Denmark has learned the answer to an open secret; people feel unsafe cycling in the same lanes as cars. By developing bicycle infrustructure to improve the safety and efficiency of cycling, people embrace a more healthy, sustainable, environmentally-friendly form of transportation. The results speak for themself.
Separated Bicycle Lanes: The easiest way to overcome people’s fear of cars is by providing separate bicycle lanes. While a physical barrier is the most ideal separation, even a demarcation as simple as a painted line provides a sense of security. In Copenhagen, bicycle lanes along major arteries are elevated and separated by a small barrier (~5 cm/2 inches). While that might not seem like much, it is all that is necessary to instill confidence in cyclists.
In certain areas, physical barriers are not possible. In some intersections, bicycle lanes are denoted by solid blue paint. However, they are used only sparingly at major intersections to prevent motorists becoming immune to their purpose.
On arteries with less traffic, bicycle lanes are denoted by painted lines and on side streets, there is no demarcation at all. However, speed limits are usually restricted to 30kph (18mph) and many of these streets have “Traffic Calming” features such as speed bumps or “choke points”, barriers which narrow the street from 2 lanes down to one.
In particularly busy streets such as Nørrebrogade, automotive traffic has been routed to other traffic corridors and the space used to widen bicycle lanes in order to handle the volume of bicycle traffic. In some places, these lanes are capable of handling three and even four cyclists abreast.
Traffic lights: Intersections are the most dangerous zone for drivers and cyclists alike. To ensure the safety of cyclists, Copenhagen has installed separate traffic lights for cyclists and motorists. The ones for cyclists are smaller and are installed at a lower level to aid visibility. The greatest benefit of having independent light systems is that lights can be set on a different cycle. Thus, city planners program the bicycle lights to change several seconds in advance of the ones for motorists. This allows cyclists to enter the intersection a few seconds before motorists, dramatically reducing the likelihood of injury.
The Green Wave: Perhaps the most famous feature of Copenhagen’s bicycle system is what is affectionately known as the Grøn Bølge, or “Green Wave”. On major arteries such as Nørrebrogade and Østerbrogade, bicycle traffic lights are synchronized so that cyclists travelling at 20kph (12 mph) catch a wave of green lights into or out of the city. The “Green Wave” is only implemented during rush hour (in the morning going into the city, in the afternoon leaving the city) to limit the effects on automotive traffic the rest of the day.
Parking: Beside the basics of the bicycle infrastructure outlined above, the city has implemented numerous other features which promote bicycle use in the city. Transportation hubs and other major public squares are well equipped with bicycle racks, although it can be somewhat chaotic at locations such as Nørreport Station as there are so many bicycles. There is currently discussion at the municipal level how to deal with the problem but no solutions readily apparent. Then again, it is an enviable problem to have…
Bicycles and Public Transit: People often commute/travel longer distances than practical to cycle so it only makes sense that the bicycle infrustructure be integrated with the public transit system. Bicycles are permitted on all urban and regional trains including the Metro, S-train and Øresundståg. A ticket supplement is required to take a bicycle on the Metro (12DKK?) while it is free on the S-train (I am unsure about the Øresundståg). Both the S-train and Øresundståg have cars specifically designated for bicycles, denoted by the symbol of a bicycle. A clever bicycle rack is installed although these racks often overflow during rush hour.
Ease of Use/Access: With the cross-functional nature of Copenhagen’s cycle system, convenience and ease of access are a major focus. Most train and metro stations are equipped with elevators and bicycle ramps to allow you to transport your bicycle into the station without having to lift it. They are also present in most stairwells, making it that much more convenient to travel by bike.
Another clever feature (although not that common) is the installation of foot rests at certain intersections. This allows cyclists to wait at the light without having to step down from the bike.
A final feature of the system is the availability of bicycle pumps. Although this is not provided by the municipality, there are countless bicycle shops scattered throughout the city and many of them have bicycle pumps situated outside for people to inflate their tires. Collectively, all of these features make cycling a fun, safe and efficient means of transportation in the city.