Traffic calming – A cyclist’s best friend?

| November 18, 2010

An interview with Anne Mette Lundbirk, Engineer and head of new projects for the City of Frederiksberg’s Road and Park Department

Cities in Denmark are continually developing and testing new cycle-friendly policies and facilities to make it easier for people to choose to ride, not drive. Often, their efforts focus on how to make streets safer and more accommodative for cyclists. The City of Frederiksberg focuses their efforts on creating a safe cycling environment, both as a way to guide the city’s planning decisions and as a way to build public and political support for cycling.

Today in Frederiksberg, the number of daily bicycle trips exceeds the number of daily automobile trips. One of the secrets to Frederiksberg’s success in shifting people from car to bike, has been the city’s ability to implement creative traffic calming measures on the city’s busy streets. Traffic calming has played a major role in the city’s attempt to simultaneously increase the number of cyclists and decrease the number of cyclist injuries. The result is a city where the number of severely injured cyclists has significantly decreased, even though the modal-share of bicycle trips increased from 25% in 2003, to 34% in 2009.

As the most densely populated municipality in Denmark, the City of Frederiksberg is under constant pressure from all road users to increase capacity. We asked Anne Mette Lundbirk to talk a bit about the competing demands between cyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles. In particular, we asked her to talk about the city’s traffic calming efforts and the role they play in creating a safer and more encouraging cycling environment.

What guiding principles do you use to allocate your limited road space?
“We have narrow streets in Frederiksberg and everyone wants it all in this very small space. We try to focus on cyclists, particularly if the numbers justify it. Our Municipal Plan states that we must have cycle lanes on all the major roads in Frederiksberg. So, there is agreement at a high level of planning that we must prioritize bike lanes. This is a huge help when we need to make the case to politicians that we need a bike lane on a heavily trafficked road. The big challenge is that our elected officials also want to preserve automobile parking spaces. To accommodate this requirement, we move the cars to the smaller side streets. We often have to take part of the sidewalk and part of the roadway to make room for cyclists.”

Your website lists no less than 11 major traffic calming construction projects which have been or are soon to be completed in Frederiksberg. Why the emphasis on traffic calming?
“Every year we issue a safety report on the number of cycling accidents. It shows a significant number of accidents involving cyclists. This enables us to report these figures to our elected leaders and they tend to respond: “OK, that’s right, we have to do something.” We want to calm traffic and build cycle lanes to increase the number of cyclists in Frederiksberg so we can reduce the number of cars in the street. It’s a kind of positive feedback loop to reinforce cycling as the predominant mode transport and move people from cars to bikes. Furthermore, it’s important to combine cycle lanes with other initiatives so that you can make it better also for the pedestrians.”

Cyclists flooding into a new “bike box” ahead of traffic as the light turns green

How strongly will traffic calming and new and improved cycle paths contribute to the municipalities goal of “80% of all trips under 5 km to be made by bicycle or on foot.”?
“Very strongly, because when you get the speeds down, the roads become safer for everyone. We try to focus on the most heavily trafficked intersections and corridors in addition to the problem-areas that residents identify. After all, they know where the main problems are since they are out testing the roads every day. We place very high importance on listening to our constituents.”

Any experience with reducing the posted speed limits on major roads in Frederiksberg?
“We have reduced a few sections from 50kph to 40kph, but for many reasons this is difficult on the bigger roads. So, instead of attempting to reduce the speed limit, we narrow the road and change the overall appearance of the road so that visually the driver is cued to slow down.”

Is traffic calming succeeding in reducing accidents and increasing the number of cyclists in your city?
“Every time we do a project, we measure the actual speed of traffic before and after. In each case, actual speed goes down and the number of accidents decline. Speaking to neighbors before and after the project is also a good way to measure effectiveness and to fine-tune any remaining problems.”

How do you prioritize investments into Frederiksberg’s cycling infrastructure?
“We have a list of our biggest ‘problem roads’ from a safety perspective in Frederiksberg. We continually update this list with accident figures, actual speed data, priorities identified by schoolchildren, public complaints received by the department, etc. Effective cycle planning requires a steady stream of reliable data and a two-way dialog with citizens, including children. You need both the hard and the soft data to make your case for more investment and improvements”

In pictures: Calming traffic in Frederiksberg

Cyclist passing by a series of “pedestrian strongholds”. Cars slow when passing through streets with raised surfaces. Strongholds also help pedestrians cross safely through two bike lanes and two cycle lanes.

Separated by trees, “parking pockets” form a buffer zone between the cycle track and the automobile lane. Pockets can be used for either car or bike parking.

Lots of thick white paint used to slow drivers and direct cycle traffic.

Solid blue cycle lanes alert cyclists and drivers to be more aware at busy intersections. In Frederiksberg’s experience, drivers are more aware if solid colors are used sparingly only to highlight areas of importance.

Ryan Horton, urban planner and guest contributor for Cycling Embassy of Denmark.

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Category: Danish Cycling Know How, Infrastructure, Safety

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