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    Danish way mates bicycles and birds

    The swans are common now in Copenhagen, where 36 percent of school and work commuters bicycle and another 35 percent walk or take public transit.
    Derrick Jackson for The Boston Globe
    The swans are common now in Copenhagen, where 36 percent of school and work commuters bicycle and another 35 percent walk or take public transit.

    COPENHAGEN — The clump of marsh was still mesmerizing. It was virtually adjacent to a bustling bicycle and pedestrian trail rimming the rectangular artificial lakes in the heart of the city. Four years ago in early April, I paused during a morning jog to watch as a mute swan moved from its nest only a few feet from my feet, revealing an egg. When I brought my wife back the next day to show her the nest, there were two eggs.

    Last April I returned to the same spot. A swan rose, showing eight eggs. A second swan swam in, circled the nest, and bent its head as if to inspect the eggs. Then, apparently satisfied that all were accounted for, it slowly lowered itself for nesting duty.

    The swan, once nearly driven to breeding extinction, is Denmark’s national bird. A city could have no better symbol for what happens when you (pun intended) mute traffic.


    With more than 200 miles of cycle tracks that are protected from cars, buses, and trucks, 36 percent of work and school commutes here are by pedal, and another 39 percent are by public transit or foot. Cars account for 25 percent.

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    As part of its goal of being a carbon-neutral city by 2025, Copenhagen has a bike-commuting goal of 50 percent by 2015. “Cycling is not a goal in itself, but rather a highly prioritized political tool for creating a more livable city,” said Ayfer Baykal, mayor for the environment.

    This livable city also offers a world of nature that clearly trusts the human presence. Almost as stunning as my return to the swans’ nest was a revisit to Frederiksberg Have, a park in the heart of the city with an island rookery for gray herons.

    The birds are so used to baby strollers and joggers that they sometimes land right by paths, lining up as if to be a greeting party. One morning a local legend known as the Heron Man showed up with a bag of dried fish. As people like me gawked and took pictures, he drew herons near with his food and motioned for some to jump up on the bench with him, which several did.

    In Boston, where bike paths and pedestrian trails line a cleaned-up Charles River, we are seeing signs of restored nature, from red-tailed hawks to black-crowned night herons snatching alewife out of the water during the spring run.


    We are starting to see resident mute swans again, drifting from the Newton boat house down to the Longfellow Bridge. The day those swans lay eggs in full view of passing cyclists, joggers, and walkers, we can declare we have restored the trust of nature.

    Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at