What good are “bike superhighways”?

After our tour of Albertslund, we started heading out of town to try out the “new” bike superhighway. It’s not technically built yet, but you can view the route here. As it turned out, the trail didn’t seem to be new at all, but simply bike trail number 58, which already exists. Perhaps they will just add some new signs to spiff it up a bit but it looked pretty much like a rebranding job from what we could tell.

The first part of the path was really segregated- sunk a few meters below grade and rather disconnected from the street. There were bus stops on the road above but only steps to get to them, no parking and no way to put your bike on the bus.

It was nice enough on a sunny afternoon with a fair number of folks running or biking along it, but didn’t seem like it would be so welcoming after dark since no one could see you if you got into any danger. It was nice to not have to make any stops, but after a couple kilometers of non-stop peddling, we started getting a bit sweaty and actually hoped for a stop light to get a little break!

After several kilometers, we got lost and accidentally wound up in the suburban town of Glostrup near the train station. We knew something was amiss because the path follows in parallel to the train tracks, but at a distance of about 2 km the whole way. Rechecking our map, we went back and eventually found the trail again.

This turned out to be a fateful mistake. As soon as we were about as far from a train station as possible, Ayako proceeded to get a flat tire. We then found ourselves about 3 km from the nearest station- and any sort of town center, bike shop or anything else useful- and in no mood to walk back to the station we just passed up.

We had a patch kit but with the weather hovering around freezing and the sun on its way down in the afternoon, we weren’t that interested in stopping to fix it. We stopped to pump up every few hundred meters at first and then, finding the air leaking out too fast, we gave up and walked the last 2 km to the next station. We were a bit grumbly by the time we made it.

Ultimately, I feel that the concept of a segregated superhighway (and perhaps this extreme segregation we found in Albertslund) just doesn’t really add up. This experience of the flat tire really drove home the fears I already had about the system. Why would anyone want to ride 10-15 km (30-45 minutes) into town on a path that is far from any grocery, day care, or bike shop and feels unsafe at night? Perhaps this would be a nice change of pace on a sunny day in August when temperatures can crack a balmy 25C (~75F) if you are lucky. But when it is freezing cold, windy, and rainy- like it is most days in Denmark- I’d be hard pressed to imagine all but the most avid cyclist to be keen on biking that far.

Given that you could take the train (and even park your bike or put your bike on the train) and be in the city in less than 20 minutes, why not focus your resources on getting people from a few kilometers away in to the train station, which also conveniently has access to things like shopping, bike and repair shops, schools, and day care?

Multi-modal integration seems like a much more reasonable approach than assuming people want simply “speed and safety” like car drivers. Bikes aren’t cars. We shouldn’t apply traffic planning that works for cars for bicycling. We will need to have a more comprehensive and systemic experience to offer cyclists if we will capture more than the most extreme recreational riders on such trails.

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3 responses to “What good are “bike superhighways”?

  1. Great post. In Minneapolis we have a super highway and many “trails” These trails are part of the rails to trails initiative that is well over 30 years old. Some original trails are over 100 years old. The idea behind the trails is to segregate bikes. It does this to a fault. And it does all this for recreation primarily. Small numbers of commuters equate to wide open spaces. It is disheartening but what am I going to do about it? My experience commuting a distance of 10K on the trail is non stop and high speed. Not so when riding in the stop and go urban fray. When I need a change of pace or errands or socials I would take to the streets. To be expected, trails can be boring, out of the way and expensive for so little use. But, what I get from it is invaluable. Some quiet time when I need it. Some relative safety, I’m a male. I would gladly share the experience with others both on the trail and on the street but the world view in the States towards biking is hardly on the radar of most people. Just saying.

  2. I must say, after getting used to luxurious bike infrastructures in Denmark and the Netherlands, the bike highway gave me an impression of the most wasteful investment to encourage more cycling.

    It’s very comfortable to bike on the high way (in terms of speed and safety issue in relation to other traffic), but not comfortable without having anything to see or to interact… well I usually enjoy the experience of biking, not just the convenience and speed.
    There was no place to fix my bike within 3km distance when I got flat tire. If I were commuting in the morning or on the way home and got flat tire in such situation, it would mess up my plan.
    When I use bike on day to day basis, I would make many stops to get groceries at different places and sometime at a park on a nice sunny day. And I choose a route that conveniently connects the multiple destinations but not on speed basis.
    I feel it’s more important how the bike paths are well integrated into daily need of people who use them.

  3. happy that pdx is not copenhagen

    riding a heavy steel bike on a trail can be painful. on a modern bike its far easier and faster. if you are riding a more modern bike its easy to maintain 40-50 kph on a flat trail. with a little practice one can also fix a flat in minutes. a patch kit, spare tube, and a pressurized c02 cartridge are a must when riding longer distances. i also recommend running kevlar-belted tires at high psi.

    hope that helps!

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