Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bike Congestion in Copenhagen

Most big cities have to deal with traffic congestion in some form or another. Copenhagen, however, has a rather unique form of congestion: bike congestion.

Currently 36% of commuters in Copenhagen cycle to work and the city has a goal of increasing that number to 50% by 2015. With the number of cyclists on the rise so quickly, the city hasn't been able to keep up with the need for additional bicycle infrastructure. Most of the bike lanes are 3-4 meters wide, compared to the 1.5 meter wide bike lanes of UK, and they are still becoming overcrowded during commuting hours. As the level of bike congestion has increased over the last few years, commuters have been getting more aggressive and reckless, which has created a hostile environment for less-seasoned cyclists.

Although the bike congestion has gotten worse in Copenhagen, the number of cyclists who are injured or killed annually is at a historic low. In 1996 there were 252 cyclists in Copenhagen that got killed or seriously injured. In 2006, that number had dropped to just 96. The perception, however, is the cycling is getting more dangerous. According to the Danish Transport Research Institute, the percent of cyclists that felt unsafe riding on Copenhagen streets rose from 40% in 1996 to 47% in 2006. Copenhagen has a goal of convincing 80% of the population that cycling on the streets is safe. If they want to reach that goal, they will not just need to increase safety, but also the perception of safety. One way to help with this is by reducing bike congestion, which will prevent aggressive behavior by seasoned commuters and give less-experienced cyclists more breathing room.

One solution to deal with bike congestion in Copenhagen is the creation of bicycle superhighways. Bicycle superhighways are super-wide bike lanes that stretch from nearby suburbs into the city center. These lanes allow a lot of cyclists to ride side-by-side, which gives people room to pass each other and limits congestion. The first bicycle superhighway was introduced in April 2012. The city is working on creating an entire network of these superhighways to facilitate cyclists commuting from the suburbs to the city and back.

Another solution to dealing with bike congestion is the implementation of “green waves”--where traffic lights are timed so cyclists traveling at 12 mph will never hit a red light--on streets with heavy bike traffic. The goal of these green waves is to help cyclists move through intersections more efficiently. There are less potential conflicts with automobiles and fewer incentives to bike recklessly in order to make a green light. This puts less pressure on all cyclists on the road.

As part of Copenhagen’s plan to reduce overall congestion in the city, the city plans on investing more money in bicycle infrastructure and parking. However, there are also plans to invest more in Metro and the S-Train, build tunnels, increase the frequency of busses, extend motorways, create car-sharing networks, and develop a city-wide light-rail network. My worry is that Copenhagen is putting too much focus on reducing auto congestion by expensive means like light rail systems when that money could be much better used to reduce bike congestion. By investing more in bicycle infrastructure and parking, the city can increase the number of cyclists and reduce the number of auto drivers, which will ultimately reduce auto congestion as well.


“Copenhagen’s novel problem: too many cyclists” by Amelia Hill
The Guardian Bike Blog

“Committee presents ideas for reducing Copenhagen’s congestion”
The Copenhagen Post

“Light rail touted as cure for city’s congestion”
The Copenhagen Post

“In Bike-Friendly Copenhagen, Highways For Cyclists”

“Bicycle-Friendly Copenhagen Tries to Ease Crowded Lanes”
Worldwatch Institute


  1. This is a super interesting article. I was interested in the correlations between the perception of safety and the reality of it in the two surveys (96, 06). Do you think it is possible that the perception of danger in the congestion is causing riders to be more aware of their surroundings? I am very interested to see the effects of this bike superhighway and how it handles congestion. Interesting subject matter, Thanks!

  2. Your post has made me curious about Copenhagen's funding mechanisms for transportation. They have ambitious plans for expanding transit, car,and biking infrastructure; while many U.S. cities also have ambitious plans, they don't have the means to fund them. I know that European transportation is more highly subsidized in some transit sectors, but there must be other funding sources. So I have two questions: Will Copenhagen be able to fulfill their overall transit strategy? And if so, what funding mechanisms do they use there that makes this possible?

  3. Hopefully Matt or Darwin can expand, but I know Denmark taxes private vehicles at very high rates. Fuel taxes are around US$4/gal (vs. ~$.50 in the US), and initial registration fees more than double the price of a new car. They also recently added a "green tax" of up to US$360/yr based on fuel economy. A bit more info here:


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