How Danish design boosts cycling in cities

Danish design is famed for it’s functionality and this trait can be seen in its cycling infrastructure. Can you imagine a local authority engineer in the UK installing a footrest at traffic lights so you can comfortably wait while still sat in the saddle?

How about small concrete ramps to help cyclists get their machines up raised kerbs where bike racks sit? And do you know what the Copenhagen authorities have done where they noticed pronounced numbers of cyclists were cutting corners on the cycle route network?

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They mapped these patterns, weighed up the impact on other modes of transport and, where feasible, installed new cycle paths along these so called ‘desire lines’.

One of Copenhagens bike bridges

“The city’s latest cycling strategy, is basically about speed, directness and good conditions,” explained Copenhagen’s transport boss Niels Tørsløv when I went to see him in the council’s offices. “It’s the same principle that was applied to the highways system in the 60s, only now it’s being applied to cycling.”

This is why new cycle bridges have been going up across the harbour and cycle lanes have been made wider than their adjacent road carriageway in places. It’s also why along five of the busiest routes from the suburbs into the centre, the traffic lights have been phased to stay green for a cyclist averaging 20kph.

“Because of this I don’t have to stop on the main section of my commute at all,” one cyclist told me. “That’s along Nørrebrogade: a very busy street, with shops and businesses and 17 sets of lights.”

According to Søren Bom, of the city council’s communication department, this ‘green wave’ has reduced average cycling travel times down that particular section of road from 11 minutes to seven and a half. With the ‘green wave’ switching direction between the morning and evening rush hours, it means time is saved on many of the 38,000 bike journeys made along that route each day. 

“But it’s not really even about the minutes,” notes Bom. “The best thing about it is the feeling of not having to keep stopping and starting.”

Copenhageners know they’re onto a good thing when the council are thinking like that.

Bike-friendly enough?


Did you know?
When snow falls in Copenhagen, miniature snow ploughs are out clearing the cycle lanes sooner than the road network.


NEAT IDEA: Going undercover
Both cyclists comfort and speed were a big design consideration in the redevelopment of Copenhagen’s North Harbour.

“The whole backbone to the layout of the infrastructure in this area is a Cycling Superhighway,” explained Niels Tørsløv, who admitted they’d been inspired in concept if not design by London’s well meaning but arguably flawed blue lanes. Here, though, instead of just splashing some paint along the busiest arterial roads as London does, this next generation of cycle path runs directly and uninterruptedly beneath a new metro line.

“It’s covered!” confirmed Tørsløv as the rain beat against his office window. “On a day like today you’d barely notice it was raining. The whole layout of the infrastructure in this area will be very high comfort. The direct routes here will be the cycling routes. If you go out there by car, you have to go round the houses.”

Related links
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen