No Copenhagen, that’s not good enough

Copenhagen opened the first ‘Cycle Superhighway’ with a lot of hype last month. I was really looking forward to seeing proper images of it. But I didn’t find any. I think I know why, now that I did. Let’s put it plain and simple, in my opinion this cycle route is not good enough.

Newspaper “Politiken” filmed the almost 18 kilometer route and shows it in 5 minutes. In the article “Is Copenhagen’s new cycle highway really super?”  their “testcyklist” came to the same conclusion I did: you simply cannot call this a “super highway”.

Copenhagen's first cycle super highway
Gates on the cycle path… Click this image to go to the page with the video and start it there.

Perhaps if you come from a country without any cycling infrastructure this may look impressive. But I don’t come from such a country and neither do the locals. Denmark has sometimes decent cycle infrastructure and this is more of that, but nothing special.

With Dutch specifications in mind (can now be read in the comment by Marc/Amsterdamize) this is what I see:

  • The width of the tracks in this route is not consistent and too narrow for most of it
  • There are parts that are two-directional that are just as narrow as the one-directional parts
  • There are parts shared with pedestrians without proper separation
  • The track disappears completely in towns and twists and winds through ordinary streets with parking on both sides.
  • There is no cycle track at busy junctions
  • At junctions the cycle lane is shared with right turning motorised traffic
  • The underpasses lack a feeling of social safety
  • big gates block the cycle path at several points
  • There is no priority on crossings (what you would expect for a ‘super’ highway)
Copenhagen's first cycle super highway
Cycle superhighway? or residential street… Click this image to go to the page with the video and start it there.

That’s just from looking at the video. But the comments of the locals are even more telling:

  • The route is not direct enough (there is a more direct route that has cycle paths all along it)
  • The route is not marked well enough (one commenter got lost with some other cyclists in one of the towns)
  • The green wave does not work as promised
  • The surface is not smooth enough (“feels like riding a washboard” (!) says one, apparently only some potholes were finally repaired.)

But what can you expect? The budget for this almost 18 kilometer route was 13.4 million Kroner (€1.8/US$2.4 million). To compare, the Dutch spend about one million euro per kilometer, ten times as much!

So what is the verdict? It is really not a bad route. As one of the locals says: a nice alternative if you have more time to spare to the busy and rather sad existing straight route next to a busy road. But that is not what most people will think of when they hear the word “Cycle super highway” now is it? It has to be better than ordinary routes and this seems a collection of ordinary routes. Also it was supposed to be for the commuter: “The whole purpose of the Cycle Super Highways is to create better conditions for commuter cyclists, and thus encourage more people to choose the bike over the car” but that target group is clearly not impressed by ordinary cycle paths with some extra pumps and an orange line in the gutter.  One is very clear: “this will not get more people on their bikes“. One final and very telling quote from the comments:  “This project seems more like populism than a genuine attempt to encourage more people to commute by bike from the suburbs.

So this really only is more hype. Copenhagen has been rightly criticized for this before and London, the only other city advertising ‘superhighways’, has not delivered either.

Compare the Danish Super route with 30 year old Dutch design (video above from my earlier post). And it is obvious which is better.

But the Dutch designs have evolved and the Netherlands has routes like this now.

(The route starts 2:10 minutes into the video). From my earlier post.

I will publish a further example of a new intercity route in the Netherlands this coming Monday.

Copenhagen has ambitious plans for 25 more routes. I really hope they will do better than this first one. Don’t let the words “Cycle Superhighway” become synonymous with disappointing designs.

21 thoughts on “No Copenhagen, that’s not good enough

    1. Very interesting Herbert. But this route is not yet a Cycle Superhighway either! Then again, this shows the before situation. The biggest problems are of course between Houten and Bunnik. Where there is no cycle infrastructure at all yet. The passage in Bunnik through some Woonerven is not how it should be either.The crossing of the A12 with stairs is not acceptable in a cycle superhighway and the same goes for the very old tunnel (narrow, dark, too steep) at De Bilt. There should be a solution for Dorpsstraat in De Bilt too. Other than that it is just a matter of width mostly. The surface is asphalt already mostly. So that is pretty good. All in all there is potential to make it a very good ride with relatively little effort.
      I really liked to see all this. It has been years for some parts, but there wasn’t a single stretch of that entire route that I haven’t ridden before!

      1. Thank you Mark. The movie is indeed a before situation, so we can compare in a few years what has been changed. The stairs at the crossing of the A12 is the biggest problem. A this moment only intentions, but no plans nor money exist to change this. For the strech between Houten and Bunnik did the municipalty of Bunnik a good job. It will take some years to ban cars (when a new alternative has been build) from the roads, but the surface already has been changed.
        In De Bilt plans are underway to renew the small tunnel.

        The other Super Cyclehighway in the region of Utrecht (Houten- Nieuwegein- Utrecht-West-Maarssen) was also filmed by me, I still have to work this one out.

      2. The original London Cycle Superhighway 2 should be part of the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal Canada. You might want to go Mark, you speak French. Then again, 6 cyclists underground marked with a headstone is no laughing matter.

  1. Steven, here are a few important specs, differentiating technical implementation based on bicycle traffic volumes:

    Standard highway paths for up to 2500 cyclists per day:
    – closed, hard surface, red asphalt at conflict points
    – over 3.5 meters wide
    – bi-directional at over 3 meters
    – optional; Bicycle Street, 4.50 meters with 3 meters central asphalt ‘carpet’
    – lighting: at important crossings
    – rest stops/shelters at intersections with important exit/entry roads to urban areas
    – incline: maximum of 4%. This is allowed to be a bit higher in case of short distance incline
    – right of way
    – at roundabouts, exit/entry roads and through roads: path goes over/underneath
    – at traffic lights: priority for bikes, conflict-free
    – obstacle-free zone: incidental: not within 0.30 meters. Fixed obstacles: not within 0.60 meters
    – directions: local, regional network signage

    Standard highway paths for more than 2.500 cyclists p/day:
    – red asphalt
    – 4 meters wide, more than 3.5 meters defined
    – lighting: entire route
    – rest stops with shelters every 2 km
    – incline: max of 3%
    – right of way at junctions, speed reduction for car traffic
    – single lane roundabouts: right of way
    – at traffic lights, multiple lanes and turbo roundabouts and rail way crossings: path runs over or underneath
    – incidental obstacles; not within 0.50 meters. Fixed obstacles: not within 1.00 meters
    – directions: local, regional network signage

  2. Steven: you have a very good point there. It is not too difficult to sum up the features of a real cycle superhighway, I guess: quick route, priority at all crossings for cyclists, pleasant surroundings, very wide cycle paths, underpassings or overpassings at busy junctions, good signage and connecting to other destinations as well. Perhaps others can come up with more points and specifics? (width, traffci statistics, etc). But I guess it has already been done in the Dutch CROW manual.

    1. Standard cycle paths have priority a lot too! Even in rural areas for the most part. They generally do not have priority at rural roundabouts, or areas which are part of municipal borders but are not yet built up. But even on a very minor sidepath in a rural area they just bend out a few metres from the roadway, 4.5-6 metres preferably, and have the elephants feet/sharks teeth and the yield signs in the right spots. Nothing irregular. A superhighway, that would be often on its very own route for many kilometres in the Netherlands, or following a railway. More grade separation, smooth red asphalt mid block, lighting, and 4 metres of space for bidirectional paths, 2.5 metres for one way paths on both sides of the road.

  3. I’m a Copenhagen native, and I’m not too impressed either, but there is few points to be made I think:
    – If a marketing tool is neccesary for the suburban municipalities to invest in improved cycling infrastructure, I’m not one to complain. Even at this low investment rate some of the city councils outside Copenhagen and Frederiksberg have backed away, saying its too costly in a time where they are forced to do budget cuts.
    – Its not all about the actual infrastructure, there is also some quite good agreements made on improving the maintenance, snow removal, repaving intervals and lighting which is definitely a big improvement.
    – The plans inside the two urban core municipalities; The city of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg is a lot more impressive, and could rightly be called superhighways imho, especially the Green Wave coupled with innovative lanelights and widening of the cycle tracks so 3 cyclists can comfortably cycle abrest which is what the City of Copenhagen plans to do along the routes.
    – Thinking the same as you, I asked what had actually been done, since they were suspicouly quite on that point, here is the response i got:
    4 intersections have been been rebuild, New cycle track along two roads totaling around 2 km, Lanelights and counting signals along two roads to help cyclist time the green lights, Green Wave along two roads on the section closest to the city centre, Foot rests at 12 places along the route, 7 free airpumps (every 1,6 km), some bus stops have been rebuild so cyclists don’t have to stop for unboading passengers.
    Not all that impressive I agree, but again, its a tangiable improvement, so i’d rather just hand it to them and make sure all the routes get similar improvements, politicians get to do their ribbon cuttings, make sure the City of Copenhagen make their sections into actual superhighways, and then hope the suburban constituents ends up demanding similar improvements later on.

  4. Here in LA, we recently opened up a new light rail line and adjacent bike path on what was formerly a railroad right of way. You’d think that this would be an amazing transportation corridor, right? Nope, the bike path is treated purely as a feature for recreation as proved by this photo, which shows a bike path meandering as far as the eye can see when it could have easily been more direct as the agency had a blank slate to work with

    1. I think a bit of meandering is okay — in that photo it will only add seconds to trip length. I know that phase II of the Expo Line is in more of a contiguous corridor but also that some existing underpasses are quite narrow. See this video

      1. Todd, sure there it adds seconds, but collectively those seconds add up and remove momentum. Add the fact that intersections are horrible for cyclists, thats a lot of unnecessary time lost for cyclists, a lot of which could be remedied by design. I dont oppose meandering, but look at that picture, thats pretty wild meandering!

  5. At first I thought you were being overly critical, then I watched the video and only about half the route seemed to qualify as having qualities of a cycle super highway. By comparison, the promised Malmo-Lund super highway seems to have potential to be more impressive. That said, regarding the directness of the route, I have an anecdotal experience in which added distance saved me time (perhaps this was the intention of the Copenhagen cycle highway, but I suppose by the very nature of not being direct it is already disqualified from being a true super highway). I used to commute by bike to school and the most direct route would take me on major streets, about 9 miles. The problem with this direct route, aside from being unpleasant, was that it slowed me down as I would get stopped at several red lights.

    There were 2 alternative bike paths I could take the majority of the route.
    Route #1 mostly paralleled the major streets but didn’t have any red lights (though intersections did have stop signs occasionally)

    Route #2 Was a longer route by about a 1600meters and not as direct as bike route #1 or taking major streets.

    Route #2 however was faster than both taking major streets and Route #1 because it only required I stop about 5 times (all of which were on portions without bike paths).

    Route #1 was also faster than the major streets as I could go slow and steady as opposed to stop and go.

    1. Has anyone defined the qualities of a cycle super highway? If nothing is defined before hand, then the phrase will be defined by the poor implementations of bikeways carrying that name. We can let the “cycle super highway” designers run with it, or stop them and take a look at what we want the facilities to be.

  6. What can you expect from country where official city (Odense) municipality cycling officer answer about car ownership costs is „I don’t know it, my husband pays the bills“. Another presenter said, that in some some small Danish town (Frederiksberg?) he is organizing campaign to promote cycling by giving out free helmets if people ride to work with bicycle for one week. That was the case this April in seminars in Odense.
    After riding in Copenhagen and Odense my opinion is: people use bicycles not because of attractiveness, but because of extremely huge prices for other transportation modes.

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