Public Works: Copenhagen's Bicycle Skyway Makes Riding Safe and Convenient
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Public Works: Copenhagen’s Bicycle Skyway Makes Riding Safe and Convenient

A new elevated bike path is part of the city's goal to become the “best bicycle city” in the world.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Image courtesy of the Danish Architecture Centre.

Image courtesy of the Danish Architecture Centre.

Copenhagen wants to become the world’s “best bicycle city” by the end of 2015. By next year, the city aims to have 50 per cent of its commuters cycle to work or school—up from an average of 36 per cent measured from 2008 to 2010. In June of this year, Copenhagen opened an elevated bicycle route that’s expected to drastically increase the number of cyclists travelling to and from one of the city’s busiest areas.

In 2006, Copenhagen built the Bryggebroen bicycle and pedestrian bridge across its harbour, connecting the city’s mainland to the island of Amager, home of Copenhagen University, Danish Broadcasting Corporation headquarters, and the sprawling Amagerfælled park. To get to Bryggebroen from nearby residential zones, cyclists had to cross a different bridge, the Dybbølsbro, then either take a long detour around a shopping centre, or carry their bikes down a flight of stairs and travel through a busy section of harbour lands replete with sharp turns and no clear separation between pedestrian and bike lanes. Although 8,000 to 9,000 cyclists were crossing Bryggebroen bridge each day, experts in Copenhagen estimated that twice as many bike users would make the mainland-to-Amager journey if a better route were found.

That’s where the idea for Cykelslangen came in. The structure, whose name is Danish for “Cycle Snake,” comprises an elevated bike path approximately one storey high that meanders from the Dybbølsbro bridge to the Bryggebroen bridge. Four metres wide and 190 metres long with a 30-metre on-ramp, Cykelslangen spans land and water. As seen in footage of a trip across Cykelslangen (complete with cloying soundtrack), the new route is quick and smooth, with none of the usual perils (traffic, joggers, potholes, parked cars, etc.) of city cycling.

The Cycle Snake wasn’t cheap: it rang in at 38 million Danish kroner, or nearly $7.3 million CAD. By contrast, the bike tracks on Sherbourne Street from Bloor to King streets cost $2.5 million. But with the elevated path, Copenhagen has sidestepped some of the issues that have made bike lanes such a divisive issue in Toronto. The city has created a bike route that doesn’t impinge on existing roadways or potential parking spaces; it has found a way to keep cyclists absolutely safe from cars. And pedestrians are safer and freer now that they don’t have to compete with cyclists for space. Everyone is out of everyone else’s way and everyone is safer.

Cykelslangen also addresses a problem common to many cities building up their cycling infrastructure. As great as bike lanes are, a lack of connectivity between them renders them almost useless for anything more than short trips around the city. Of course, a giant raised path won’t be the best solution in every situation. It works in Copenhagen’s harbour because it has room to jut out over the water. But cities such as Toronto must find creative ways to get cyclists safely from one place to another—and perhaps Copenhagen’s efforts will offer some inspiration.