By Josh Koh
It’s time for the Twin Cities to take a good hard look at its bicycle infrastructure and ask: “What type of bicycle city do we want to be?” Since having returned from a semester in Copenhagen, I have continued to explore the Twin Cities by bike and have found that our cities lack key features. I want to encourage residents of the Twin Cities to explore the many ways Copenhagen has built its bicycle infrastructure in order to encourage its residents to cycle. I found bicycling in Copenhagen to be so enjoyable and easy! It was a bicyclists paradise compared to anything I have seen in the United States. Now that I have been back in the U.S. for a few months, I’ve noticed some ways the Twin Cities can Copenhagenize its bicycle infrastructure.
The use of protected bikeways in Copenhagen is not only safer, but keeps pedestrians aware of bicyclists presence in urban space. Copenhagen’s bicycle lane design keeps pedestrians, cars, and bikers separated by one curb in-between the sidewalk and the bike lane and another between the road and the bike lane. This double curb set-up is a crucial piece of infrastructure design that keeps uses separated and people safe. Many of the bike lanes in the Twin Cities are flush with the sidewalk, and it is hard to differentiate between pedestrian space and bike space. This confusion is unsafe for pedestrians and bikers. In Copenhagen, you will rarely see any locals walking in the bike lane unless they are forced to.
A key design feature in Copenhagen that would do much good in the Twin Cities is the addition of more bicycle parking. Copenhagen has more bicycles than people and bikes seem to clutter every corner of the city. Copenhagen has made great strides to increase bicycle parking in all parts of the city, even taking out car parking spaces for bicycle parking. It may seem somewhat crazy, especially to people who consistently rely on automobile transit, but the addition of space for bikes is crucial to get people riding their bikes in the first place. If you have no place to park your bike at work, why ride to work? Placement of parking racks is also important. Copenhagen not only has indoor spaces for bike parking (something that could be very beneficial for winter bikers in the Twin Cities), but has bike racks on the sides of the street which helps keep parked bikes from taking up crucial sidewalk space. Bike parking on the side of the streets also makes bikes visible to drivers who may be new to giving bikers the space and recognition they deserve.
After riding to Brake Bread on West 7th, I had trouble finding parking for my bike when I arrived at the store front. There was sufficient space for car parking in both the front and rear of the store, but I ended up having to chain my bike to a nearby fence. A business that focuses on bicycle transportation should have ample bike parking for its customers.
Another issue that needs improvement when planning bike routes is public safety. I am particularly referring to those routes or lanes that are not adjacent to streets and are not immediately visible from the street: the Midtown Greenway is an example of this. When biking the Greenway, on one side there are train tracks and on the other there is a wooded hill or ditch, sometimes it’s just a concrete wall. The problem is that, in the words of Jane Jacobs, that there are no “eyes on the street.” When only one biker goes by every few minutes, there is no one else to hear a scream or see a crash. This vulnerability makes people feel unsafe. In Copenhagen the greenways and even the park trails have adjacent housing structures with windows above the tree line, meaning that residents in their homes can peer out onto the bike lane if necessary and can be alerted by any commotion outside.
The Midtown Greenway is certainly a wonderful addition to the Twin Cities bicycle infrastructure. I’m not proposing that there be residential development along the route, but something should be done to make sure people feel safe while riding the route. There are a few blue light emergency posts, but maybe the addition of security cameras would ensure public safety along the more secluded parts of the route.
The Twin Cities must give the same space for biking as Jane Jacobs gives for pedestrians. The Copenhageners who bike to work can sometimes be seen talking to other coworkers on their rides to work. This is only possible with sufficient bike space and safe infrastructure for cyclists. Copenhagen is leaps ahead of the Twin Cities in its bicyclist infrastructure and planning, but if the Twin Cities can make just a few adjustments, they will be well on their way to making bicycling in the Twin Cities easier and safer.