“Commuters Pedal to Work on Their Very Own Superhighway
COPENHAGEN — Picture 11 miles of smoothly paved bike path meandering through the countryside. Largely uninterrupted by roads or intersections, it passes fields, backyards, chirping birds, a lake, some ducks and, at every mile, an air pumpFor some Danes, this is the morning commute.
Susan Nielsen, a 59-year-old schoolteacher, was one of a handful of people taking advantage of Denmark’s first “superhighway” for bicycles on a recent morning, about halfway between Copenhagen and Albertslund, a suburb, which is the highway’s endpoint. “I’m very glad because of the better pavement,” said Ms. Nielsen, who wore a rain jacket and carried a pair of pants in a backpack to put on after her 40-minute commute.
The cycle superhighway, which opened in April, is the first of 26 routes scheduled to be built to encourage more people to commute to and from Copenhagen by bicycle. More bike path than the Interstate its name suggests, it is the brainchild of city planners who were looking for ways to increase bicycle use in a place where half of the residents already bike to work or to school every day.
“We are very good, but we want to be better,” said Brian Hansen, the head of Copenhagen’s traffic planning section.
He and his team saw potential in suburban commuters, most of whom use cars or public transportation to reach the city. “A typical cyclist uses the bicycle within five kilometers,” or about three miles, said Mr. Hansen, whose office keeps a coat rack of ponchos that bicycling employees can borrow in case of rain. “We thought: How do we get people to take longer bicycle rides?”
They decided to make cycle paths look more like automobile freeways. While there is a good existing network of bicycle pathways around Copenhagen, standards across municipalities can be inconsistent, with some stretches having inadequate pavement, lighting or winter maintenance, as well as unsafe intersections and gaps.
“It doesn’t work if you have a good route, then a section in the middle is covered in snow,” said Lise Borgstrom Henriksen, spokeswoman for the cycle superhighway secretariat. “People won’t ride to work then.”
For the superhighway project, Copenhagen and 21 local governments teamed up to ensure that there were contiguous, standardized bike routes into the capital across distances of up to 14 miles. “We want people to perceive these routes as a serious alternative,” Mr. Hansen said, “like taking the bus, car or train.”
The plan has received widespread support in a country whose left- and right-leaning lawmakers both regularly bike to work (albeit on slightly different models of bicycle).”
Photos: Jan Grarup for The New York Times