A Land Where Bikes Rule the Road

Signs in Denmark point bicyclists toward multiple routes in the area.

Signs in Denmark point bicyclists toward multiple routes in the area.

For many years, the District has been heralded as one of the best cities for bicyclists. The city’s reputation for fostering cycling has continually grown in stature: earlier this month the Huffington Post heralded D.C. as the “new U.S.  bike city to watch.”

“Of all the major U.S. cities reinvesting in human transportation, none has been making bikes work better for its people more rapidly than the nation’s capital,” said the Huffington Post.

Statistics back up this praise. More than 4 percent of commuters bike to work, which is more than double the average of 70 other cities in the  country.

Copenhagen, Denmark—which Director Terry Bellamy and DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA) Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe visited as part of a five-day bike study tour of Denmark and Sweden sponsored by the Green Lane Project—is a little bit ahead of the District. Thirty-six percent of commuters in Copenhagen bike to work, making it a mecca for bike-centered transit.

copenhagen transit mode chart

In Copenhagen, cars often take secondary-billing to bicycles and public transit.  This is due to a 40-year evolution in transportation  planning in Denmark.

On Norrebrogade, a main artery in the city, 35,000 bicyclists make there way to and from the center of the city each day, physically protected by pedestrian pathways and traffic lanes by slight curbs. The bike traffic is so heavy on this road that Copenhagen transportation officials are investigating ways to ease bike congestion, a problem that rarely—if ever—needs to be solved in the U.S., although the District is starting to notice it in some places (for example, the 15th Street Cycletrack).

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses line Norrebrogade, which utilizes "Green Wave" signal timing to promote efficient bicycle flow.

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses line Norrebrogade, which utilizes “Green Wave” signal timing to promote efficient bicycle flow.

This heavy bike use is supported by a vast network of protected bike lane and innovative bike-centric signal timing techniques such as “Green Wave,” which guarantee bicyclists a steady series of green lights if they maintain a 12mph speed limit.

Cycling from Sunrise to Sunset

To soak in Copenhagen’s unique milieu, Director Bellamy, Mr. Zimbabwe and the two other members of the District’s study group (Councilmember Mary Cheh and the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council’s Ellen Jones) routinely biked from 8 a.m. to after dinner. They rode approximately 10 miles per day, according to Mr. Zimbabwe, going to different information sessions and places of interest as Copenhageners do—with a set of wheels.

On their trek through Denmark and Sweden, the District’s contingent (which traveled with groups from Austin, Texas and Memphis, Tenn.) noticed small idiosyncrasies in the local infrastructure that further underlined the importance these two countries placed on bicycling. Railing-like “waiting bars,” for instance, were placed at intersections for bicyclists to hold steady to while waiting for a green light. The openings of trash cans on some bike routes were placed at a slight forward-leaning angle, so that bicyclists could discard their trash  while peddling. Small LED lights, which were embedded on the sides of bike lanes, would flash yellow to alert cyclists to an impending red light ahead.

A cyclist rests at a "waiting bar."

A cyclist rests at a “waiting bar.”

Although Copenhagen is a model for bike transit, Mr. Zimbabwe is quick to point out that there are some things that the Danes could learn from the District.

The District does a better job of promoting walking and public transit, he said. Pedestrians, for instance, sometimes do not have marked crosswalks to use when crossing bike paths, and have to contend with cyclists that don’t often yield.

All in all, however, Director Bellamy and Mr. Zimbabwe had a great experience in a land where bikes rule the road.

DDOT's Policy, Planning and Sustainability Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe; Director Terry Bellamy; and the D.C. Bicycle Council's Ellen Jones at Copenhagen's Nyhavn canal.

DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe; Director Terry Bellamy; and the D.C. Bicycle Council’s Ellen Jones at Copenhagen’s Nyhavn canal.

“Copenhagen is one of the few places I’d go back to,” said Director Bellamy. “One of the reasons I’d go back to it is that, as a bicycle rider, the protected lanes are great.”

About DDOT Blogger

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) develops and maintains for the District of Columbia a cohesive sustainable transportation system that delivers safe, affordable, and convenient ways to move people and goods - while protecting and enhancing the natural, environmental and cultural resources of the District.
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