Lessons from Denmark - People focused policy and design

By Andreas Wolfe, Program Manager

Over the last few years we’ve gotten to celebrate a number victories here in the Boston area. In just 12 months, we’ve seen the Connect Historic Boston Trail enter construction and celebrated the announcement of high quality bike infrastructure along Commonwealth Ave near Boston University and on Beacon Street in Somerville. Cities across the country are seeing the benefit of designing more livable and safer public ways. However, the debate remains very much alive. When visiting family in Denmark last month, I of course found myself on two years every single day of my trip. This was my first time in Denmark in 5 years, during which time I’ve become involved in the effort to bring somewhat Danish style protected bike lanes to Boston. I was excited not only to remember what safe and intuitive bicycle design looked and felt like, but also to see what lessons I could take back to Boston. Here’s a summary of what I saw:

1. Urban Design and Transportation work in full sync:

While in Copenhagen, I rode on the City’s Quay Bridge (Bryggebroen), which provides a pedestrian and bicycle connection across the south harbor. The bridge is intended to not only connect two parts of the city, but also extend the Harbor’s boardwalk southward and create an inviting place for people to visit on both sides of the harbor. The bridge is a shining example of how transportation is not about just getting people from point A to B, but can create destinations in and of itself.

[caption id="attachment_24363" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Quay Bridge (Bryggebroen)[/caption]

As Massachusetts moves forward with rebuilding the Mass Pike in Allston, and other major transportation projects, this is a shining example of how transportation projects cannot only connect places, but create them as well.

2. A bike lane is as holy as a car lane.

Even in bicycle heaven Cambridge, this is an all too familiar sight:

In a construction zone, the bike lane always goes first. Second comes the sidewalk. Lastly, the road is only truly “shut down” when cars can no longer use it. In Copenhagen, every construction zone I saw had a continuously maintained bike lane. When space was tight, the bike lane and sidewalk were combined into a wider shared use path. After that, car traffic was redirected. Under all circumstances bicycle and pedestrian traffic was maintained.

[caption id="attachment_24365" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Jagtvej in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro neighborhood[/caption]

3. Thinking Outside the Box

American roadway standards are all about conformity. In some ways conformity is good. A green light should always be green. A stop sign should always be red. But what if we had a female walk symbol instead of a man? What if our bike trail crossings had both bikes and people on them, instead of a traditional crosswalk? In Denmark, transportation is built to respond directly to the user environment, regardless of your mode. That means you can get creative:

[caption id="attachment_24364" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Bicycle footrest on Axel Heides Gade[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_24366" align="aligncenter" width="338"] Temporary bicycle lane in Copenhagen[/caption]

My first day back in Boston on a bike, I forgot how to ride in traffic. Nervous to jump out in front of cars, I hugged the side of the road. The Danish bike lanes had left me spoiled. As important as infrastructure is, we must first change our values. While in Copenhagen, I saw design and policy decisions that directly responded to Danish values on transportation. Yet values take time to change. I can only hope that with the push towards Vision Zero, safety will one day pass speed as the crux of our transportation system. Until then, we must advocate not only for more protected bike lanes, pedestrian bump outs and higher visibility crosswalks, but for shifting our values as well.

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