Recently, I went for a trip out to the Copenhagen suburb of Albertslund. This town has a history of progressive city planning, particularly in bicycle infrastructure. In the 1960s, they developed a completely segregated network of bicycle trails throughout the whole town, with the idea that kids would safely and easily be able to get to school without having to have conflicts with car traffic. Now they are planning to be the first municipality connected to inner Copenhagen via a 15 km segregated bicycle superhighway or what they are calling in Danish a “super bicycle path” (cykel superstier). I went to investigate both the old bike infrastructure in Albertslund and to pilot the new “highway”. I’ve put the section on the highway ride into a separate post since it was too long otherwise.
When we got off the train in town, we immediately spoke with a middle aged Danish woman and told her we had come out to visit their bike infrastructure. She didn’t seem the least bit surprised (apparently, we were not the first) and gave us a little trip plan. She seemed perfectly delighted and proud of the bike network.
The first path we came to was nice enough and followed along a little canal that ran through the center of town. I’m not sure why the path was made of bricks rather than pavement but nonetheless, it was nice not to have to hassle with any cars.
In particular, it was very nice that they had signage everywhere telling you where different things were in town. Sometimes there was even a map. All of these places were accessible by a completely segregated network of biking and walking trails.
Also, if you happened to accidentally get up on the “wrong” network, it could be challenging to find your way back to the “right” network and you didn’t want to be on the car network since there was no place for bikes or pedestrians. However, as we can see here, people may occasionally need to (or prefer) to be where the cars are and they had to adapt. These conflicts are not planned for and may be more dangerous than a typical intersection as a result.
In the background, there is a girl who was about 10 years old. She couldn’t figure out why I was taking pictures (particularly after I told her I was studying their bicycle infrastructure). She said she didn’t ride a bike but that her friends did. She took a bus to school, even though it was within biking distance. I wasn’t really able to find out why.
It was really nice to have all the paths segregated. You got a very carefree and easy way to experience the town. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel a bit detached from the more urban “life” of the town since while you were on the bike paths, you never passed any store fronts which were still oriented toward the car streets. Also, I was concerned that there might be greater conflict and higher rates of accidents in the situations were there did happen to be bikes or pedestrians on the car streets since these interactions were not planned for with any infrastructure and cars might be more surprised than usual to find someone on “their” street. However, I do not know the data to tell if this concern is well founded.
I am very glad that Albertslund was daring enough to try such an interesting and innovative concept and executed it relatively well. However, I left convinced that don’t want towns to be fully segregated. Otherwise, it seems to create an “us and them” situation where shops choose to cater to one or the other. Can’t we instead build cities and streets for all people and all modes that function together? I’m by no means a John Forester “integrationist”, or a hater of segregated paths. Bike lanes are important and have an important place in cities. But going to the other extreme of complete segregation between motorized and non-motorized infrastructure is not the city that I aspire towards either. We need to develop safe and comfortable experiences where all types of road users can contribute to the street life in order to develop more dynamic and enjoyable cities.