Mia Birk benchmarked the cycling upsurge of Portland, Oregon; Janette Sadik-Khan, Manhattan and Brooklyn; Pete Jordan, Amsterdam; and Talking Heads’ David Byrne chronicled his experience in dozens of other cities in the USA and abroad.
Now we have Mikael Colville-Andersen opining his version of the Copenhagen success story in Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism. The continued popularity of books like these attests to a resurgence that erupted on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1970’s. The overarching goal: to tame the automobile and reclaim the streetscape at the scale of two wheels and a wicker basket.
Here, the author of renders a litany of do’s and don’ts on myriad topics. Many are familiar to bicycle and pedestrian planners, and range from legal and liability issues to the importance of tracking metrics and closely monitoring travel behavior. As expected, the core of his disposition reveals how Copenhagen, Denmark, where the busiest street carries 40,000 bike trips per day, sets the bar for cities around the world.
As a bicycle planning consultant and TEDx speaker best known for his popular Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, Colville-Andersen lays out the case for the Danish approach to infrastructure design (although, if one reads carefully, he occasionally confesses the Dutch do a better job). In principle, this translates to network design that is uncomplicated and deliberate, or as he states it, is “practical, functional and elegant.” He defends the many examples in his toolbox, some dating back generations, as the very foundation of what he calls “the life-sized city.”
The core of his case rests on the premise that an “elegant” infrastructure is one that optimizes “intuitive” travel anywhere within the overall network — as effortless as finding a light switch within arm’s reach when entering a room. The intuitive model, he argues, should be the standard for all cities, not just world champions like Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, or other of his favorites, such as Strasbourg, France or Antwerp, Belgium.
And what are the key network characteristics? Some of these have been cited earlier, but they beg reaffirmation:
Travel routes should match desire lines, otherwise the cyclist will simply ignore the bike path and take a direct route. Cycling routes should be continuous from suburb to city center, and located on main streets, not side streets. The author eschews bicycle boulevards, which thread through residential zones in Portland, Berkeley, and elsewhere in the USA, ridiculing such designs as dysfunctional “detours,” and he detests painted “sharrows” on low volume streets.
Colville-Andersen affirms one-way (as opposed to two-way) cycle-tracks, which typically run next to the street at curb height. Such traffic separation assures safety and speed in urban contexts. But he cautions that they must be smooth, composed of asphalt, not pavers, and as free of gravel, snow and debris as car lanes. Cycle-tracks should be wide. Wide enough for cyclists to ride side-by-side, which in Copenhagen is at least 7.5 feet.
As one might have guessed, traffic control signage and pictograms, the kind that litter American cities, is anathema to the author. Intuitive cycling shouldn’t require much in the way of signage, even way-finding.
Bikes should have preference over cars at traffic lights, not only for safety considerations, but because maintaining proper “cycling momentum” in an urban context is crucial. The recent Copenhagen innovation, Green Wave, has traffic lights that are timed to coincide with the pace cyclists (not cars) travel. One can only envy a city where it is possible to legally and safely whisk through a succession of street intersections without stopping.
The long view is important and a chapter is set aside tracing the historical ups and downs beginning in 1892 when an equestrian trail was converted to Copenhagen’s first bikeway. In another he disputes the many myths about Copenhagen’s success story that others use as excuses for not doing a better job of their own.
One distinguishing and indisputable fact, however, is Copenhagen’s bicycle budget, which averaged $31.7 million per year from 2006-2016. With budgets like that it isn’t all that difficult for bicycling advocates to imagine a day in their own cities when the largest traffic swarms during rush hour will be composed of more bikes than cars.
This guest post is by Martin Zimmerman, who writes from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is an urban planner, journalist, consultant and daily cyclist.