A couple of years ago we reported on some of the innovations that cities in Europe are making in order to improve the already excellent bike transportation
In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the trend in the 1960s was to have multi-lane highways going straight into the center of the cities. However this turned
out to be a disaster since both cities could not handle the amount of cars that suddenly flooded the center. Cars would end up on small streets and were
parked anywhere. This made life miserable for both car owners as well as bikers. The original plan to widen roads in the center was not feasible as we
are talking about historic cities where nobody was interested in tearing down houses just to make room for more cars. The whole car-centric approach simply
did not work.
After skipping these plans, both Copenhagen and Amsterdam made efforts to improve the bike lanes throughout the city. A typical major
street in the center of Copenhagen has separate sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes and cars lanes. The lanes are not just separated by painted lines, but
with actual curbs. This allows the traffic to be separated except in intersections. However, in busy intersections there are separate traffic lights for cars,
buses, bikes and pedestrians. It sounds complicated, but it seems to work fairly smoothly.
The simple philosophy is to make life easier for bikers but not for cars. This will eventually attract more and more commuters to bike to work. Other
changes have also been implemented over the years:
1) Bike counters are located at various places around the center of Copenhagen and shows the number of bikes passing on a daily basis as well as for the year to date. Every year
at least 4 million bikes pass the shown counter which is located next to the town hall. This is a good way to motivate people to bike.
2) Super highways for bikers. This allows bikers to bike from the suburbs to or through the center of Copenhagen without much interaction with cars. The network
of these highways is being expanded as we speak, and has been a big success.
3) One-way streets for cars, but add two-way bike lanes allowing bikers to get around much easier.
4) Green waves on some of the major roads through the center of Copenhagen. If a biker keeps a certain speed, the traffic light will be green all the time.
The latest improvement is to add green LED lights in the bike paths. If the green LED lights are lit up next to the biker, then the biker will be able to get through the
next green light. If however the LEDs are lit up ahead of the biker, then the biker needs to speed up to make the next green light. Pretty cool
5) Parts of Copenhagen is located on smaller islands, and there were only a few bridges where bikers could cross the inner harbour.
In order to make things easier, the city of Copenhagen has in recent years added several bike and pedestrian bridges. While cars are stuck in traffic, the bikers
easily get around using these bridges. One of these bridges is called 'Cykleslangen' (directly translated it means 'The Bike Snake', but it also means
'The Inner Tube'). During the planning phase, this design was by far the most expensive but the city liked it so much that it found the extra money to build it. It
is really cool.
All these efforts are done to make biking more attractive and it seems to work really well. In Copenhagen more than 50% of all commuters now use bikes.
Amsterdam might be even more impressive, but one of their problems is that there are bikes everywhere. To help this problem, the city has built one gigantic
parking garage for bikes. It can hold 10,000 bikes in a three level building.
The last city I want to mention is Groningen in Holland. The city is an old medieval town, and could not handle the car traffic. Traffic planners divided
the city in four quadrants and in order for a car to travel to another quadrant, the driver has to drive out to a ring road that lies outside the center, and drive
around the center of the city to get to the desired quadrant. A biker however can move freely between the quadrants. What takes 25 - 30 minutes for a car, takes
10 - 12 minutes for a bike.