Flashback Friday: Cycling in Copenhagen

It seems to be the season suddenly for lots of friends I know to be off travelling around the world, getting their tourist fix after a few years being stuck in NZ thanks to lockdowns and pandemics. It has certainly been a few years since I was last anywhere further away than Australia, particularly some of the wonders of Europe or North America. Coincidentally, earlier this week, I was doing some industry training on advanced cycleway design at intersections and we were referencing some best-practice examples from these parts of the world. Some of these examples are based on previous visits to these places by me and my colleagues – including the time I visited Copenhagen, as first posted here back in Jan 2016

I’ve been lucky to get to visit many interesting places overseas and have dutifully reported about these back here on Cycling in Chch. But there have also been places visited before CiC started that might be of interest to readers (especially if they have ideas we might like to try here). With that in mind, I thought I would tell you about my visit back in 2010 to another place held up high in cycling circles: Copenhagen, Denmark.

Copenhagen – so many cyclists

I was in Copenhagen for the first ever Velo-City Global Cycling Conference – there had been other Velo-City cycling conferences throughout Europe since 1980, but this was the start of a move to hold the event internationally every second year (of which I’ve also been lucky to visit Vancouver in 2012 and Adelaide in 2014). As well as a great selection of conference presentations, there was also plenty of opportunity to ride around the city and explore what it has to offer for biking. As a city considered by many to be the top place in the world for cycling, and with an estimated 45% of commuting trips made by cycling, it was an exciting prospect.

Copenhageners use hook turns a lot to make left turns (our right turns)

Coming from New Zealand, you are hit instantly on arrival by the sheer number of bikes everywhere (and the wide variety, including many types of cargo bike). Indeed, as a rider it can be quite daunting to enter and leave the flow when it is very busy (tricky when I was regularly stopping to take so many photos!). Copenhagen has recognised this demand in many places by comandeering a number of traffic lanes for use by cycling instead.

This cycleway is so busy they took over one of the traffic lanes too. According to the counter it averages 10,000 cyclists/day!

The Danish capital is of course well known for its famous “Copenhagen lanes”, the kerb-separated cycle tracks that are a key part of its network. Typically it’s a low kerb, only about 50mm high and mountable by motor vehicles (or bikes) if needed. But it’s enough to provide a perceived separation from both traffic and pedestrians alike.

Kerb-separated cycle tracks

Interestingly at intersections they often have these cycle tracks rejoin the streets, and even sometimes share the traffic turning lane. The logic here is that it is hard for a turning vehicle to “hook” you if they are in the same lane as you, rather than being beside you. As a way to deal with this conflict without the need for separate extra signal phases, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Approaching an intersection

For left turners (our right turns), the hook turn is consistently used by riders, even when it is not marked. This probably helps the many less-confident riders make their way around town.

The blue path on the left leads riders to make a hook turn

Interactions with buses are also considered carefully, by making sure that boarding/departing passengers are separately catered for, away from the bypassing cycleway.

An island separates bus passengers from the cycleway

As an old historic town, Copenhagen has many cobbled street surfaces. These can be very rough to ride on if you mistakenly take the wrong street! Fortunately in many places now, a smooth section has been provided for those cycling, leaving the rough surface to slow down motor traffic.

A cobbled roundabout but a smooth cycle route

Away from streets, there are also many useful off-road path connections for cycling, generally with separate facilities for pedestrians.

A nice separated path treatment, with footpath to the right

As with most other parts of Europe, Copenhagen also uses other tricks to restrict traffic in cycling areas, such as lower speed limits and local traffic management.

Street barriers keep unnecessary traffic out

Here are a few more photos of interest from Copenhagen:

Another variant on a cycleway past a bus stop
Ordinary cycle lanes also exist in Copenhagen
Lots of locals going to the beach will do so by bike – so there’s lots of bike parking
A cycle/walk overbridge crosses a busy road that also has a cycleway
Blue is used to mark cycleways
The cycleway was needed for seating space and bike parking – so they moved the cycleway over to a traffic lane
Sometimes separation is done with parked cars
Low kerbs mean that side traffic can cross the cycleway without having to notably change the level of it (if at all)
A very efficient use of a narrow road corridor for cycleways, parking, pedestrians and traffic
All kinds of ways seen to double-up on a bike…

Overall, Copenhagen is certainly well worth a visit if you want to be inspired what a cycling city could be like. Since my visit, it continues to set the benchmark for innovative cycling, such as the recent “Cycle snake” bridge. Like anywhere, it’s not perfect (e.g. I saw cars parked in cycleways, and some of the infrastructure needed improving) but it was getting as close as you might find in the world.

What do you think about cycling in Copenhagen?

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