Advice from København

Still the largest four face clock in my book.

 I very much enjoyed meeting Andreas Røhl, the Bicycle Program Manager from Copenhagen, DK.  He was very generous with his time, and in addition to speaking at the party Sunday night at Chris Kegel’s house and at the Wisconsin Bike Summit Tuesday, I asked him to give a presentation to City of Milwaukee staff on Monday. 

I also gave him a mini Dave Tour of Milwaukee.   We rode from the Iron Horse Hotel where he was staying, west up the Hank Aaron, down on to the secret Art Trail, past Miller Park, along the Menomonee River past fly fishermen, through the new Valley Passage, and into  the near south side.  I felt like this route highlighted some of the best of Milwaukee and illustrated the range of our bicycle facilities  in the limited time we had on Sunday afternoon.

After we had tortas carnitas for lunch at the new El Rey on Chavez, I decided to head east (rock reference intended) down the bike lanes on the recently repaved Greenfield Avenue, north on the new bike lanes along recently reconstructed S 2nd Street, under the Polish Moon, around the summerfest grounds, through Lakeshore State Park to the Milwaukee Art Museum campus and back through downtown Milwaukee to his. hotel.

Milwuakee trail constructor, meet Scandanavian bicycle program manager

The tour gave Andreas a good idea of what Milwaukee is like. Our two home towns have a number of similarities and some major differences.   The metro area of Copenhagen is about 2 million and Milwaukee is about 1.7 million. Copenhagen is about the fifth wealthiest large city in Europe and Milwaukee is the fourth poorest in the United states.  Copenhagen is  95% white.  Milwaukee 43% white, ethnically very diverse  and simultaneously the most segregated city in the US.

When it comes to factors that influence cycling, Copenhagen occasionally has a very snowy winter, but only averages about 8 inches of the white stuff, while Milwaukee averages 52 inches of precipitation and has seen double that in recent years; advantage CP.  Copenhagen has a population density of just over 5,700 people per square kilometer, while Milwaukee is comparatively sparsely populated with an average density of only 1,001.7 people/km²; advantage: CP.  Copenhagen has a robustly funded light rail and bus transit systems, while Milwaukee has a bus-only transit system that is fighting for economic survival, advantage: CP.

A demonstration during the 1970s to restore the bicycle as the primary mode of transportation in Copenhagen.

With all those differences and the overall disadvantage Milwaukee, we can still learn from Copenhagen’s example.  A 30% mode share for bicycles is not in the forseeable future for Milwaukee, but we might pick up another few percentage points if we follow their example. While Denmark certainly has a long history of using bicycles for transportation, the car has made great gains in the country and bicycle use has gone down across the country as a whole.  In Copenhagen had a network of 200 km of cycletracks (raised bike lanes) and bicycles made up more than 60% of all traffic in the City.  As the car became more popular, bicycles were pushed out and cars dominated the streets by the mid 1970s.

It could be Sweden on the other side of that water.

With a cultural memory of a better city life before cars, the residents of Copenhagen held massive pro-bicycle demonstrations in the late seventies.  With the vast majority of voters in support of improving conditions for bicycles, politicians and bureaucrats began an ambitious effort to reclaim the streets for people and improve conditions for cycling.  Since then, Copenhagen has increased the cycletrack network to more than 300 km and leads the world in innovative bicycle facilities designed to make cycling the most attractive and convenient form of transportation in their City. 

Currently, more than 37% of people get to work or school by bicycle, the most popular form of transport in the city.  Transit has a mode share of 28%, but it is growing.  About 31% of people still use the car to get to work, and 4% travel by foot.  Fully 68% of people in Copenhagen travel somewhere by bicycle at least once a week.  The taxes on a personal automobile in Denmark are 180% the cost of the vehicle itself and gasoline cost around $9/gallon.

That is certainly a lot to take in.  The differences between the two cities are staggering. But since the bicycle is such a simple and inexpensive solution to so many complicated and costly problems in Milwaukee, what can we learn from Copenhagen?  The first thing that I learned is that Copenhagen has made all their improvements almost exclusively with local (municipal) funds.  Very few of their projects are paid for with national money.  That is a complete contrast to Milwaukee, where all of our projects have been funded with federal money, with the exception of a 20% required local match on federal grants.  Milwaukee has no local budget from with to plan and construct bicycle improvements.

Would you feel better riding in a bike lane if you were between the parked cars and the curb?

As we rode through the bike lanes and trails in Milwaukee, the main advice I got from Andreas was to try putting our bike lanes between the parked cars and the curb rather than between the parked cars and the motor vehicle travel lane.  This, he said, would make the lanes much more attractive to people who don’t like the feeling of riding next to moving traffic.

I countered that crashes happen at intersections, not mid-block, so his proposed arrangement offered no safety improvement.  I also noted that crashes happen at intersections and hiding cyclists behind parked cars could increase the number of crashes as motorists would not see bicycles when they made turns.  He suggested pulling parking back a bit before the intersection and marking the bicycle travel lane through the intersection with colored paint of high-visibility bike and chevron symbols.

I also noted that a five foot bike lane pinched between the parked cars and the curb would cause problems when people opened the passenger side door.  He said although they have very little on-street parking, where they do, the cycletrack is only 1.8 meters wide (about 5 .75 ft) and they experience very few problems in Copenhagen.  He emphasized on several occasions that we really need to try this arrangement in Milwaukee.

I discussed this briefly with our City Engineer and plan on trying to find a test location in Milwaukee.  If you were picking a pilot passenger side bike lane, where would you try it?

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

19 thoughts on “Advice from København

  1. I think a bike lane next to the curb would completely disappear in the winter. On the East Side where I am at there is street parking everywhere and in the winter it is a hard, bumpy frozen mess.

  2. Thanks for the update Dave- It was a great presentation.
    Highland Avenue would seem to be a interesting candidate for a inboard bike lane based on the boulevard and width of street there. Highland may be one of the more busy streets, bicycle wise, and could really begin to affect transportation issues for the urban poor, as well as being a direct route from the communities there.
    This actually might be the next step to actually getting a feasible test cycle-track, no?
    A short term logistical item would be how transit buses work at the pickup and drop off points. I haven’t really thought it thru and have no ideas just yet.

  3. Every time I think about a street that a bike-lane/car-park swap would work on, I think about the intersections and how dangerous they would be. Humboldt in Riverwest. Maryland south of UWM. Oakland Ave, anywhere.

    I feel like to get new cyclists, encourage those who are hesitant, we’d have to choose a street that provides a real transportation benefit, like my examples (which i see a lot of cyclists on). But part of me feels that instead of removing the anxiety of traffic, we’d be concentrating it just at the intersections, even if car parking was pulled back, signage was increased and lane painting was extensive. I’d be really hesitant about right hooks, more so than when I’m in a bike lane and only a few feet from a moving car, knowing the driver can clearly see me (with a lane of cars in the way).

    With that said, it might work on KK south of Lincoln, or Michigan St. downtown. Lots of intersections still, but I think the overall car speed and (lower) amount of turning cars would make these safer.

    There’s also the obvious consideration of the traffic calming effect this would have. And while us alt-trans people encourage that, I’m sure there would be heavy kickback from people complaining that their mindless morning commute route will be slowed by 5 or 10 mph because of lane width shrinking and forced yielding to the separated bike line.

    I’ll shut up now. I think it’d be cool to have a lane like this, but it seems multitudes tougher to implement than a good bike lane.

  4. Definitely some pros and cons, but I think it would be worth exploring.

    – We wouldn’t see cars driving in bike lanes NOR cars taking up the bike lane when parallel parking

    – Getting doored by a passenger would probably be less likely than the driver since most car trips around here appear to be single occupant

    – A concern is the state of roads around here – which seem like they are exponentially worse around sewer grates

    – I also agree with KB – how would these lanes get plowed esp. with cars not always following the snow emergency schedules?

    It’s hard to have an opinion though, since I haven’t experienced a bike lane designed as such. I think I would feel “safer” with my boys in tow with this design, but I wonder about the ability to ride 2-wide or getting around other cyclists. Plus this puts me closer to pedestrians, which I’m a little freaked out with lately since I ran one over last week. I think he had it coming though….. 🙂

  5. I have no good suggestions for a location, but to play off what CK says, I wonder whether drivers would be more receptive or more upset if we had such a bike lane, when cyclists choose to use the road instead. With the current configuration, it’s easier to “take the lane” when the circumstances call for it, but on the other hand, if we had the lane between the curb and parked cars, perhaps it would be “respected” more because it wouldn’t just feel like an extra bit of space between parked cars and traffic.

  6. I really like the idea of moving the bike lane…I agree with you that it probably doesn’t help in terms of safety at all, but I think his point wasn’t about safety, but perceived safety. I know a few people who don’t ride because they “think” it’s unsafe and are afraid of getting hit, with the bike lane separated by parked cars it would most likely give people that sense of security they crave.
    So as it may not be statistically safer, it may draw more people to their bikes as a mode of transportation. Which is the main goal right?
    I’m interested to see what happens!

    • It is, but I don’t want to create the perception of increased safety and actually decrease the real safety at the same time. The intersection treatments are key in that regard given our limited bike mode share in Milwaukee

  7. First off, after reading all of that I may need to move to Denmark…do you think Copenhagen does lateral transfers from MKE??

    I’d like to see any options tried once to see how they pan out, but I am kinda in the same boat with the above posts. It would be nice to be “sheltered” by the parked cars, until you are behind a row of SUVs or a UPS truck and someone makes a right turn into a drive infront of you

    • Yes, the intersection treatments are key here. There are ways to do that. Take another look at the video I shot of the Washington DC cycletrack. You can find that if you search my blog.

  8. @Dave I’ve long since felt we need these style lanes. You can fix the intersection issue, and the dooring issue is minor as most cars only have drivers in them so there is little fear of passengers opening doors. Further they have these lanes in Copenhagen and have made it work. But most importantly it would remove much of the fear of riding for new riders, which is vital.

  9. Humboldt is one of the first streets that came to mind to North Ave or to Capitol. They are both access points for the Oak Leaf trail and I often avoid Humboldt myself since I feel unsafe with the drivers. There are sections that are close to traffic and car doors. It is heavily commuted on and I’ve had too many close calls.

    Center Street is also a street that is a west/east connector that could use more safety as well as connecting to the poorer area of Milwaukee and encouraging those communities to bike more.

    As for the downtown commuters, Michigan street also comes to mind or Brady street has problems and often no room for bicycles, cars and buses. Yet- as I think of it Michigan would be difficult as the Pedicabs use it often for the route to the festivals from the hotels and a bike lane like that would make it harder for us to navigate those streets.

    I find the wider streets I feel more safe on but those streets come mind as those are the ones I have the close calls even as an experienced biker and also streets that are heavily used already with bikers.

  10. Carolyn’s comment (the Brady street part) made me think about how you accommodate curb bump-outs which Brady St. has a bunch as does the North/ Farwell area? If you have to eliminate curb bump-outs you decrease pedestrian safety/ comfort which is counterproductive as bicyclists are soon-to-be pedestrians. I’m sure there’s an engineering workaround for this, but one more thing to consider. I highly value the bump-outs which make crossing busy streets (and even not so busy streets) much more pleasant.

  11. My immediate thought was Humbolt Ave., which has a bit of a squeeze with those giant, grassy medians in the middle of the road. They do their part for traffic calming, so I don’t propose eliminating them.

    But between the medians, the narrower street, the parked cars with active potential for dooring, and the just awful road conditions (potholes, seam cracks, bus stops, and speed bumps from the sprinkler system underneath–not to mention the generally poor snow removal in the winter) something needs to be done to make that road more comfortable. (Easy answer: bury the sprinkler pipes further and repair/rebuild the road). To make matters worse, Holton, the next obvious street to take, is nearly as bad.

    Thankfully, with the completion of the Beerline Trail riders can avoid those problems altogether, though it only covers half of Humboldt and its entrance points at the UWM dorms are obscured by a dirt path behind the building (or, when it’s rainy, mud).

    Overall I am less a proponent of right-side bike lanes and more of a proponent of Sharrows and Bicycle Boulevards. Fratney would split the difference between Humboldt and Holton. There is less traffic. The roads are wider. Stop signs could be amended with a sign that reads “When traffic is clear, cyclists may yield”

    That situations makes all but the “Stop Means Stop”-ers happy. Bikes are out of the way of most motor traffic, but still in plain sight when it matters. There is more room for cyclists to avoid dangerous potholes and debris. Plus it’s cheaper to repaint a few Sharrows than an entire bike lane.

  12. Glad to hear you enjoyed the visit with Andreas Røhl.

    As far as the perceived safety vs. actual safety, this is something that gets discussed a lot here in Cph, and I’ve had a couple of discussions with a friend of mine (another urban planning student) about it. I had a couple of run ins with people turning right while I was in MKE this last time (and a bunch with buses who thought beeping made it okay to merge onto me), despite the bike lanes being in the street. The major issue seems to be whether or not people are used to having to look. If drivers are looking before they turn, and there’s a decent space between where parking ends and the curb, then right turns shouldn’t be a problem. If drivers aren’t looking, then that’s a problem anyway, curbside lanes or not, and probably means the street is way too wide and empty. People have learned to look before turning here for the most part, and the main problems tend to be with semis that have blind spots, which you just learn to look out for.

    The beauty of the curbside lanes is how many more riders they attract. I could definently see the same being true in MKE. A lot of people my age like the idea of bicycling, and love using the trails, but feel uncomfortable on busy streets, where you’re likely to get abuse unless you’re a “hard core” rider who’s going relatively fast. As far as bus stops and bump outs go, the lane is usually routed behind them, and/or the space is brightly marked to give pedestrians priority. If I was going to pick a place to try them, I’d say someplace like Water/1st, or east west through Downtown where there’s a lot of lightly used road space and not too much parking.

    PS Thanks for the help with the project. No one rsvp’ed at all, so it didn’t end up happening, but I really appreciate you taking time to help me out anyway. Let me know if you want photos/brochures/ anything from Cph since I’ll be back in MKE in about a month and a half.

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