I visited Copenhagen for the first time in June. I knew it was one of the bikiest cities in the world, but it’s quite astounding to see what a place looks like where 52% of commuters travel by bike.
Almost every street has a type of protected bikeway. It’s essentially a lane of the street but raised up with a small curb, low enough that vehicles can mount it but high enough to discourage that. (And generally, they don’t.)
These are everywhere. It’s not just the main streets or a few selected bike boulevards. Virtually every street of any appreciable size had one. It was almost strange to encounter a street with any traffic that didn’t. The typical medium-sized street had two car lanes (one each way), two bike lanes of the same width (one each way), and a sidewalk on each side.
As an old city, the streets are fairly narrow (and, honestly, the sidewalks were pretty narrow and are made of cobblestones; it might be a bike mecca, but the walking experience could be better). So how can there be enough room?
Here’s a picture. What do you notice that’s missing?
If you said “on-street parking,” you’re right! As compared with most US cities which have parking on nearly every city street, Copenhagen has it on many smaller streets but far from all, and doesn’t have it on most mid-sized and larger streets.
Could DC be like this?
There are some obstacles to DC having as much biking as Copenhagen (once again: 52% of commuters!) For one, our weather is both hotter and colder, and DC has more hills. Copenhagen is a smaller city, with about 2 million people in its metropolitan area versus 6 million for Washington.
Still, we can do so much better. We don’t have to put a bikeway on every street, and maybe won’t ever have the mode share to justify that, but there already is enough mode share to warrant a network of them connecting every neighborhood and spaced a certain distance in the city’s core.
More bikeways would also boost the amount of cycling; with DC’s weather and topography we could easily double, triple, or quadruple the 2% of commuters bicycling (after all, 11% walk and they have to contend with the same weather!)
It’s crazy that it takes years to build support for a protected bikeway on even one street. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) built only 0.14 miles of protected bikeways and 4.28 miles of other bike lanes in 2015.
The MoveDC plan calls for 7.5 miles a year of bike lanes. New York built 12.4 miles of protected bikeways in 2015, and the city does have about 12 times as many people as DC proper, but that means DC is still falling short by a factor of about seven.
It’s certainly true there are political obstacles to changing even a single parking space into something else, but there’s a simple political solution as well: do it differently.
Copenhagen is building a new bike/ped bridge next to an existing one, because the existing one has too much bicycle traffic.
Compared to many other US cities like Orlando and Cleveland, DC is doing great on transit, on bicycling, on walking. We shouldn’t forget how far we’ve come, either; DC had zero protected bikeways until 2009. But go around the world and it can easily become clear: we also could do so, so much better.