26 January 2010

Copenhagen's Conversation Lanes

Conversation Lane
It's another tiny detail that is all-important in marketing urban cycling for the masses as opposed to the minority.

When the transformation of the now famous street Nørrebrogade [North Bridge Street] was being planned and implemented, I noticed a detail in the terminology used by the City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Office.

Nørrebrogade is not only the busiest bicyle street in the western world, it has also, over the past year or so, been a traffic planning showcase for how to recreate liveable neighbourhoods and prioritize bicycles, pedestrians and busses over cars. It was here the Green Wave for cyclists was implemented, regulating the traffic signals for bicycles so that if you cycle at 20 km/h you'll never put a foot down all the way into the city centre and home again. It was also here that cars were shunted away so that the neighbourhood would blossom once again.

In places there are now bicycle lanes that are double as wide, after another lane was reclaimed from motorised traffic. Simply to accomodate the 38,000 cyclists that use the stretch each day. The width of the lanes is now over 5 metres wide.

Here's the detail. At the beginning the new 'outside lane' - visible to the right of the two Copenhageners in the photo - was referred to as a 'fast lane'. When the lanes were completed there was no reference to the outside lane. Instead, the pre-existing inside lane was now called the "Conversation Lane". Illustrated brilliantly by the two Copenhageners, above.

Why sell speed when the vast majority of people on bicycles are content to take it easy on their way to work or the cinema or a café? Selling speed isn't exactly good for traffic safety. Nor does catering to the minority who like to go faster benefit the majority who don't.

The quicker cyclists now have a space all their own and the Conversation Lane is for the rest of us. It encourages the social aspect of urban cycling.

A little marketing/terminology detail that speaks volumes about the ongoing promotion of cycling in Copenhagen.

And even though the City has an annual bicycle budget of 75 million kroner [$15 million dollars] to maintain the existing infrastructure and build new, it's these very human, anthropological details that make so much difference.


Kim said...

Maybe that says more about the pace of life in Denmark. Here we have the rat race, people are only slowing waking up to the fact even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.

lagatta à montréal said...

Bravo! Encouraging cyclists to bomb along like Tour de France athletes makes us almost as much a threat to pedestrians as cars are to us (and to pedestrians, cats, wildlife etc).

What's the hurry? Leave earlier for work if you must and have time to breathe and converse.

Kevin Love said...

$15 million per year to maintain the existing infrastructure and build new? That seems extraordinarily low. The City of Toronto is spending $70 million over the next five years, or $14 million per year. And we're all convinced that isn't enough.

John Romeo Alpha said...

I cruised along at an easy pace in my "conversation lane" part of the bike lane tonight. Two guys raced past me going much faster. One difference I noticed was that both of their chains were in dire need of lubrication. I would have offered to help them out, but they blasted passed before I could say a word.

Andy B from Jersey said...

"Anthropological Details"

Perfect! I've think you coined a new term to a concept that I've known about for years but have been struggling to define.

Unfortunately, the engineers who dictate how American streets are designed are entirely clueless to the idea.

Gonças said...

Here in Portugal even riding in pair is forbiden. We can't talk to each other so that the motorized solo no talking riders can pass... Lisbon MUST be copenhagenized!!

Anonymous said...

I REALLY hope you took photos today!

kfg said...

Andy from Joisey:

Well of course most American traffic engineers are still laboring under the misapprehension that transportation is all about moving people about, rather than people moving about.

Thus all they see are machines and THEIR support systems.

The people in the meanwhile are left to adapt to the machine structure of the system which according to their apprehension is supposed to be adapting to their needs.

Part of this adaptation, since they can do little or nothing to change the system, is to make the defensive psychological adaptation to machine thought and take up the belief that machine system optimization IS adaptive to their needs as people.

Welcome the vicious bassackwards cycle.

One solution to this is, of course, the bi-cycle, which a large number of Americans now tend to resent; specifically BECAUSE bicyclists tend to act like people, rather than like machines.


William said...

Kevin Love - that's the bicycle infrastructure budget.

Dana said...

Love it. It's the details that matter. I like the wide bike lanes here in the Netherlands too.

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous - there is no bicycle lane what so ever in my country. I have to share roads with everything else with wheels bigger than mine. A few days ago, a national cyclist got killed during on road training.
I'm going to share this article. Nothing I can do to change my gov.'s transportation policies. It's me vs a 3rd world country mentality.