This is a guest post by Marita Hunt.

The cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen is, as we all know (well, we transport and urban design nerds), fundamental to the city’s transport system. Bikes are treated as a completely normal and sensible way to get around, and space is made for cyclists in every corner of the city.

Over a couple of rainy weeks this October, I explored Copenhagen on several hired bikes, becoming familiar with the ways in which the built environment facilitates and responds to the city’s cycling culture. What follows is a brief taxonomy of Copenhagen cycling infrastructure, based mostly on my own observations.

The typical ‘Copenhagen Lane’:

A simple asphalt platform usually about 2-3m wide, above the carriageway and below the footpath, with a concrete edge beam to the road. On big arterials, there’s one of these on both sides of the road, and you find this kind of lane on secondary streets as well.

Copenhagen lane

Bus stops:

Buses stop in the traffic lane, and there’s often, but not always, a narrow strip of cobbles separating embarking and disembarking passengers from the cycle lane. Bus stops are a negotiation point: passengers usually have to cross the cycle lane, and cyclists have to slow down for them. I was surprised at how little infrastructure is provided for bus stops – often just a sign, and not even any road markings. The priority is clearly maintaining space for pedestrians and cyclists.

At big intersections:

The cycle lane drops to road level and is articulated by road paint, with a bright blue band painted across the intersection connecting to the cycle lane opposite. At smaller intersections cyclists might be sharing the lane with right-turning traffic. There’s usually a separate traffic light for cyclists, timed slightly differently to the lights for cars and pedestrians.

Asymmetrical cross-sections:

A lot of small roads have an asymmetrical design, with a typical raised Copenhagen lane on one side and a narrow, painted lane between the footpath and a row of car parking on the other. Car parks only exist on one side of the road. There are plenty of gentle speed bumps.

Asymmetry

Shared spaces:

Very quiet roads, lanes and side roads don’t have any painted or built infrastructure, and cyclists share with cars. These streets sometimes have parking on both sides.

Shared space

Street ends:

Most of the time when a minor street meets a street higher in the hierarchy, the minor street is made secondary to the footpath, which continues, slightly raised, along it – similar to the new raised pedestrian crossings on Ponsonby road. These street ends are low and subtle, and they make the street read a bit like a dead end. It seemed like they served two functions – to both give pedestrians a right of way, and to give a sense of enclosure to the quiet street, sending a clear signal to drivers that they’re in a different traffic environment once they turn off the larger road.

Kerb-jumping:

If you look closely, you notice that simple little ramps are provided all over the place, just a few buckets of hotmix poured against a kerb. They’re a subtle expression of desire lines when a dedicated crossing isn’t provided.

Car-free spaces:

In the new development in Nordhavn (masterplanned by COBE), the street network is closed to cars in places, and you get streets that look like streets but are just for bikes and pedestrians. Elsewhere, there’s a two-way separated path under construction that has been designed to help shape the landscape.

Car-free street in Nordhavn

Through public spaces:

The cycling network is more fine-grained than the traffic network because most public spaces have two-way cycling lanes built into them, often designed to look like a miniature road, with a centreline, pedestrian crossings, and markings at intersections. Occasionally, it’s just a simpler shared path, but you almost always see something, like a change in surface material, indicating a separate space for pedestrians.

In these public places, the cycleway design tends to be playful, curving through the park, forming the edge of play areas and landscape elements, rather than cutting a straight desire line from one side to the other.

As part of public space
Cycle lane through park

Parking:

This is Copenhagen, so bikes are flung about everywhere, leaning against walls, clustered on corners, and overflowing from parking areas. There are cycle racks everywhere too, in all shapes and forms, but the vast majority were very utilitarian long strips of racks that the front wheel of the bike slides into. One benefit of these is that if they’re empty, they don’t take up much space in the street – but on projects I’ve worked on NZ, feedback from cyclists has usually been that they prefer the ‘n’ shaped bike stands to the front-wheel-rest style.

That could be to do with security and the locking system. Most Copenhageners ride bikes that have a lock attached to the back wheel, and they don’t usually fix it to anything, whereas we like to be able to thread a chain round the frame and one or two wheels and then rope the whole thing to something solid.

Parking outside Nørrebro Station

Bridges:

The fun part! Copenhagen has many, many bridges. I took a free running tour with an enthusiastic Dane called Ole (highly recommended, if you’re in Copenhagen), and he’s figured out a 7km running route that has 21 different bridges in it. Bike and pedestrian-only bridges massively increase the accessibility of the city, and the way they are designed makes them playful, joyful moments on your journey.

Many of Copenhagen’s cycle and pedestrian bridges are beautiful pieces of architecture and engineering, from the sinuous, once-bright-orange Cycleslangen (it doesn’t seem to be as diligently maintained as Auckland’s pink bridge, but that bridge profile certainly is familiar…), to Olafur Elliason’s whimsical, bubble-shaped Cirkelbroen, to the low and elegant Inderhavnsbro bridge on the end of Nyhavn canal, which has kinks, cutouts and pockets. Nyhavn is Copenhagen’s most touristed area, so the bridge gets lots of ambling, distractable tourists on foot and bike, which might explain the way it’s been designed: it creates a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists, slowing the bikes down and providing lots of safe pull-over areas.

Olafur Eliasson’s Cirkelbroen Bridge
Inderhavnsbro Bridge
Inderhavnsbro Bridge
Cykelslangen Bridge

Subtle touches:

In a few of the more refined and urban public spaces, cycling infrastructure is gently integrated into the space, with a tactile or paving type change to indicate where cyclists are supposed to be. In places you see strips of flattened cobbles providing cyclists with a smoother ride.

The infrastructure creates behaviour:

It does get a bit messy! I came across gaps and faults in the infrastructure, but because it makes so much sense everywhere else in the city, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers are really well practised at moving around each other, and the rules and habits that make the whole system so effective help plug the gaps when the infrastructure isn’t there. The only real weakness is people like me, wayward tourists with their phones out, trying to capture it all en route.

So, in the end…

For an urban cycling enthusiast, it’s exhilarating to discover Copenhagen by bike. Cycling was usually the quickest way to get places compared to walking, driving and public transport. Copenhageners are tough, too: the weather’s reliably terrible most of the time, with lots of rain and plenty of wind (there’s a reason their harbour is populated by wind turbines), but they put on their Rains raincoats and carry on. Despite the potential exposure risk, it is the best way to get around. I covered distances I never would have on foot, and had the luxury of pulling over or changing direction like a cycling flaneur (sorry, people behind me!) whenever I spotted something interesting.

Copenhagen is an incredibly civilised city, with welcoming public spaces, slow streets, sidewalk cafes, big trees and friendly people. The constant, quiet slide of bicycles rolling past you is an essential part of its peacefulness. You can sit on a sidewalk table and overhear a child in the front of a cargo bike chatting to their parent, or the conversation of friends cycling somewhere side-by-side.

A fortnight in the bike lanes of Copenhagen got me wondering about the potential effects the normalisation of cycling might have on a community and a city. When the way you get to work, take your child to school, pick up groceries, or meet friends is by bike, always safe and protected, winding through parks, and flying over the canals on beautiful bridges, then a good chunk of your day has become an act of play and freedom. And that, it seemed to me, would surely have a powerful effect on your values, and your sense of being being an active participant in city life.

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45 comments

  1. Fantastic post thanks, Marita. Really good photos and good to hear your observations.

    I’m curious about the bus stops being so minimal. Is the bus frequency so good people don’t need to stand long so it doesn’t matter if it’s raining? Or does the bus always stop at every stop so they can shelter somewhere else without risking missing the bus?

    There are so many spots all over Auckland that can be easily retrofitted for cycling. Just needs someone to lead it.

    1. That would be a really interesting post in of itself Heidi.

      Are you able to explain some of the low hanging fruit/quick wins out there as you see it?

      1. I think where we need to start is in splitting the city into low-traffic neighbourhoods up to about 1 km2 each, in which cars are visitors. Speed limits are low. And you can’t cut through by car (but you can by walking and cycling), so you only go there by car to get access. We have dozens or hundreds of examples from overseas now where we can see the huge uptake in active transport from doing this, plus the better air quality and more independent kids, etc. Cheap as bollards.

        We can also save money in the long run by ensuring every project is cycling-friendly. Otherwise we’ll just have to retrofit in the future.

        Lots of opportunity for putting in bike stands at bus stops, etc.

        The arterials are a big project to do well; they need a full city-wide analysis. Most of our transport money should be going into retrofitting our arterials for buses, cycling and better walking. The intersections need work first. Interim measures can make do between them. I have no confidence from what I’m seeing that the programmes in AT that concentrate on arterials are not going to be just more of the piecemeal ‘try to squeeze it all in’ approach.

        AT needs to develop confidence in traffic evaporation and modeshift. If they finally embraced it, we could have reasonably cheap interim measures even on the arterials while we wait for the full streetscape projects. Temporary planter boxes as buffers to convert traffic lanes to cycling aren’t expensive. I know local recycling hubs that will teach residents how to make them and local gardening groups willing to grow the plants, create the compost etc.

        AT’s resisting this holistic approach because it fundamentally requires the intention to reduce vkt. And that’s too much of a threat to the status quo. Their traffic engineers are not keeping up with developments in the field –
        which is unprofessional, but that’s another story.

        The options are there. And they aren’t expensive.

        1. +1

          “We can also save money in the long run by ensuring every project is cycling-friendly.” // This is the lowest hanging fruit of all. If the street is already being dug up and rebuilt, then this is the cheapest it’ll ever be to retrofit vital infrastructure for active modes.

        2. Speaking of retrofitting, Michaels Ave, off Ellerslie Panmure HW was recently dug up to do underground work. The whole left lane was blocked for at least a week. I thought they were going to build out the traffic island as it’s currently an extremely dangerous slip lane. Cars can come off the main rd at 50-60kmph without slowing down at all due to the gentle angle. Instead they dug up the whole rd and restored it to exactly how it was previously. I walk there often on my way to the train station and it’s quite scary walking across such a long stretch of road with cars coming fast round the corner behind you. https://www.google.com/maps/@-36.8990435,174.8199954,3a,75y,53.2h,72.11t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1smHFtfQvMas7-kAoMdMA-lQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

        3. Same story on Glenfield Road. This is part of both the strategic PT network and the strategic bicycle network. There should already be a longer term plan of how the cross-section will end up. But sections of it were dug up and also exactly restored as they were last year.

          The 3 changes I did notice nearby are (1) new angle parking on Mokoia Road in Birkenhead town centre, (2) newly painted parking lane on the bypass road, and (3) newly painted parking lane at the top of Eskdale Road. Actions and words.

          On the other hand, the pits around the stormwater drains on Mokoia Road got leveled, so at least you can safely cycle on that shoulder now.

        4. The existing contracts don’t allow for betterment.

          AT have decided to not break the existing contracts, even though they committed in full and without question to the Safety Review which said they needed to harness the maintenance programme to put safer design in. It’ll be 2.5 years between the Safety Review and the first of the contracts to come up for review.

          This decision to not break the contracts shows, again, that the safety of vulnerable road users is not important in AT culture.

    2. Hi Heidi – re: bus stops – bigger bus stops where more buses stopped had shelters, but the smaller ones in between (like the one pictured), didn’t. From memory there were express buses and local buses on the same route, and both were pretty frequent – every 10 minutes or so? But express buses only stopped at the bigger stops.

      1. Those Copenhagen bike lanes with minimal budget stops have been there for more than 30 years. No wonder behaviour is normal now. In Auckland we are trying to provide more inclusive features for people to whom these behaviours are not yet normal. When I visited back then from UK, I always looked the wrong way for bikes when I got off a bus.

  2. Great post – thank you. I really noticed the lack of traffic noise when I was in Copenhagen. One of the many benefits of building a cycling culture.

  3. Civilised is exactly the word. That’s a great story, Marita. And the Danes don’t just say, ‘Yep, we’ve done it – we’re there’. They’re constantly looking for ways to improve things for cyclists, the ongoing bridge additions being a case in point. Bringing some joy to your commute is so valuable and yet is something so many are unnecessarily deprived of here.

    1. They are also spending a fortune on underground and elevated driverless metro lines. The space underneath the elevated metro stations is used for bike parks. Go figure, elevated rail has some advantages for a bike friendly city.

    2. They are also spending a fortune on underground and elevated driverless metro lines. The space underneath the elevated metro stations is used for bike parks. Go figure, elevated rail has some advantages for a bike friendly city.

  4. What you failed to mention is Copenhagen is dead flat, the highest part of the city is near the zoo, which would be a tiny wee bump in Auckland.

    Copenhagen is ringed with arterial motorways and they are much better drivers than kiwis are, getting a drivers license in Denmark is expensive and takes a lot of instruction. They have better, faster motorways to, 130kph, the police are tolerant and will allow speeds up to 140 before you get into trouble. These keep the traffic out of the central city. There’s a lot of park and ride at stations outside the city.

    Copenhagen airport also has two rail connections, take note Auckland, one on the metro system and the other regional rail, with trains to rest of Denmark and Southern Sweden.

    If any kiwis do visit Copenhagen there is Wild Kiwi Pies in Valby it’s well worth a visit. A little slice of Kiwiana in Denmark.

    1. Hi Mike! It’s definitely a very flat city but – I was surprised at the strength of solid headwinds and side-winds you’d find yourself battling, especially on the main roads. And the rain’s not that much fun either.
      There’s definitely another entire post on the wider, complementary infrastructure systems. I had a day which involved a train (from sweden!), a metro, a bikeshare, and a bus all sliding together nicely… a bit like transport infrastructure bingo.

    2. I’ve driven in Copenhagen. It’s sweet, precisely because almost no one is doing it! They’re mostly on bikes and transit. Enough are anyway to make a big diff.

      Freeways are not wide, much narrower than in AKL, just empty, cos the alternatives are so good.
      Wanna improve your drive?; invest in everything else.

      1. Spot on, there, urbanista.

        It’s why the road network optimisation programme is so faulty. They’re trying to maximise the throughput, unashamedly doing so for vehicles. Instead, they need to maximise the efficiency and amenity of all the sustainable modes, and improving places at the same time. This will almost certainly reduce traffic capacity, but being alongside improved alternatives, there’ll be improved – not diminished – access overall, because the reduced traffic capacity will lower congestion elsewhere, improving the sustainable modes in a wonderful positive feedback loop.

        That’s how Copenhagen’s got to where it’s at. We could create a fantastic transport system in two years in Auckland if our leaders could but understand this. Fantastic for driving as well as everything else. And then just keep on improving.

    3. Ah yes flat cities. Which is of course why Christchurch, Hamilton and Palmerston North are dominated by bicycles. No?

      Having grwn up in Chch, give me a hill and an ebike any day over cycling into an easterly on flat land.

      The evidence is clear that dedicated space and relegating the place of cars on the street are the most important factors. The topography of the city is well down the list.

  5. One thing that I’ve wondered about the Copenhagen style bike lane. Have you seen anywhere it is used that also has regular driveways every 20m or so all along the street, like Auckland almost always does.

    My recollection of Copenhagen is that they didn’t have the driveways, so it was easy to do a nice continuous lane lake that. But I don’t think I ever got into any real suburbany residential area so maybe they have it too?

    1. Hi Nick – I was mostly in the inner suburbs of Copenhagen, where the built form is so completely different to Auckland: 4-6 storey apartment blocks with big internal courtyards. If there is a car park in the building, it was accessed via a driveway on the side road.
      In the lower density suburban areas I did cycle through, where each house had its own driveway, the streets were slow enough (and that’s probably the key point – slow streets and good driver habits!) that there was either just a painted lane on the side of the road, or nothing at all.
      The raised Copenhagen lane is definitely an urban solution for places where they don’t have to compete with lots of perpendicular car movements.

    2. There’s no real reason why Copenhagen lanes wouldn’t work in those suburban streets. Compare to how footpaths work on Auckland suburban streets.

      I like the design they used on the street where I grew up. (which is the low density / lots of driveways variety). Use a mountable kerb but without kerb cuts at driveways. Your steering column will give you very clear feedback if you enter your driveway faster than walking pace.

    3. “One thing that I’ve wondered about the Copenhagen style bike lane. Have you seen anywhere it is used that also has regular driveways every 20m or so all along the street, like Auckland almost always does.”

      I’ve seen it in Copenhagen.

  6. Great post thank you Marita. We loved our time in Copenhagen, a joy to walk around and of course ride a bicycle. I know pictures only capture a certain perspective but it appears to me one thing we are still behind many countries on is designing space to be intuitive- there doesnt seem to be any speed limit signs visible (and I dont recall noticing too many) but the design of the spaces clearly indicate how you should move through it -slowly and considerately.

  7. If you compare the shots above to bike lanes in Auckland, note that none of them are ‘protected’ like they are in Auckland. Drivers apparently have enough discipline to not park or drive on those Copenhagen lanes.

    1. The analogies with parenting concepts are hilarious. Discipline arising from “logical consequences”, perhaps?

      Yesterday I was advised that AT can’t ticket illegally parked cars under RUR “6.1 Vehicles must be parked with due care and consideration” because

      “For an officer to enforce on vehicles for inconsiderate parking, they need to prove who at the time of committing the offence had clear intent on being inconsiderate to and why.”

      consider = think carefully about (something), typically before making a decision.

      So proof is now required that someone thought carefully about not thinking carefully about the effects… the lengths AT’s legal team are going to!

      The knock on implications are fabulous. The things people could do ‘inconsiderately’ because they know someone would have to prove they intended to be inconsiderate!

    1. Don’t blame AT. Most case law arises from a judge’s ruling when a barrister is defending themself from a ticket issued in good faith.

  8. One thing I noticed in Copenhagen with the cyclists is that they all obey the road rules, stopping at the lights. Which made me feel safer as a pedestrian.

    That’s definitely not something we see here.

    1. It is a thing of places where intersection design and road codes actually makes sense for bicycling.

      In Auckland it is common for 2 lanes to merge to 1 after a traffic light. That is the last place where you want to be as a bicyclists right after the light turns green. As an example of how you work around that in Auckland: if there is a Barnes Dance you always cross during the pedestrian phase. (preferably near the end, when most pedestrians have cleared the intersection). In other situations the only viable way to cross is over the pedestrian crossing.

      If anyone asks me I always give the same answer. If you follow the road code on a bicycle, you die. So don’t do that.

  9. Thats ridiculous. With a statutory offence the actus reus (the act) should only be considered. The burden of proof and any relevant mens rea (state of mind) defences rests with the defendant to make out. So not sure why AT is taking such a conservative approach… seems like they are building a case for a murder trial, rather than issuing parking infringements. That and the ridiculously low parking fines make AT pretty toothless.

    1. … and they have a policy not to enforce proactively, only reactively, on those few infringement types they do accept they can enforce.

      The legal team seem to have no interest in applying the law to make things safe for vulnerable road users.

  10. I too spent time cycling the streets of Copenhagen – well the central ones – and of course it was easy on some old bike I hired, and the best way to get around as a tourist. While the infrastructure helped, the key observation not mentioned was it is flat and compact. The whole city probably would fit in the inner Auckland harbour and have a similar terrain.
    Yes AT could learn from them how to implement cycle lanes cheaply – then maybe more would exist – but focus should be on providing better PT as realistically there is only a small percentage of people that will ever commute by bike. i.e. I would rather see more bus lanes / priority over cycle lanes and of course light rail to the west.

    1. Or some effective strategy that makes the best of PT and active modes. The Te Whau pathway is currently up for consent (submissions open till 12 Dec). If built a whole swathe of suburbs from Te Atatu to Green Bay will be within a 5km pedal to a rapid transit interchange ( if the pop up Te Atatu one is also built)

  11. Super minor thing, but if you have a bike, get a frame lock! So convenient, and super easy to have a cable if you want to connect to something solid too. We’ve got the AXA solid plus – cheaper unit but works well. The key stays in it until it’s locked, so you don’t have to remember the key (unless you’ve locked it ofcourse!)

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