What is it that makes the Danes cycle so much? A fundamental trait is that people who cycle experience a long list of advantages in their daily activities. It is, quite simply, easier to move around the cities by bike than by any other means of transport; in addition, with a bicycle almost anybody can be mobile of their own accord from childhood to old age. Cyclists can run errands on the way to their destinations, and can stop and talk to others without any problems. No one needs to drive their children to school or after-school activities, because they can get there on their own. In effect, the Danes cycle across their differences in age and income.
The background for all this delightful everyday cycling is that over many years a fine-meshed network of cycle tracks has been constructed along with other measures that prioritise bicycles. It is all easy to use, and cycle tracks aren’t something you need to look for: They come to you as you go.
Perhaps the journey begins in a traffic-calmed residential area where bicycles and cars share the space and move at low speed. The trip continues through a high street, and a cycle track appears, giving comfort and safety as the journey continues. One takes a short cut through a one-way street where bicycles are allowed in both directions. At the next big intersection, cyclists get 5-6 seconds of green time before the motorists, so they can move swiftly and safely across the intersection.
The advantage of the Danish model
The cycle tracks are part of a simple and user-friendly system, where the municipality can easily add or extend cycle tracks according to need. The typical cycle track is designed to be the same in its position in the street profile from one street to the next. First comes the footpath with its own curb; on the outside of this is the cycle track also with its own curb; then, the parked cars, followed by the moving traffic. This is the formula of the ”Copenhagen style cycle tracks”, which in recent years have served as an inspiration to both New York and Melbourne, Australia. The cyclists feel safe and have the feel of an invitation-only audience on the cycle tracks because they are segregated from the traffic lanes by a curb.
Surveys of the cycle tracks in Copenhagen from the 1970s to after the turn of the millennium (1) show that every time the municipality has established a cycle track, the number of cyclists (2) in that street increased by 18-20%, and the number of cars fell by 9-10%. Cycle lanes that were marked with a white stripe on the asphalt in the same placement as the cycle track had no effect on the number of cars, but still resulted in a 5-7% increase in the number of cyclists. During the last ten years, the number of people who cycle in Copenhagen has almost doubled while the number of serious accidents has been cut in half. No wonder the citizens are happy about their cycle tracks—and that the outside world finds them inspiring!
By Lars Gemzøe, Architect, Gehl Architect, Copenhagen
Note 1: Effekten af Cykelstier og cykelbaner [The Effect of Cycle Tracks and Cycle Lanes], Søren Underlien Jensen, Oct., 2006, Trafitec, Forskerparken, Scion-DTU, p. 3
Note 2: The increasing number includes both cyclists and moped riders. Mopeds with a maximum speed of 30 km/h must ride on the cycle tracks in Denmark, but they are very few in the over all image of cycle traffic in Copenhagen.