New York Times. National Public Radio. Huffington Post. All have recently reported on one of the latest Danish cycling projects: Cycling Superhighways. The first of 26, dubbed the C99, opened last April to connect the town of Albertslund to Copenhagen (22 km). Two more will open this fall. This project necessitated collaboration between the Capitol region of Denmark and 18 municipalities – an impressive organizational feat in and of itself. With all the publicity in the US, the Superhighway became a must-see (or must-ride) on my Copenhagen itinerary.
The goal of the superhighways is to provide an easy route between outlying suburbs and the Copenhagen City Center – a way to promote cycling for those that have a longer commute to work or school. 48% of Copenhagen cyclists say that the main reason they choose the bicycle is that it’s the fastest and easiest way to get around. As such, the focus for increasing trips to work and school by bicycle – currently at 36% and higher than cars, public transit, or walking – is to continue to make travel times competitive with other forms of transportation. When commuting distances are longer, travel time becomes even more important. Too many brief stops, detours, and stretches where overtaking is impossible make travel times much longer. Hence, the need for the development of “superhighways.”
Biking the C99 was quite a pleasure, allowing me to experience the project for myself as well as visit new areas of Greater Copenhagen. However, it was not something entirely new. Rather than paving a new “freeway” for cyclists, the project rests on improved integration of existing tracks, with the addition of some necessary connectors, and implementation of new technologies such as Intelligent Traffic System, Green Wave, and detecting groups of cyclists and prioritizing them at intersections. Green Wave technology times lights so cyclists biking at an average speed will not have to stop. Intelligent Traffic System transforms the street from being static to dynamic by using LED light in the asphalt to signal which transport form has priority and when. For example, cycle tracks can be widened into the sidewalk during rush hour to accommodate increased bikers. In total, the project is holistic in nature, even incorporating partnerships with companies to improve facilities for employees choosing to bike to work.
The superhighways are a perfect example of Denmark’s three pronged approach to promoting cycling, as described to me by Secretariat of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, Mai-Britt Kristenson: infrastructure, campaigns, and appreciation. According to the Embassy, one cannot establish a cycling culture without a combination of the three. Firstly, the infrastructure allows cycling to become a viable option. Secondly, campaigns like the Danish Bike to School and Bike to Work promote and inform residents about cycling in Copenhagen. And thirdly, small additions like footrests and handrails – allowing cyclists to stay mounted on bikes while waiting for the light to change – are a way to say “thank you for cycling,” sending the message that cyclists are part of a group that matters.
The superhighways are just one way that Denmark, and Copenhagen in particular, is working to establish itself as the leader in urban cycling. While cycling policies should be created unique to a region and city, Copenhagen and Denmark can provide inspiration to other policymakers. In fact, cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Portland have all visited Copenhagen this summer for such inspiration. While I am often blinded by the huge lead countries like Denmark have in cycling, Mai-Britt reminded me of the unique role for the US. As the iconic car-centric nation, our transition to biking can be extremely powerful to other car-centric counties. If the United States can become bike-friendly, any country can. We can become a leader in our own right.
“Cycling is not a goal in itself but rather a highly prioritized political tool for creating a more livable city.” –Ayfer Baykal, Mayor of Technical and Environmental Administration, Copenhagen
For more information about cycling in Copenhagen, please visit www.kk.dk/cityofcyclists