05/02/11

Biking, Walking, and Blogging: Copenhagen Bike Expert, Andreas Røhl, Visits Twin Cities

Copenhagen Bike Expert, Andreas Røhl, Visits Twin Cities

From Steve Clark, Bicycling and Walking Program Manager

We here at BWTC got pretty excited when Kevin Hardman, Executive Director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, told us there was a possibility that Andreas Røhl would come to Minneapolis after his keynote speech at the Wisconsin Bike Summit.

Røhl is the Bicycle Program Manager for the City of Copenhagen and has been instrumental in making Copenhagen one of the world's best cities for cycling. Copenhagen proudly calls itself the "city of cyclists" and in 2004 more kilometers were pedaled than driven. 

Andreas could only be here for a short time, but knowing that everyone has to take time for lunch, we invited a mix of elected officials, public works staff, and bicycle advocates to talk with Andreas at Glacier's Café -conveniently located near a light rail station that could quickly take Andreas to the airport that afternoon!

Nearly 30 people made it to the lunch, and the setting was private enough (in a room downstairs from the main dining area) to actually have a real discussion. I was even luckier than the lunch guests in that I was able to accompany Andreas to the airport and continue to ask questions. Here are my takeaways from this insightful gentleman:

1)      If you want more people to bike, make it the easiest choice. In Copenhagen, bike travel is favored over car travel by city policy. Signals are timed for cyclists (greenwave); bike boxes and special bike signals give cyclists a head start at intersections; and wide cycle tracks, buffered from moving cars and trucks by a parking lane, increase safety perceptions. 

2)      The above policy requires a city to make hard choices. The city must, says Rohl, "be willing to take space from the motor car" in order to obtain the benefits cycling has to offer.

3)      There is a lot of "excess capacity" in Minneapolis. Right now, it would seem relatively easy to dramatically increase bicycle facilities. This can be done by narrowing lanes or reducing the number of lanes where they are not needed.

4)      Advocates for bicycling are extremely important. Andreas often provides advocates with information to help his program become more effective. Even a place like Copenhagen needs improvement and higher goals, and that can only come from people willing to organize and be part of the political process.

5)      The bicycle is the modern metropolis' preferred mode of transport because it is so cost-effective and energy efficient. There are routes in Copenhagen that average 36,000 bicyclists a day, but use only a fraction of the space needed to move far fewer cars than that. (Typically such a corridor will have 50 percent of the space dedicated to moving motor vehicles, even though motor vehicles account for only 8 percent of the total traffic!)

6)      Make bike facilities as wide as possible. "We need to get away from this single file concept" says Røhl. "People riding in cars can have a conversation, people walking can have a conversation, people on bikes should be able to carry on a conversation. 'Conversational cycling' is our new standard for width of bikeways." Cycling is not only a healthy activity; it also is a social activity.

7)      Good infrastructure is not enough. Røhl says he is learning from cities like Malmo, Sweden, about how to do more promotional work. He said, "We especially are interested in reaching our immigrant communities and new residents who may not have the cycling background." He was interested in learning about BWTC's funding of community based social marketing through Saint Paul Smart-Trips

8)      Never stop trying to increase safety and perceptions of safety. Copenhagen has a goal that 80% of cyclists will feel safe in traffic. To make this happen there will be greater efforts to place stop bars for motorists further back, widen cycle tracks, and give bicyclists more of a head start at intersections. They are also trying to reduce speed limits currently regulated by the federal government of Denmark so they can create safe bicycle streets (aka bicycle boulevards).

9)      Protection from moving vehicles should be a higher priority in Minneapolis. "It is much better to have the parked cars protecting the bicyclists than the bicyclists being used to protect the parked cars," he quipped after first experiencing bike lanes on 9th St. and then the buffered lanes on 1st Ave.

10)   Minneapolis is a perfect city for cycling.  "It's a pretty flat city and you have a great bicycle culture, and the beginning of some good facilities.... I think you could easily triple the number of bicyclists with the right kind of public policy," said Røhl.