A cycling city and one of the safest

Citizens have embraced the cycling culture. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO
Citizens have embraced the cycling culture. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO  

On a calm, cloudy Wednesday evening, a woman walks into a restaurant terrace in Copenhagen, Denmark. I expect her to go inside the restaurant with her groceries and the baby sleeping in a stroller. She doesn’t.

She parks the baby stroller in a designated spot and places her shopping bags beneath. To our utter surprise, (I was with a Nigerian and a Mexican), the woman walked into the restaurant leaving her child and shopping unattended.

‘‘If you did that in Mexico, your purchases will be gone in a minute! And someone will kidnap that baby then ask for ransom. Crime rates in my country are so high,” said Luciana González, a 34-year-old Mexican, in disbelief.

When it comes to safety and sanity, most cities in Africa including Nairobi and Abuja are no better.

Our guide told us, ‘‘here we just leave things outside buildings and no one bothers with them. That’s how it’s always been. Even if you leave your mobile phone or valuables in a bus, someone will alert the attendants. And they will keep it for you.”

No wonder Denmark was ranked among the top 10 nations where people enjoy the highest quality of life (based on the 2017 Social Progress Index Report).

In Denmark, the economic wealth is distributed in a manner that benefits all citizens. The rich and the poor enjoy the same high quality of education and healthcare, which is free for all. They are also guaranteed good shelter and decent living conditions.

“That’s why Denmark is sometimes considered an expensive country. Things cost much more here, and we’re heavily taxed. But that’s okay I guess, since the government makes the money work for the good of everyone,” said our guide.

Such policies have helped to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. As a result, Denmark does not have a high population of angry, disillusioned and desperate individuals who feel neglected or let down by the society and who retaliate by engaging in crimes to make ends meet.

This has been a major contributor to the low crime rates in the country.

While visiting Amsterdam in Netherlands, I asked a Dutch taxi driver about life there. He said his son and the king’s child attend the same school.

“So I know that even though the king is way up there, my child has an equal chance of getting the best education for free and making it in life just as the royal children,” he said.

Both Denmark and Netherlands also enjoy a high quality of life as citizens embrace a healthy work-life balance that is entrenched in employment policies.

On weekends, Amsterdam and Copenhagen resemble holiday towns with many people sight-seeing, riding boats and dining out with friends along street cafeterias.

But come Monday, the streets are quiet. People get back to work.

“Here we value work. But it’s a means to an end so we don’t overdo it. Once you’ve saved for rent or mortgage and have money for food and daily upkeep, the rest is for vacation and enjoyment with friends,” said the taxi driver.

Another striking feature in both countries (Denmark and Netherlands) is the cycling culture, which coupled with diets, has helped to enhance fitness levels and boost people’s health.

Unlike in African countries including Kenya where bicycles are seen as a poor man’s mode of transport, cycling is considered ‘cool’ in these developed nations.

It has been embraced by people from all works of life irrespective of their socio-economic status due to its perceived health benefits.

So, it is not uncommon for wealthy people or CEOs dressed in expensive suits arriving for important business meetings on bicycles.

In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, there are more bicycles than cars. Residents ride bicycles to work, to visit friends or to run errands in town.

They rarely drive cars over short distances. Streets and buildings have large designated spaces for bicycles, similar to Nairobi’s car parking slots.