26 August 2009

Copenhagen Bicycle Superhighways

Copenhagen has motorways, just like anywhere else. Being the capital city and the main metropolis in the region, all roads and railways lead to Copenhagen. The geographical layout of the city located on the sea resembles an outstretched palm with five fingers of infrastructure all funnelling towards the spot on the wrist where the pulse is found.

There are two main motorways leading to the city from afar. The E20 brings traffic from the rest of the nation and the rest of Europe to the south. It continues on over the bridge to Sweden and on to Stockholm. The E47 sweeps down from the north, where ferries arrive from Sweden.

Then there is a network of motorways that slice through the urban sprawl, bringing commuters into Copenhagen from different directions.

I rode out along the #16 Motorway the other day and the film, above, is the result. The #16 isn't that long. It starts about 30 km out, deep in surburbia near the town of Hillerød. From it's source it is already a funnel for a catchment area farther north. In addition, it picks up traffic from the urban sprawl along its length. When it approaches the city limits, three southbound lanes narrow to two and traffic is reduced to a crawl.

Ironically, most of the motorists have driven past a series of S-train stations with frequent departures, all leading to stations in Copenhagen.

But enough about that. What may be interesting is that along much of the length of the #16 there are separated bicycle lanes running parallel on both sides. Bicycle superhighways, as it were. Similar parallel bicycle routes run along many of the other motorways. One example can be seen in this post about me cycling to IKEA along the #19.

These parallel routes have been in place for a long while and are not to be confused with the new 13 super routes I wrote about not long ago. Those 13 routes are mostly being developed along regular city streets along the various fingers of the outstretched palm to boost bicycle traffic.

These parallel bicycle superhighways give people on bikes the opportunity to ride if they so desire. Along the #16 there are between 2000-4000 cyclists each day in both directions. Most traffic follows the motorized rush hour, but there a number of large companies farther out and people can ride away from the city in the morning.

Providing super routes along the motorways is logical. You don't get people to ride bicycles if you wag your finger about 'saving the planet' or blabbing on about 'getting healthy'. You get people to ride by providing safe and very direct routes to where they want to go.

Not where YOU want them to go... where THEY want to go. In the 1980's the City of Copenhagen tried to create bicycle routes through the city away from the busy streets. Thinking, logically and intuitively, that people would take short detours and add a few minutes to their commute in order to get away from traffic.

They were wrong. People continued to cycle along the most direct routes. People on bikes are no different than people in cars or on trains. They want to get where they're going as quick as possible. The result was that the City shrugged and starting the development of separated infrastructure along busy streets. It continues to expand to this day. The majority of cycling Copenhageners, when asked what their main reason for cycling is, say that it is because it is quick and easy. There's the rub.

Back to the #16. I used to ride out of town each day when I worked at Danish Broadcasting's former headquarters. Rain or shine, snow or wind - or both. Many cyclists on this route come from farther afield so it's here that you'll see some lycra and gear but there are also many, many cyclists that just pedal along in their normal clothes. Men and women alike - an almost even split even out there.

bicycle superhighway in copenhagen
Here's a satellite shot of a major motorway junction a few kilometres farther north from where I shot the film. You can see the bike lanes in blue. There are underpasses for the lanes in order to keep things quick and easy. In this photo you can see that the lanes are in the north-south direction, but there are no clear lanes on the motorway running east-west. Simply because the traffic is heading to and from Copenhagen and not along the ring motorway around the city. Sure, there are bicycle friendly streets in the neighbourhoods if you HAVE to ride that way but you don't build infrastructure where there is no potential traffic.
bicycle superhighway in copenhagen
In this photo, closer to the spot where the motorway ends and enters the city, the network of bicycle lanes is more pronounced. The parallel lanes still run through underpasses but there are lanes branching out in all directions.

The very best thing is that you get to roll happily past cars stuck in traffic, as you can see in the film. This direct and very visual aspect is a bonus to riding on the route. It can only serve to encourage those on bicycles to keep on doing it and, hopefully, encourage motorists to consider choosing the bicycle.


JPTwins said...

great post! i love learning more about this kind of thing. Most interesting was your comment about "people [taking] short detours and add a few minutes to their commute in order to get away from traffic. They were wrong."

Here in Boston,USA since there is very little bike infrastructure, i will always add a few miles to my ride if it means i get to ride away from the cars. But it sounds like Copenhagen listened to its people, and built the on-street infrastructure, so that essentially people ARE riding away from traffic... it just happens to be on the same roads. Brilliant!

Erik Sandblom said...

It always astonishes me how space much those cloverleaf junctions take up.

It's easy to do the math on how much traffic is actually moving. Assume there are six lanes, three seconds between each car and 1,5 people per car. That's 5400 people per direction each hour.

You mentioned the S-tog. Assume each train has 600 seats and there's 9 trains per hour (like from Ballerup). That's 5400 seats per direction, and in rush hour they're all full. So the double-track railway is actually carrying the same traffic as the six-lane highway.

Get more trains and you can double it to 20 trains/hour without expanding the track or stations, and you have 12 000 seats per hour. That's more capacity than a 12-lane highway, still using only two train tracks!

dr2chase said...

Erik -- a friend of mine who once worked in Traffic Engineering (got a degree in it, even) remarked that the standard maximum metric is 1500 cars per hour per lane, and that there was one intersection in Houston where the locals were miraculously managing to pump through over 1600 cars per hour.

Here near Boston, on the Longfellow bridge, when the time comes (soon) to do major repairs on the T tracks, the plan is to take away 2 traffic lanes and run the trains there temporarily. This, because the T carries more people than a mere two lanes of traffic, especially at rush hour, when the subway cars are packed like sardine tins.

Byplanlæggercyklistselvbygger said...

Only real downfall is the polution from the cars, when running along the motorway :-(

Moderator said...

Excellent video. Thank you for posting!

Mikael said...

the levels of pollution are higher INSIDE the cars than beside them.
read here

Anonymous said...

"You get people to ride by providing safe and very direct routes to where they want to go.

Not where YOU want them to go... where THEY want to go."

This is an ongoing battle between urban planners and citizens in every city. Bicycles are just the tip of the iceberg. If the subject interests you, I would suggest looking at the excellent blog on "spatial justice" and "military urbanism" called subtopia. It will open your eyes to how your government views public space.


Anonymous said...

Sweet. In rebuilding the main artery in St Louis, MoDOT designed the expanded highway (the New 64) without one mile of needed bike lanes and even pedestrian bridges are few and FAR between. The new Metro Extension (light rail) originally had a bike-jogging path alongside but it was eliminated due to other cost overruns.

It's amazing that "enlightened" engineers and political leadership in the States ignore the obvious benefits of providing healthy, sustainable and people friendly infrastructure. It's really hard to accept how far behind the curve our wealthy nation remains.

Lene said...

I knew you wouldn't publish my post

Lene said...

Just like everything else in our country...we're the best, we're so green, we're the model country, blah, blah, blah. But hide all the comments contrary to this - no real news. just fluff so we believe we're the happiest people.

Not cool that you deleted my comments.c

Mikael said...

lene... what on earth are you talking about? you're being silly. your comment isn't deleted. it's right where you posted it. On this other post.

Jeg sletter sgu ikke indlæg og bryder mig ikke om anklaget.

Ryan said...

I could never understand why, along the "400 series" of highways here in southern Ontario, dedicated bike-ways were never put in or even thought of. Instead they are increasing the amount of lanes for cars.

On a side note, I was reading on this site the 25 best places to live in the world, Copenhagen ranks number 4.
Here's a quote from it as to why:

"This new-found eminence is due, for the most part, to its dynamic city centre, which has been famously re-tooled and connected to the rest of the city by one of the world's most painstakingly assembled bicycle-path networks."

Here a link to the article also:

Kim said...

I am always amazed that urban planners have so much difficulty in grasping this simple truth:

"You get people to ride by providing safe and very direct routes to where they want to go. Not where YOU want them to go... where THEY want to go."

Brent said...

How does one square the idea that sitting in a car has more pollution than cycling alongside with the results of this study?


William said...

Brent, easily.

(Did you read the link you supplied?)

The study deals with people living close to expressways. It says nothing about people who commute along expressways.

Kevin Love said...

Very interesting. I see that Ryan is also from Ontario. He may be interested in the discussion about crossing the Toronto ring-road by-pass, highway 401.

Basically, downtown Toronto is not bad for cycle-friendliness. Where I live in the Riding of Toronto Centre, the car mode share of commute traffic is at 26% and falling rapidly. New infrastructure is coming along, such as the recent decision to take a car traffic lane on Jarvis Street and turn it into two bicycle traffic lanes.

On major bike lanes, such as Harbord Street, there are so many bikes that there is serious bike congestion and it is difficult for faster riders to pass slower ones.

But, the 401 is well outside the downtown and can be a hair-raising experience to cross. I rather envy the Copenhagen bicycle paths across major highways.

For more discussion, see:


Mikael said...

i read the link and agree that it is not relevant to cyclists, only people living nearby.

interestingly, emissions on a motorway are lower since cars, for the most part, are in motion at an effective level for their motors.

i seem to recall reading that is when cars start and when they stop and go in slow-moving traffic that their emissions are highest.

in other words, in urban centres.

Hua said...

Great blog post. I don't think in the U.S. much thought is given to planning bike lanes. More like an encouragement to 'share the road', on which bikes and cars are not really compatible. Its huge metal beasts vs. the human body. I don't have a car, but my friends get so freaked out every time a biker gets in their lane they're forced either to slow down to 3 mph keeping up with the pace behind the biker, or swerve into the next lane. Pretty dangerous.

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I think your blog would be a really great addition to the biking Community. I invite you to join and find more information about us at http://www.wellsphere.com/health-blogger.

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hua [at] Wellsphere [dot] com

Brent said...

I appreciate the answers on the LA study of motorway vs. the Danish study, but I'm not sure I grasp the distinction between toxin uptake while bicyling along an expressway and toxin uptake while living nearby. To be sure, it may be a matter of overall exposure. Living 24/7 in the plume of pollution is different from gliding through it for an hour or two. It could also be a matter of scale. The Copenhagen traffic featured in the video is dense, but four lanes of (relatively) moderate traffic wouldn't seem to compare to ten packed lanes on LA's I-10.

As it happens, I live just outside the 2 km (1.5 mile) zone mentioned in the UCLA study, and about the same distance from the 405, another major expressway. I live, work, walk, and bicycle near the plume of pollution. I will ride no matter what, but unless my car is so poorly made that it spews toxins out at me while driving, I'm really not sure how I absorb fewer driving than I do while riding.

I'd be curious to see more studies.

Luis Peters said...

¿En qué vehículo se respira menos contaminación?:
(French studies)
I liked very much the differences in the music, they reflect what is seen in the movie.

Anonymous said...

You mention sprawl several times in the post. I just happened to see this article about an 2006 EU study of 24 cities in Western and Northern Europe. The worst sprawl is in the Helsinki area, followed by Copenhagen, Dublin and Brussels. I wasn't surprised to find Helsinki at the bottom, since us Finns are notoriously used to living in a very large country, became urban very late and tend to use land accordingly (the ideal home in a lot of folks minds is a house by a lake with no neighbours in sight). To see Copenhagen on the list is a little surprising. I guess having progressive designs for the pedestrian areas and bicycling facilities is one thing, but apparently that does not mean that land use in a broader sense is particularly efficient.


Mikael said...

mikko, do you have a link to that?

brent, los angeles can't really be compared to anywhere else. :-) this motorway ends in two lanes in each direction, but the bigger ones are 6-8 lanes.

i recall a study about face masks that were popular in london a few years ago. it should that they had little effect. when cycling, even slowly, you are exerting yourself and you breath in an out quicker. when just sitting, in a car for example, you breath normally and inhale deeper and more slowly.

Guilhem said...

I love the video ! I have embedded it on my blog, I hope you don't mind !


Anonymous said...

The 2006 sprawl report was by European Environmental Agency EEA. The press release on their website:


The report itself:


That page has the link to the 7.1 MB PDF file.