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Of Course Copenhagen Is Giving Bicycles Traffic-Light Priority

New intelligent signals will reduce travel time for cyclists by 10 percent.

Gunnar Bothner-By / Flickr

The best urban cycling system in the world is about to get a little better.

Long home to a highly advanced bike network, Copenhagen will reportedly replace 380 traffic signals with intelligent lights that will prioritize the flow of buses and bicycles over cars at intersections. The sophisticated signals are expected to cut travel times for transit riders by 5 and 20 percent, and for cyclists by 10 percent. Copenhagenize sees the move as the latest effort in a larger paradigm shift away from car-first transport policy:

The City now wants to make the baseline question "how will it affect the travel times for bicycles?" If it has a negative effect on bicycle traffic and travel times, the idea will be viewed as less positive. Car traffic will be sent farther down the hierarchy in this new paradigm.

Alex Davies of Wired reports that the new intelligent signal system will involve buses communicating their position, passenger load, and schedule delay to the lights ahead of time. The light network would then extend a green anywhere from eight to 30 seconds, no doubt to avoid bunching and make up for lost time. Davies writes that a pilot of 10 smart signals in Copenhagen’s Valby area “found that buses saved up to two minutes during rush hour.”

The reason cyclists in Copenhagen don’t stand to save even more time with the new system is that many signal corridors in the Denmark capital are already timed for bicycle “green waves”—a series of lights synchronized so riders don’t hit a red if they maintain a certain speed. For cyclists going at least 20 km an hour (12 mph) through Nørrebrogade, Østerbrogade, and Amagerbrograde, for instance, everything’s coming up green. Of course a green wave can be phased for any travel mode, but Copenhagen wants bikes ahead of the pack.

A few American cities have experimented with green waves for bikes. San Francisco has timed steady flows for riders going roughly 15 mph on a number of streets throughout the city, and Chicago piloted waves at 12 mph last summer. Broader pushes for transit-signal priority—typically considered part of a package of advanced bus enhancements, along with all-door boarding and dedicated lanes—have been harder to come by in the U.S., but every new example of success can only help the cause.

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