Those who resist the growing importance of bicycle-oriented planning often say, ‘But we’re not Copenhagen’ or ‘We’re not Amsterdam.’ Yes, that’s right, we’re not, but we sure as heck can learn from them!
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to present at a geography conference at the University of Victoria, where I shared perspectives about bicycling in Copenhagen and Vancouver. Having recently arrived home from Denmark, I’m still experiencing ‘reverse bicycle culture shock’ and feeling extra critical of the cycling infrastructure in my home cities. But I am also aware that Vancouver and Victoria have the potential to be leaders in bicycle-oriented planning in Western Canada, having bicycle mode shares of nearly five and eleven percent respectively. But before we begin to transform our city streets, it is important to question how we should design and construct the safest and most bike-friendly infrastructure. Below are a few examples of how North American cities can learn from Copenhagen in hopes of creating safer cycling environments.
One of the fundamental differences I’ve noticed between Danish and North American bicycling infrastructure is the layout of the ‘road diet’ and how the cyclist is valued within it. Notice how in Copenhagen, a typical roadway consists of moving vehicles, parked cars, and an elevated and separated cycle track. In this case, the parked cars and raised curb bed act as a buffer to the cyclists. On the left however, the painted bicycle lane (and the hypothetical cyclist within it) act as a buffer for the parked cars! It’s no surprise that cycling capitals throughout the world are stressing the importance of the ‘separated cycle track’ that not only segregates transport modes but also maximizes cyclist safety.
In cities like Copenhagen, the separated cycle tracks terminate at each intersection. However, you’ll often find a blue lane that runs through the intersection, providing a visible space for moving cyclists in the wake of surrounding vehicles. Pictured on the right is the Cambie Street bicycle lane, one of Vancouver’s major northbound bicycle routes. Notice how the bicycle lane begins to fade (via dotted lines) and then completely ends as one enters through the intersection. Bicyclists are left to fend for themselves without any designation, and in between two lanes of vehicular traffic. Check out how easy and cheap it is to ‘build’ this type of infrastructure in Copenhagen here .
Here’s another example of how failing to segregate bicycle and vehicle traffic results in decreased cyclist safety. Notice how in Vancouver a green ‘bike box’ appears just before the intersection. This is a ‘band-aid’ solution at giving cyclists priority, as riders are still expected to share this lane with vehicles. If you’re going to provide safe space for cyclists, then you need to separate the lane entirely. On the right, is an example of how Copenhagen avoided what occurred in Vancouver. Despite the cycle track ending (bottom right corner), a separated and painted bicycle lane continues right up to (and through) the intersection.
These examples remind us that not all bicycling infrastructure is inherently good- what ends up on our roadways needs to be designed in a way that safely interacts with existing modes of transportation. According to several studies, there’s a large percentage of interested riders out there, so building safe infrastructure will not only increase current rider’s safety but also the perceived safety of those considering bike use in the future.
Guest blogger: Andrew Picard
Andrew studied Human Geography at the University of Victoria and will be starting a Masters in Urban Planning in September. He often posts bicycling related phenomena here: http://cycling-