Copenhagen Still in the Vanguard!

Copenhagen street sceneOne can hardly find a more hospitable environment for cycling than in Denmark. This small country at the meeting of Northern Europe and Scandinavia is bike crazy, and no wonder: the national government and local jurisdictions have bent over backwards to make cycling rewarding. It’s not uncommon to see thousands – literally thousands – of bikes at the rail stations.

Now Copenhagen, Denmark’s jewel and ground-zero for urban cycling, is taking it one step further: the city wants to encourage cycling for distance commuting too, and is putting its money on bicycle highways. As profiled in Bikeradar, these are not merely grand bike paths or wider painted lanes but full-on transportation infrastructure.

Map of Demmark's bike freeway
Denmark's plan to link Copenhagen with Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg via three-lane bicycle freeways.

Speaking of full-on transportation infrastructure, consider Demmark’s proposition to directly link Copenhagen to the key regional cities of Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg with three-lane (each direction!) bicycle freeways (route map at left). Complete with service stations along the way! According to Bikeradar, construction is already underway in Copenhagen and Aarhus. Read more about the overall project on Copenhagenize (from which this nifty route map was lifted) as well as the rollout in Aarhus.

Taking a page from freeway engineering, the rights-of-way use standardized design and uniform signage. Doesn’t this suggest a lesson for the Los Angeles region?

Copenhagen bike superhighways map
Copenhagen's proposed system of bike superhighways is something to shoot for in the Southland!

Then there is the country-wide system of bike highways converging on Copenhagen – the world’s probably bike capital (below). While we in the Los Angeles area are slowly cobbling together a regional ‘backbone’ (and that itself is an achievement!) Copenhagen has taken an alternative approach to plan from the top down – beginning with a national plan for utility routes.

After all, Los Angeles was once an innovator in regional transportation. Three-quarters of a century ago, the Arroyo Seco Freeway in Pasadena opened to great fanfare. This six-mile thoroughfare was championed by the AAA Auto Club for regional mobility and was a precursor to the limited access freeways that were rolled out across the region under the Master Plan of Highways (published by the County Regional Planning Commission).

That original roadway (now the 110 Freeway) is best viewed from atop the Colorado Street bridge (below) which spans the Arroyo Seco canyon in Pasadena. That span itself was originally a bikeway! Imagine recreating a regional bicycle infrastructure that bridges such natural features  by elevating cyclists above it all!

Arroyo Seco Parkway historic image
(Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library's photo archive.)

Today we do have a true system of regional connectivity – more than five hundred miles of concrete freeways painfully constructed at great expense – which services only motorists. Not a single mile of blacktop is  dedicated to two-wheelers. And bike infrastructure is so much more affordable to construct.

It looks like Denmark may be the first nation to implement a true national bikeway network. Indeed one can hardly find a more hospitable environment for cycling than in Denmark, a  small country in Scandinavia where people are bike crazy. The national government and local jurisdictions have bent over backwards to make cycling rewarding.  Now Denmark is taking it one step further by encouraging distance commuting.

Doesn’t this suggest a lesson for the Los Angeles region? It’s difficult enough to navigate local streets; there exists not a single regional route conceived as such. Instead, we’re slowly cobbling together a regional ‘backbone.’ Copenhagen has taken an alternative approach.