Denmark Should Not Guide Calgary’s Transportation Policy

(Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or the positions of BOMA Calgary.)

So, the Scandinavian visitors [] are perplexed by Canadians’ apparent car-dependency which was the subject of a recent article in the Calgary Herald [] . Let’s give the matter perspective:


Canada Denmark Calgary Copenhagen
Population 35,000,000 (2013) 5,590,000 (2013)[i] 1,300,000[ii] 1,975,361[iii]
Land Area 9,984,000 Km2 43,094 Km2 2,778.3 Km2[iv] 86.2 Km2
Population Density 1554.8/Km2[v] 130.1/Km2 825.29/Km2 6,600/Km2[vi]
Longest Dimension 5,514 Km E-W n/a 37.15Km(N-S) 9.65Km (N-S)
Average Monthly Mean Temperature n/a[vii] 8C 4.1C 8C


Denmark is an older city, first established in the 11th century, while Calgary is a creation of the 19th century. In its older areas, the streets of Copenhagen are narrow and there is significant reliance on public transportation, which includes main-line rail, S-train, regional train, metro, bus and a well-developed cycling system. The land is fairly flat with elevation changes not more than 30 metres in some areas. Average mean monthly temperatures are above freezing. Point being, it is fairly easy getting around. However, Copenhagen has an extensive road network including motorways connecting the city to other parts of Denmark and to Sweden over the Øresund Bridge. The car is still the most popular   form of transport within the city itself, representing two-thirds of all distances travelled. This can however lead to serious congestion in rush hour traffic.

Calgary is a relatively new city only recently attaining a population greater than 1 million, and, it is still growing, while Copenhagen lost population between 2012 and 2013. Calgary has one of the largest urban footprints of North American cities, which undoubtedly will continue to grow along with the city’s population. The number of cyclists in Calgary is growing too, but distance and climate, as well as limited facilities, is a barrier to greater use.

copenhagenbike02In Copenhagen, about 36% of all commuter traffic is on bicycles. Impressive yes, but it is a significant decline from the immediate post-war period when cycling was the best of but a few options. But as wealth increased in the 1960s and 1970s, cycling dropped to 10% modal share. Local policy sets a target of 50% cycling by 2015. That certainly is an ambitious objective. Calgary by comparison is looking to increase its numbers to the low single digits.

As one who rides a bike to work periodically – and I confess I ride only during good weather, I get the whole bike thing. It doesn’t really bother me at all and I encourage all who wish to ride to do so. I respect that. But when it comes to the reality of moving about in Calgary, the best option always comes back to the car. It’s just the way it is, like it or not.

Policy makers must leave the emotion and the ideology behind and consider data, facts and practicality in determining transportation policy.


[i] A decrease of 98,000 from 2012
[ii] Calgary CMA 2014
[iii] Metropolitan. City proper is 569,557
[iv] Calgary CMA 5,107 Km2
[v] Urban places with populations greater than 1,000
[vi] Metropolitan density 702/Km2
[vii] Canada has 11 climate zones, Denmark 1 so comparison of average mean national temperatures is not particularly relevant.