Tag Archives: Copenhagen

Michael Colville’s Pitch

About the video here by Mikael Colville of copenhagenize.com:

Mikael Colville’s talk in the video is introduced by a video clip of a rather sorry infrastructure situation, with a crowd of bicyclists slowly making their way forward, cramped in a narrow passage to the right of an opaque barrier, while a line of cars turning right must yield to the cyclists after turning past the barrier. To me, this choice of a clip conveys the message “look, we are morally superior, motorist, we’re going to make it hard for you: you have to yield to us.” It doesn’t say anything about making bicycling more convenient, or anything but a nuisance to people who might think of switching from motoring. Or that whoever chose this location had any other sense about infrastructure — certainly none about sight line hazards.

And the music — the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil! Now there’s an odd choice!

Similarly, at the end, there is an overhead drone shot of a bridge which has recently been restriped from four to two lanes of motor traffic, to add street level bike lanes next to already existing bikeways behind curbs. The implication is that bicyclists are winning by taking space away from motorists, and that space is to struggle over, not to share. In this case, on a bridge, I’d agree that bike lanes are suitable, but are four needed? What happens where they turn off at the end of the bridge while motor vehicles can go straight? We don’t see. Who knows?

The talk is all about marketing. The core of his message is that guilt-tripping people about environmentalism doesn’t work, and we must use marketing to make bicycling look attractive. Two products which Colville discusses for purposes of comparison, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, are both highly useful labor-saving devices which quickly became popular for that reason, but he doesn’t mention that. He does praise improvements which made them more compact and useful in the home, but mostly, he praises the decorations on sewing machines which made them more attractive to homemakers.

My mother owned a Singer treadle sewing machine, and indeed it was a beautiful product — to some degree because of the flower stencils but also because of its elegant product design, with a table to hold supplies and attachments, and into which the machine could be folded down to make the table useful when the machine wasn’t in use. Treadle power was perfect for the pre-electrical era, and the wheel on the right end of the machine could start, slow or stop it with precision. Not to speak of my mother’s machine’s being several decades old and still working perfectly.

My mother also owned a 1950-ish Kenmore (Sears brand, made by Electrolux) vacuum cleaner, and it was an esthetic horror, shaped like an airplane fuselage, painted dull gray and very loud. She made much more use of the vacuum cleaner than of the sewing machine.

Colville says that we must market bicycling like these products. He deprecates “the 1%” of people who will wear fancy cycling clothing” — guilt by association with political class struggle, divisive, and also a reference to the categorization which Roger Geller made up, pulling the numbers out of his head, only to be followed up by a home-town study which found that his numbers were exactly right (surprise!).

Colville says that people are conservative and don’t want to stand out. But, tattoos peek out from under his plain white T shirt.

I don’t think that bicycling can be sold by marketing alone. It must be practical and useful like a sewing machine or vacuum cleaner, or people won’t use it for daily transportation. Though some people like to show off with Spandex and carbon fiber bikes, others wear street clothes and ride beater bikes. Some do both. Should instructors even care? We make bicycling more practical for any cyclists by helping them to do it well — and offering informed opinions on what works, or not, in bicycle planning and infrastructure.

Translation of complete paper on German bikeways 1897-1940

I’ve prepared a full translation of the important paper by Dr. Volker Briese of the University of Paderborn in Germany about the history of German bikeways from 1897 through the start of World War II. This has previously been available only in German, or in a highly condensed version in English in the narrowly distributed Proceedings of the 1993 International Cycle History Conference. You may read the English translation here, and also find your way to the other versions as well if they are what you would prefer.

Danish story, video and comments on the Albertslund-Copenhagen “bicycle superhighway”

A reader pointed me to a news story on the politiken.dk blog about the Copenhagen/Albertslund “bicycle superhighway” which is getting attention and publicity. The reader’s comments on my previous post read:

Yeah, its kind of joke, but to be fair they are not called superhighways in Danish but Super bicycle tracks, and even then most agree that they are not really that super. There is a video of the entire route here if you scroll down a bit:


The two next ones which will open are another story though, as they mostly have their own right of way, and use viaducts or bridges to cross streets.

So, better things may be on their way, but…I ran the article through the Google translator, and it appears in the link below in (sort of) English. The page includes the sped-up video of the entire route.


Here’s the video — warning, Shell diesel fuel ad at start, and you can only stop the video when you click on it, see the ad again and click on it to open a bigger ad! This workaround was needed to make the video visible on this page.

The one unifying factor of this route is an orange line painted lengthwise to identify it. The first part of the route is relatively tame. Barriers, unprotected intersections and other hazards pile up near the end.

Some representative quotes (I’ve translated from Googlish to English, thanks to an online dictionary and my knowledge of the neighbor language, German.):

From the article:

“I did not expect that I just had to detour on ordinary roads in residential neighborhoods. I did not see much of the green wave that is supposed to be in town. I do not think you can call it a super bike path,” the [politiken dk test rider] concluded.

From comments on the article:

– The section of tunnel under Motorring 3 is dark and miserably lighted. There are many riding schools (which, incidentally, should be forced to close and move out into a rural area!). The tunnel is usually filled with horse s***, and because you can not see in these tunnels due to poor lighting, you can only hope that you do not ride through any of it.


– In the westbound direction, at the pitch-dark tunnels, you have to negotiate two sets of barriers. The point of these, other than to impede traffic, I do not know. But when you have to use all your mental energy to get through these, they constitute more of a hazard than a safety precaution.


I have commuted between Roskilde and the northwest part of Copenhagen 2-3 times a week on a recumbent trike with an electric assist motor for 6 months (http://ing.dk/blogs/pedalbilen). When I used the “super path” the trip was about 3 km and 15 minutes longer. Especially the part of the route in Albertslund is very indirect and inconvenient. There are detours, barriers and ramps in most places, and it will for example not be possible to ride in a velomobile, as far as I can judge. The new route is comfortable and free of exhaust, but as commuter route it gets a failing grade compared with Roskildevej [a parallel, 4-lane divided but not limited-access highway with one-way sidepaths].


– I didn’t see anything which shows that cyclists have priority over the other traffic. Unfortunately, the only thing new that I see is approximately 100 meters of new asphalt in two places near Rødovre, so that it is easy going. There are simply no real improvements for cyclists in relation to other road users! You can still find barriers, sharp turns, bumps and traffic lights. Why is there no new cycle path, e.g. along the western forest road, so you do not have to drive through neighborhoods with pedestrians and children playing? Why are barriers not turned 90 degrees, so users of the route have right of way?

Even if there were brand new asphalt on the entire route it would never merit the title “super”. Only when a route enables more or less continuous travel at high average speed (which motorists know from motorways) does it, in my opinion, deserve the massive marketing it is currently getting.


…Bus passengers cross the bikeway. It seems quite unreasonable that there are no islands at bus stops where passengers have to wait when they get on and off. Thus cyclists must stop, and so, so much for the “super bike path”.

The culture creates the system…

There’s something I’ve been trying to find a way to say for quite a while now. Mighk Wilson just said it, and very eloquently:

The culture creates the system, not the other way around.  American bikeway advocates are attempting to take a short-cut; trying to build a system that will change the culture.  One need only look at the anti-cyclist stories burning across the Web to see that isn’t working.

The problem isn’t just vitriol. It also is shoddy and hazardous design of facilities. People who try to create the culture by creating the system don’t know how to create the system either. Worse, in the hope of stringing along politicians, they heap praises on bicycle facilities which make shabby design compromises.

Mighk has summed up the problem and given it a larger scope. You may read his entire essay here.

Ciccarelli on cycle tracks

John Ciccarelli is a consultant on bicycling and a League of American Bicyclists-certified cycling instructor who specializes in teaching adults who have never ridden a bicycle before. His comments here are reprinted by permission, and are in response to an e-mail he cites.

Subject: Re: Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany
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Safe separation with the Copenhagen curb?

How does a Copenhagen cycle track make bicycling safer? By putting bicyclists behind a low curb, a curb which a motor vehicle with its big tires can mount, but a bicycle can’t. The curb increases safety for bicyclists the way a streetcar track does.

Copenhagen curbed cycle track

A cyclist rides on a Copenhagen cycle track. Google Street View photo.

Oh, but wait — a streetcar track is a hazard to bicyclists, isn’t it?

So, let’s try to figure out the logic behind the Copenhagen curb. I think that it goes something like this:

“Bicyclists are sort of halfway between pedestrians and motorists, so we’ll put them behind a little curb about half as high as the sidewalk.”

This is reasoning by analogy. Reasoning by analogy is perilous if the analogy doesn’t hold. This one certainly doesn’t, so let’s look a little bit deeper.
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Streetcars and bicycles

The rails for the E line branch of the Green Line subway/streetcar in Boston, Massachusetts, USA occupied the middle of two-lane Centre Street for over 20 years after service was discontinued. There had been a proposal to redo the street and restore streetcar service, but ADA requirements for wheelchair compatibility would have required new tracks to snake over to raised platforms at the curbs for stops. Bicyclists, who already were crashing on the existing rails, would have had to cross the new rails repeatedly. Bus service with the transfer to the Green Line on Huntington Avenue, which runs in the median, is about 2 minutes slower than streetcar service. Reconstructing the street with the new rails also would have been very expensive. Eventually, the proponents for bus service won out and the old tracks were paved over.

The three remaining streetcar lines in Boston all run in the median. A busway also can run in the median. All conflicts can be addressed with signalization. But this solution requires a wide street. If it isn’t wide enough then you lose the bike lane/wide outside lane: here is an example.

A streetcar line on a one-way street allows bicycle traffic to stay on one side and streetcars on the other. Here’s a photo of this treatment in Portland, Oregon. It still has problems described in the caption. Or the streetcar may go contraflow with no other contraflow traffic allowed.

Not so good: Running the bikeway behind the trolley stop. A Copenhagen study found that running a cycle track behind a bus shelter led to 19 times the crash rate and 17 times the injury rate of other installations. Problem with a streetcar line, though, is that the tracks pose the risk of bicyclists’ crashing even when there is no streetcar nearby. That leaves no good solution other than to put the streetcar and bike route on different streets. Here’s an example of a bikeway behind a bus shelter from Portland. Unfortunately, the street here leads to an important river crossing, so a different bike route wasn’t an option.

I have heard that Phoenix’s new light rail system has to skew between stops either side of a one-way street because there is an important trip generator on the left side. A bike lane plays hopscotch with the light rail line and bicyclists must cross the street twice to continue. At least it is possible to transport bicycles in the light rail cars — probably the best way to get through that area with a bicycle!

Copenhagen in 1937 — what can it tell us?

I thank Ralph Fertig of the Santa Barbara, California Bicycle Coalition for drawing the attention of the bicycling community to the following fascinating travelogue from Copenhagen, shot in Technicolor in 1937. Not all of the film is about bicycling, but the bicycling scenes are worth the wait.

Copenhagen TravelTalk 1937 from Justin Lim on Vimeo.

In 1937, bicycling had been the dominant mode of road transportation in Copenhagen for decades. No transition to motoring had occurred, as in the USA. Bicycling declined after WWII with the increasing popularity and affordability of motor vehicles, but has since recovered considerably with the construction of bicycle facilities and other measures to encourage bicycling, and extremely high taxes on new cars.

The film from 1937 shows some very interesting scenes of bicyclists interacting with the relatively few motorists, especially near the end. Interaction is mostly vehicular, and bicyclists establish the prevailing speed of traffic. Look at how they navigate a traffic circle, moving to the center to go straight through. Bicyclists conduct themselves much like motor scooter users I saw in Taiwan in 2002.

I also notice that the youngest bicyclists shown are in the early- to mid-teen years. That also comports with what I saw in Taiwan, and differs from the “eight to eighty” paradigm that must be accommodated only with separate facilities, or on streets where motorists operate very gingerly — eight-year-olds can’t reliably follow the rules of the road.

Clearly, pre-WWII Danes were experienced bicyclists, but on the other hand, there is some rather sloppy bicycling shown.

Gotta love the narration:

“…a people who have contributed to the stability and progress of the white race, for the Danes are the descendants of the courageous Vikings…”

I had mistyped Bikings 🙂

Those Vikings were rather ruthless expansionist warriors, actually (just ask the Scots) , and in 1937, the Danes were within a very few years of being invaded themselves by history’s most brutal exponents of the concept of the “white race.”

New York City bicycling advocate Steve Faust adds the following observations:

I think I recognize the bridge…just west of the center city,
if so, the roadway has been changed from 4 mixed roadway lanes with trolley tracks in the center,
to two motor lanes without any streetcars, and two cycle track lanes – one on each side for one way bicycle flow.
The pedestrian sidewalk space remains about the same width as in the film.

The streets leading to and from the bridge have been given a cycle track treatment in place of the two motor lanes [sic], and probably are part of the bicycle speed paced green wave of traffic signals.

There is almost as much bike traffic on these streets today, plus more motor traffic volume, all on the same street width.
The major change besides the dedicated cycle tracks, is the use of the right hand left turn in a holding bike box on the far side of the intersection. This eliminates bikes having to merge across the car lane and possibly more critical, bikes don’t wait in the motor lane for a clear left turn, which waiting would block the relatively narrow motor lane – there are no left turn pockets.

Cyclist waiting time is minimized by having a total 60 second traffic signal cycle time. A cyclist arriving on the green through light has less than 30 seconds to wait at the far corner for the cross street green light – a delay that might well be shorter than waiting for a clear left turn from the roadway. I’ve certainly stood for over 30 seconds in the middle of the road waiting for a safe clear left turn.

The bike box Steve is discussing is a cross-street bike box, which serves only left-turning traffic.

The graph below is from a presentation by Dutch bicycle program official Hans Voerknecht given in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in November, 2008.

The mode share for Copenhagen is indicated by the green line that starts at around 40 percent in 1920, rises to around 55 percent either side of World War II, then falls and rises again to around 37 percent in 1995.

This widely quoted number, though, is for commute trips only.  According to more comprehensive sources from 1995 and also from more recent years — see this posting — bicycle trips are around 22% of all trips in Copenhagen. Data from earlier years and especially from before World War II may have been collected differently.

Copenhagen still has a large bicycle mode share for a city in an industrialized nation. Despite the draconian measures to reduce motor vehicle use, and the many bicycle facilities installed since the 1960s, Copenhagen streets carry many more motor vehicles now than in 1937, and on many main streets, bicyclists are restricted to cycle tracks or lanes which become congested at peak travel times.

You may click on the image to see a larger version.

Bicycle mode share in several European cities, 1920-1995

Bicycle mode share in several European cities, 1920-1995