Copenhagen’s proposed network of super cycle highways follow existing routes, like this wide boulevard through a housing development.

What do you do when a staggering 35 percent of the population – around half a million people – already ride to school or work each day? Well, you think up ways of appealing to the rest of them…

Enter the Cycle Super Highway. Bike mecca Copenhagen hopes to be Europe’s first carbon neutral city by 2025, and this latest project aims to prioritise bicycle commuters in a way they’ve rarely experienced before. Initiated in 2009 and now seeing fruition with the completion of its first route, the project aspires to create a competitive alternative to both car use and public transport, easing pressure on both roads and rail. The targeted commuters are those who travel 5-20 kilometers a day, particularly living in zones 7-15kms from the city. Statistics show that above a distance of 5 kilometers, the percentage of journeys made by bicycle drops down to less than twenty percent. ‘Most bicycle commuters only cycle up to five kilometers, so we need to reach out to those who have further to go to work,” says Maria Streuli, manager of the project secretariat coordinating the effort.

A tunnel passes under a motorway. Plans include sensors under cycle tracks to detect groups of cyclists, turning lights green to maintain a 20km/h average speed.

As such, these Cycle Super Highways are designed to fulfill a number of criteria in order to lure longer distance commuters onto two wheels. Firstly, they’ll connect areas of high population between workplace and home. The ‘highways’ will be built with speed and convenience in mind – direct, with as few stops as possible. Traffic lights are to be synchronized for cyclists with the aim of averaging speeds of 20km/h, to ‘surf a wave of green lights through the city during rush hour, without putting a foot down’, according to the project organisers. Other touches include smooth paved surfaces, regularly maintained paths, automatic bicycle bumps and countdown signals.

The initial Alberslund route is signed C99, the first of 26 Cycle Super Highways.

The two-phase project aims to coordinate the capital with twenty outlying municipalities. So far, there are a planned 26 routes totaling some 300km of bike paths, to the tune of €54-134 million. Sounds like a lot of money? Bear in mind that it costs up to €389,000 to construct each kilometer of Cycle Super Highway, compared up to €13 million for each motorway kilometer equivalent – not counting the estimated €40 million saved yearly on Copenhagen’s health care system. This said, the cycle highways themselves are knitted together and optimised from current roads and paths. The cost of building the same length of new bike path, isolated completely from motorised traffic, would be five times as much as the proposed routes – so there’s bound to be an element of compromise.

Where possible the routes avoid main roads, such as along this stretch of path in Greater Copenhagen, designed in the 60s and 70s.

As it is, the project mimics a similar cycle super highway scheme in London – the first four of which opened in 2010, with four more planned for 2013 and a further two by 2015. Despite mixed feedback, claims have been made that parts of these routes have increased bicycle use by up to 200%. Copenhagen is more conservative with its aims, largely because a far larger percentage of the population already rides. Hopes are for a 20% cycling boost on the initial 17.5km Alberslund route – opened in April 2012 – equating to a million less kilometers travelled by car per year.

So far, bureaucratic hurdles born from coordinating so many municipalities have been blamed for hindering some of scheme’s progressive ideals. The jury is out on its success, with a general consensus that it doesn’t yet meet with city politicians’ rhetoric. Room for improvement? Luckily, there are still another 25 routes to go…

Photos courtesy of Mikael Colville-Andersen.