing penalties for stealing, and by upping the presence of security cameras in areas where many bikes are parked. Over time, as bike culture becomes more predominant and normalized, theft should become less of a problem.

6. Improve the UX on Tel-o-Fun rental terminals: While many kinks and bugs have already been worked out over the past few years, many locals and tourists alike agree that the Tel-o-Fun kiosks do not always provide a user-friendly experience. The on-screen instructions can be confusing, asking for what seems like a lot of superfluous information (like asking for an Israeli ID number…which no tourist would have). There have also been problems accepting international credit cards. The municipality should take a broader look at the entire process and solve the nagging UX pain points which hinder usage and adoption.

Danish design in general is all about embracing accessibility and mass production while still maintaining some elegance and beauty. The wonderful bike lane system in Copenhagen is a perfect example of that spirit, as it’s both accessible to everyone and makes the city more beautiful and pleasant in the process.

Though Tel Aviv can never really be a calm, placid Nordic fairy tale (nor would we want it to be!), it could certainly take a page from Copenhagen when continuing to develop its already vibrant cycling culture and infrastructure.

Adam Winograd is a Marketing Manager & Brand Strategist at ANTARTICA.