Europe
3:12 am
Sat September 1, 2012

In Bike-Friendly Copenhagen, Highways For Cyclists

Originally published on Sat September 1, 2012 7:17 pm

Every day, one-third of the people of Copenhagen ride their bikes to work or school. Collectively, they cycle more than 750,000 miles daily, enough to make it to the moon and back. And city officials want even more people to commute, and over longer distances.

So a network of 26 new bike routes, dubbed "the cycling superhighway," is being built to link the surrounding suburbs to Copenhagen.

Lars Gaardhoj, an official with the Copenhagen capital region, says the routes will be straight and direct.

"It will be very fast for people who use their bike," he says. "This is new because traditionally cycle paths have been placed where there is space for them and the cars didn't run. So now the bike is going to challenge the car."

The first highway, to the busy suburb of Albertslund some 10 miles outside the city, was completed in April.

To test it, I got a rental bike and went out for a ride.

No Place For Slowpokes

One of the first things you learn about these bike lanes is that you have to move in fast. This is not leisurely biking — this is serious stuff in Copenhagen.

It's a parallel world of transportation: You've got the cars on the roads and the people on their bikes. There are thousands and thousands of people on their bikes here in this city.

As commuters pour into Copenhaghen on the new highway, I stop biker Cona Endelgo at a red light. Endelgo says he used to drive his car to work, but biking is better.

"It gives you more exercise and motion, and it's more free, and it's quicker. When I pass the harbor, I wave to the cars," he says.

Each mile of bike highway will cost about $1 million. The project is to be financed by the city of Copenhagen and 21 local governments. And in a country where both right- and left-leaning politicians regularly ride bikes to work, it has bilateral support.

Addressing The Needs Of Bikers

Several innovations are being tested, like "green wave" technology, which times traffic lights to suit bikers. If you maintain a certain pace, you can ride all the way through into the city without stopping. There are also footrests with bars to lean on at traffic lights, and a bike pump every mile in case you have a flat.

Outside the city, the pace is slower and people talk to each other as they ride. Jacob Messen, 33, is on his way to a water park with his kids. He says support for the project runs deep.

"Bicycles are a very essential element in most people's lives in Denmark," he says. "We have them as small infants and all the way up through the ages."

He's not kidding. Another rider, 83-year-old Soulva Jensen, is using the highway to visit her daughter in a neighboring town.

"The trains are too much trouble at the moment, so I thought it was easier to take the bike," she says.

Once the highway network is completed, an estimated 15,000 additional people will switch from driving to biking. And that, say officials, will have a direct impact on the environment, public health and finances. The bike highway alone is expected to save Copenhagen's health care system some $60 million a year.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Denmark, cycling is a serious mode of transportation. One in three residents in the capital of Copenhagen rides his or her bike to school or work, and the city is now building a network of cycling superhighways. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL CHIMING)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Every day Copenhagers cycle more than 750,000 collective miles, enough to make it to the moon and back. But city officials want to encourage more people to commute longer distances. So a network of 26 new bike routes, dubbed the cycling super highway, is being built to link Copenhagen to its surrounding suburbs. Lars Gaardhoj, an official with the Copenhagen Capital Region, says the routes will be straight and direct.

LARS GAARDHOJ: It will be very fast for people who use their bike. So now the bike is going to challenge the car.

BEARDSLEY: The first highway, to the busy suburb of Albertslund, some ten miles away, was completed in April. So I take my rental bike out to test it.

When you get on one of these bike lanes you got to move in fast. It's not leisurely biking. This is serious stuff in Copenhagen. It's a parallel world of transportation going on here. You've got the cars on the roads and the people on the bikes and it's very similar. There are thousands and thousands of people on their bikes here in this city.

As commuters pour into Copenhagen on the new highway, I talk to Cona Endelgo at a red light.

Do you speak English? I'm with American Public Radio, but maybe you're in a hurry.

CONA ENDELGO: Yeah. But OK.

BEARDSLEY: Endelgo says he used to drive his car to work, but biking is better all the way round.

ENDELGO: It gives you more exercise and motion and it's more free and it's quicker. When I pass the harbor, I wave to the cars. Yeah.

BEARDSLEY: Each mile of bike highway will cost about one million U.S. dollars. And in a country where both right- and left-leaning politicians regularly bike to work, it has bipartisan support. Several innovations are being tested, like green wave technology, which times traffic lights to suit bikers. Meaning. if you maintain a certain pace you can ride all the way through without stopping. There are also foot rests with bars to lean on at traffic lights, and...

(SOUNDBITE OF PUMPING)

BEARDSLEY: ...a bike pump every mile in case you have a flat.

Winding farther out of the city the pace is slower and people talk to each other as they ride. Thirty-three-year-old Jacob Messen is on his way to a water park with his kids. He says Danes support for the bike highway project runs deep.

JACOB MESSEN: Well, the bicycles are a very essential element in most people of Denmark's life, you know. And we have them from small infants and just all the way up through the ages.

BEARDSLEY: Eighty-three-year old Soulva Jensen is using the highway to visit her daughter in a neighboring town.

SOULVA JENSEN: The trains are too much trouble at the moment, so I thought it was easier to take the bike.

BEARDSLEY: Have you been biking all your life?

JENSEN: Yes.

BEARDSLEY: Because you're in great shape.

(LAUGHTER)

JENSEN: No, not really, but I'm happy for what I can.

BEARDSLEY: Once the highway network is completed, projections show some 15,000 people will switch from driving to biking. That, say officials, will have a direct impact on the environment, public health and finances. The bike highway alone is expected to save Copenhagen's health care system some 60 million dollars a year.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I ride my bicycle to work each day. It's not so far. It's better for me than my car. I wear a helmet that is made of...

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.