Making a Beautiful Suburban Commute

Cycle success on Copenhagen’s Dronning Louises Bro

The New York Times recently wrote an in-depth piece on Copenhagen’s on-going quest for innovation in cycling infrastructure. Whilst the success of the ‘Copenhagen style’ dedicated bicycle tracks and the extended  painted cycle-ways at junctions have been imitated around the world, some of the newer innovations, many of which are still in the testing phases, are less widely known. The focus of change and innovation has shifted at the municipality from the centre to the suburbs, hoping to create not only a cycling Copenhagen city but a cycling greater Copenhagen.

As our own Lars Gemzøe says in the piece “If you want to drive a car for a medium distance, you know you are a fool…You are going to waste time.” Copenhagen has successfully made cycling the, fastest, easiest and importantly default choice for shorter journeys. However the longer trips, the commute to work from the suburbs for instance has historically received less attention.  The municipality has now turned their attention to increasing cycle journeys which originate further out of the centre through the provision of cycle superhighways which create dedicated long distance routes into the city centre. This ‘hardware’ is being tested alongside other ‘software’ interventions such as ‘green wave’ signals for cyclists travelling at 15km/hr, winter lighting and organised commutes such as the bicycle school bus. Brand new sensor innovations are being tested such as ones which sense when a group of cyclists are riding together and keep the light green for them. The central design approach is a human-centric understanding of what makes a longer cycle journey enjoyable , wider lanes more sociable ‘chatting lanes’ where it is perfectly polite to cycle alongside a friend – air pumps every mile inspire confidence that you won’t get caught out with a flat tire. They appeal to human emotions and sensibilities like fun and confidence which really influence our choices and behavior. Comparing these to the cycle superhighways in London which the Guardian Bicycle blog have done -  the difference  between the namesake schemes is  stark. The London cycle superhighways prioritise the efficiency of the route, the lanes are mainly placed on major city arteries which necessitate cycling alongside a lot of heavy truck and bus traffic and higher speeds than smaller roads. The intention was to invite more suburban commuter cycling by faster and more direct routes. The Copenhagen cycle superhighways have tried to invite suburban commuter cycling by creating a beautiful experience – one which improves quality of life and appeals to a variety of needs and desires.

Generating innovation around the suburbs and inviting for sustainable lifestyles there that are greener is perhaps the most vital and urgent of city problems. We need to accept and acknowledge lifestyle preferences towards the single family house, that our cities’ fabric is to a great degree suburban. And whilst we believe a denser city is more conducive to greener urban lifestyles, we must re-think our suburbs now with the infrastructure that invites sustainable behaviour and high quality experiences.

Wide cycle lanes in the suburbs provide space for chatting on the commute

  1. My Master’s dissertation was about the environmental, economic and time assessment of a modal transfer from the car to the bicycle, on longer distances (15km). I concluded that the bicycle, in co-modality with the public transport, is less pollutant, cheaper and faster. This confirms what you’ve said in this post. I guess it’s time to tackle suburbia-to-city-to-suburbia traffic problems now.

    - Pedro.

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