Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.
Super-highways, car-shaped holding pens, and more.
A new video on American bicycling infrastructure, produced by the website Bicycle Dutch, has been making the rounds among cycling advocates recently. "Cycling isn’t really taken seriously," says the narrator in a sad tone, as if observing life on some alien planet.
So what does truly good cycling infrastructure look like, for those of us who don't get to experience it for ourselves? As you might expect, many examples come from the Northern European countries where cycling commands the greatest modal share. But we wouldn’t want to have an all-Nordic list. So we’ve included some laudable bicycling accommodations from other parts of the globe as well (even a couple from the U.S.), listed in no particular order.
Please note: Before you get upset that your favorite cycling infrastructure project isn’t on this list, know that it is most definitely not intended to be comprehensive. As a matter of fact, we want to hear from you about what's missing! Please leave your own favorites in the comments, and we’ll do another roundup in the future.
Maastunnel, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Rotterdam is a city built on and around water, and it’s important to be able to get from one side to the other. Construction on this tunnel under the Nieuwe Maas river, which is more than half a kilometer in length, began in 1937 and finished during the Nazi occupation in 1942. The bike portion is embedded in the river floor, next to a completely separate tunnel for cars, and underneath a dedicated pedestrian tunnel. Cyclists reach the tunnel by an escalator, and in the 1950s, as many as 40,000 rode through here each day, some 60 feet below sea level. Nowadays the daily traffic is more like 4,500 per day, partly because there are more places to cross. But 70 years after it opened, as Mark Wagenbuur writes on A View from the Cycle Path, the Maastunnel remains one of the most impressive pieces of dedicated cycle infrastructure in the world.
Courtesy of Ethan Kent
There are some places where bicycles are really the only sensible way to get around. So it is in Ferrara, where cars are prohibited from the narrow streets of the ancient inner town, and people ride at a leisurely pace. But it’s not just good luck. Starting in 1991, the city’s planners began cultivating their rich cycling history, encouraging even more cycling with better facilities such as paths leadng from the edge of town to it’s lively interior piazzas. The result, according to the observations of American planner Christine Grimando, is a very pleasant reversal of the usual auto dominance.
Bicycle superhighways, Denmark
If you think that bicycles are best suited to short commutes of under three miles or so, the good people of Denmark would like to show you something. At a cost of $1.6 million, the Danish government has been busy building dedicated bicycle paths that are designed for commuters traveling much longer distances to and from the capital of Copenhagen -- up to 14 miles. Smooth, standardized, predictable, these paths are intended to make bicycle commuting an easy choice for more people, with the aim of further boosting the 55 percent mode share that makes Copenhagen a world leader in bicycle trips. "We want people to perceive these routes as a serious alternative," Brian Hansen, a traffic planner in Copenhagen, told the New York Times. "Like taking the bus, car or train."
Bike parking "cars," Copenhagen, Denmark
Image courtesy of Flickr user Mikael Colville-Andersen
The nicest bicycle path in the world isn’t much help if you don’t have a place to park the vehicle once you get where you’re going. (In Amsterdam and other very bike-friendly places, the bike parking crunch is becoming a serious issue, leading to “rage” among those who can’t find a place to lock up.) Many cities have worked to solve this problem in a variety of ways, including more sidewalk bike racks, bike parking garages at train stations, and larger bike parking corrals in the roadbed. But nothing can beat the bright pink car-shaped shelters for cargo bikes in Copenhagen, part of a pilot program designed to provide dedicated parking for local residents who use the bikes to move children, groceries, and pretty much everything else (spotted on Copenhagenize). Four cargo bikes fit inside each one, and they have solar-powered lights. Users got a key and can stow raingear and such in the shelter as well as their trusty cargo bikes. With all the cargo bikes in Brooklyn these days, we need this here.
Bike-share and Bus Rapid Transit integration, Guangzhou, China
Where other Chinese cities, such as Beijing, have over the years written bicycles out of their plans for the future, the southern city of Guangzhou decided to invest in a huge bike-share program – and to integrate it with an historically ambitious bus rapid transit initiative. As you can see in this video from Streetfilms, the 5,000 bikes in the fleet are accessible at BRT stations through a seamlessly integrated fare system.
The Hovenring, Eindhoven, the Netherlands
This elegant floating circle of a bridge allows people riding bicycles to cross over a highway in complete and utter peace. Not only does the bridge provide safe passage, its quality design and prominence in the landscape sends a powerful message about the importance of bicycles in the city’s overall streetscape.
Sands Street cycle track, New York City, United States
In 2005, Noah Budnick, an advocate with New York’s nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, was severely injured when he fell from his bike on Sands Street in Brooklyn. Although he was wearing a helmet, he fractured his skull, and it was days before he regained consciousness; he has never been sure why he crashed, as his brain injuries erased his memory of the day (he has made a full recovery). He suspects, however, that he may have hit a pothole while checking out what were then extremely dangerous conditions for cyclists on this important route to the heavily biked Manhattan Bridge. The city, which had already been studying the area, moved to create a two-way raised, separated cycle track that runs down the center of Sands Street. It opened in 2009, and at the time was by far the most innovative piece of bike infrastructure in the city. Although it is only one-third of a mile long, it provides a key link for bike traffic to and from the neighborhoods to the north of the bridge, and it demonstrated the city’s interest in creating high-quality facilities for its commuter bike population.
Rijksmuseum bike path, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
It hardly seems fair. Not only does Amsterdam have one of the world’s greatest museums and one of the world’s greatest bike cultures — those things actually intersect, quite literally, where a bike path passes through the museum, providing a short cut for riders. The presence of this historic tunnel route was the subject of much contention during a recent renovation of the museum, and it was almost destroyed. But cycling advocates prevailed, and in May the path finally reopened, with glass walls allowing riders to see the museum as they pass under the majestic vaulted ceiling.
The city of Malmö, third largest in Sweden, is something of an encyclopedia of fine bike infrastructure, so let’s look at the whole package. The city boasts nearly 300 miles of completely separated bike paths; level crossings where those paths cross through intersections; dedicated bicycle signal lights, many triggered by radar sensors; free air pumps scattered around town; bike counters that keep track of traffic flow; ingenious lighting solutions for tunnels and paths; a clear and comprehensive system of wayfinding signs; elaborate indoor bike parking facilities at train stations, with showers and many other amenities; metal balustrades for cyclists to hold at lights so that they can easily regain momentum; and much, much more, including an extensive public relations campaign to encourage cycling. All of this goes a long way to explain why 30 percent of trips in Malmö are made by bike.
Bicycle tunnels, Davis, California, United States
The city of Davis is one of only four in the United States that has earned platinum status from the League of American Bicyclists (the other three are Boulder, Colorado; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon). Davis has been working to be a cycle-friendly community since the 1960s, and the city has loads of terrific bike infrastructure, but its tunnels – each with its own name and personality – make the city’s network of trails possible. Plus, riding through tunnels is fun.