The City of London’s public transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), is in the process of carrying out a program to make the British capital’s streets healthier. The aim of its so-called Healthy Streets Approach, a policy developed with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Sadiq Khan, is to help the people of London use their cars less and walk, cycle, and use public transport more.
“To achieve this, it is important to plan a longer-term and coherent cycle network across London in a way that will complement walking and public transport priorities,” the TfL says in its 50-page Strategic Cycling Analysis, published in June 2017.
An important part of this strategy is the creation of cycle superhighways across the entire city. The TfL describes the aim of cycle superhighways as providing “protected space for cycling on some of London’s busiest roads. They connect stations, town centres and key destinations, making them more accessible and easier for people to cycle to.”
London currently has eight completed cycle superhighways and more are being planned and built.
However, this is not a new idea – far from it. What may have been the first cycle superhighway (though that data is not available) was created in the Colombian capital Bogotá some 40 years ago, before cycling was widely seen as a transport alternative to the automobile. Whether or not it was the first, today the Ciclovía program is the largest street cycle scheme of its kind in the world, with about 120 kilometres of roadway turned into bike lanes for seven hours every Sunday and holiday, with an average of no fewer than 1 million cyclists hitting the pavement each week.
The idea has spawned hundreds of similar programs, most of them in Latin America and in some European cities, such as Paris. However, the problem with these programs, many argue, is that their aim is principally recreation, not pollution reduction. But in Denmark, the cycle superhighway has become a part of the country’s transport ecosystem, as much an alternative to commuting by car as a way of life.
The Danes are generally considered the world’s most enthusiastic cyclists and the country boasts 12,000 km of bike paths, 400 km in the capital Copenhagen alone – and all separated from car lanes and sidewalks. According to the site Denmark.dk, the aim of a cycle superhighway is “to connect work, study, and residential areas, making it a lot easier for commuters to bike to and from work instead of taking a car.” In addition, the cycle superhighways run near public transport stations, making it easy to combine cycling with a train.
To be categorized as a cycle superhighway in Denmark, a bike route must provide specific amenities and conditions, such as air pumps, footrests, safe intersections, and traffic lights timed so that at the rush hour, for example, cyclists travelling at an average speed of 20 km/h can travel through Copenhagen without needing to stop. And the routes themselves are well marked, both by road signs and orange C’s painted on the asphalt.
The first Danish cycle superhighway was opened in 2012. Currently, eight such routes are open, with seven more planned to open by 2021. In the region of Copenhagen alone, 746 km of cycle superhighways have been planned.
A number of other European countries have or are planning to build cycle superhighways. In the Netherlands, the first such route was built in 2004, with many others added since. Many of them have neither traffic lights nor intersections, such as the 16-km superhighway between Arnhem and Nijmegen, which a cyclist can ride without ever putting a foot down.
The Belgian region of Flanders is rolling out a network of 120 routes which will eventually comprise 2,400 km and connect all Flemish cities. Ultimately, a cyclist will be able to ride through the entire region without needing to stop.
And Germany recently opened the first part of an ambitiously planned 100-km cycle superhighway that is being built along abandoned railroad tracks. It will connect 10 cities in the western Ruhr region. An estimated 2 million people living in the area will be able to use the route, which could result in up to 50,000 fewer cars on the roads every day.
Any measure that makes it easier to cycle can produce important benefits, individually and for society as a whole. A recent study commissioned by the Confederation of Danish Industries concluded that if Danes cycled just 10 % more each year, the number of sick days would decline by 267,000 nationwide and traffic congestion in Copenhagen would be reduced by 6 %. That’s splendid!