01 November 2012

Car Culture Rules This Bicycle Street

At least 100 citizen cyclists at each light here in the rush hour. #cyclechic #copenhagen #bike
I was standing down on Dronning Louise's Bridge this morning, in the midst of the rush hour. I was waiting for a film crew to arrive to shoot a little clip for the Danish Architecture Center. They were late. Stuck in traffic. When they arrived I could see their film gear could have easily fit onto a cargo bike and I mocked them accordingly - with a smile.

While I was waiting I beheld the morning rush hour on the busiest bicycle street in the world. I still am amazed to stand there and watch it. I never tire of it.

I started counting the number of bicycle users who were waiting at each and every light cycle. There were at least 120-150 in the peak of the rush hour and they were, as a rule, backed up because of the red light.

This is where the otherwise brilliant Green Wave (cycle 20 km/h and hit green lights) dies.

At each traffic light cycle there were, on average 2-8 single occupant cars, as well as many busses. In the photo above there is one car waiting for the light and more than 100 bicycle users - the queue continues out of frame to the right.

The timing of the traffic light cycle, however, was clearly based on some geeky car-centric computer model. It is completely and utterly out of touch with the current daily situation and the Desire Lines of the vast majority of the people using this intersection. It prioritizes automobile traffic in both directions and the engineers who run this aren't sorry or shy about it.

There were no traffic light cycles that allowed all the bicycle users waiting at the red light to make it through at the peak of the rush hour. Many had to wait for the next cycle. In the summer months I've observed bicycle users waiting for three light cycles before be allowed by the engineer and computer model to continue on to work.

The bicycle users should be given a light cycle that is at least double the length in the morning rush hour - and then in the opposite direction in the afternoon. Sure, it would be promoting and encouraging cycling but you know what? It would the rational, logical and modern thing to do, too.

But then again, this is The New Copenhagen.


Jimm said...

Great article as always!

Enjoyed your talk with Jens from Biomega at the Danish Architecture Center on Tuesday (you actually bumped into me afterwards and said 'hi' abruptly as I was attempting to reach Signe, one of the organizers - I thought it was amusing) ((I was the guy with brown hair, glasses, brown leather jacket..ANYWAY...)).

I work in the Bicycle Library at the Bicycle Innovation Lab, and I do tend towards your perspective of "good infrastructure brings more cyclists" over Jens' "build a cool bike and they will come."

Hope to catch more of your talks when you are in Copenhagen!

Erik Sandblom said...

Couldn't they just get rid of the traffic lights completely, and make the intersection raised? That way, the motorists would slow down while the masses of cyclists could more easily move through. They could also build some refuge islands so you could cross bit by bit.

TedAndCo said...

Here in Nashville, TN, there is never a time when there are more cyclists waiting for a light than cars! Is it illegal to bike in the road there? Of are Copenhagen cyclists just extremely polite? If I were in that situation I would be behind the car, waiting to get through that light!

Martina said...

Just wanted to say, I love the work you guys do. I wish I could be a part of something like this - I think a lot of cities need to be 'Copenhagenized'. Good luck with everything!

Tallycyclist said...

And isn't this where they doubled the width of the cycle tracks some time ago? I went by that bridge last year during my visit. Only one side (the north?) was completely repaved and elevated at the time, but it was quite amazing that the cycle track was almost double the width of the single car lane. They've taken the first few steps to promote cycling, however, the timing of the light cycle seems to be a big bottleneck. The citizens who cycle on this street need to start voicing their feedback! I'm sure the ones who get stuck waiting for multiple light cycles aren't happy about it.

Allan said...

Why wouldn't they just widen the bike lane and narrow the car part accordingly? It seems like the obvious solution

Adam said...

That's an inspired shot. Quite haunting.

Same scene happens in many downtown streets in Japan every morning: wide, near-empty car spaces; bustling people spaces. Goes to show how little room each person takes up when they have a safe and convenient alternative to the car-suit.


Kim said...

Your film crew could learn from the BBC in Berlin http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20068083 ;-)

Rui said...

I restate the comment I made on the article:


I find it nonsense that bicycles are not allowed to use the hightway next to them.

zeraien said...

I don't understand why they don't just use the road.

I'm sure there is the same insane law as here in Sweden that you can't use the road if there is a bike lane nearby, but I just don't understand how people put up with it... Take back the streets!

aronman said...

yepp. use the car lane. if wanna move forward. dont be a robot, dont be stuck in the silly infrastructure. do it for yourselves.
then they will widen it, if they see the need.

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

So bicycles and pedestrians should all just wander into the roadways instead of using cycletracks and sidewalks?

Doesn't sound clever.

zeraien said...

Well, unlike cars, bikers can not all be expected to ride at the same speed, and those who can move faster should be able to do so, while those who just want to enjoy a leisurely ride, or simply can not go fast, should be able to do so as well.

Bike lanes are however rarely constructed for this purpose, most are not wide enough for overtaking.
Bike lanes are also never constructed with left turns in mind, nor are they safe from right turning cars.

Also I don't know what it's like in CPH, but in Stockholm, bike lanes come fall/winter are death traps filled with slippery leaves and icy snow, and during the warmer months, some people just love smashing their beer bottles there. It takes the city days, if not weeks to clean things up. Which lasts all of a few hours until new death traps popup.
Did I mention car doors?

Roads are always clean since they are cleaned more often, and car tires tend to keep things cleaner.
Also there is space for emergency maneuvers and those who want to go fast, can do so.

Seems to me that a better way to create liveable cities for cyclists is to teach drivers to share those enormous roads - through legislation.
Separating infrastructure seems to me to be an expensive way to make life more complicated for bikers who just want to get from A2B without zigzagging through some "engineer who has never set foot on a pedal in her life"'s idea of what a bike lane should be like. Or just some politician's campaign promise to make more infrastructure, so they paint some lines on the ground.

I have no problem sharing the road with cars, and it's only when drivers pull out the "lawbook" and try to assert their "legal rights" with threatening maneuvers that things get dangerous.

Drivers don't complain when they have to yield to pedestrians - even when it's a grandma taking 2 minutes to cross, or someone who stops in the middle of the crosswalk to answer the phone. Because the law is clear - they have to yield.
If the law was clear on the rights of cyclists - to have access to the entire road - it would reduce the need for infrastructure in cities.

But that's just my own observation.

Erik Sandblom said...

zeraien, the bike paths in Copenhagen are much wider than in Stockholm, and they're one-way. So it's no problem at all to pass slower cyclists.

But I agree that it's a dumb law (in Sweden) that you can't cycle in the street if you want to. The cykelutredningen suggests making an exception for bikes with more than two wheels, which is a step in the right direction.

Dmitri F said...

Yes, it's a step in the right direction, but a tiny one. Still they focus on the fact that the solution is not adapting the traffic laws but rather improving infrastructure, and there is also mention of further separation of bicycles.

And I just love how they propose that you should be allowed to cycle on the sidewalk until you are 8 years old. Because everyone knows that 9 year olds are ready to hit the streets! ;-)


Tallycyclist said...

Zeraien From personal experience, I didn't have any issues whatsoever with cycle tracks in Cph, though I also didn't ride on the busier arterial roads during rush hour. The situation in the photo is more an issue with the traffic light signal timing it seems. Compared to the horrible cycling conditions in the US, the experience is way, way better in Cph. In my country cyclists, by law, have a right to the road, but anyone who rides a bike on the street here can tell you how well that works in practice (or doesn't) and how well that law is acknowledged or respected by motorists.

Regarding teaching drivers to share the road with cyclists. I don't think that'll ever work well with most people in either group. The difference is just too great. And you have to think of it in the context of a city like Cph, where more than 1/3rd of the population commutes by bike. When modal share is only 1 or 2% or less, most motorist will only very occasionally encounter cyclists at all and even more rarely be "inconvenienced" by them. Not quite the same situation when all demographics and ages of people riding everywhere.

If drivers are willing to only travel at 10 mph or barely faster then I would be much less scared to share any road with them, even 6-lane arterial roads. But speed is only one factor. Even if cars traveled at 20 mph, the volume of traffic would still need to be sufficiently low or else most are still going to have to keep passing most people who like me, don't want and perhaps cannot, ride faster than the cars the entire time. Cars are big, powerful and fast. Cyclists will never be able to achieve that no matter how they ride or how many years of experience. Physics doesn't care about any of that, or what the law says. And I'd much rather be stuck in bicycle gridlock in Cph's cycle track than be stuck between a bunch of smelly, fuming cars.

Alex Rybakoff said...

Did someone (or you, Mikael) informed the City Council?

Sounds like everybody is just blogging and complaining, but persons who can alter traffic lights dont't even know about the issue.