Defining the attractive cycling experience on Denmark’s Cycle Superhighways
Spanning the Capital Region of Denmark are the Cycle Superhighways – a network of bicycle commuter routes that cross municipal borders, totalling an incredible 746 km.
Handshake city Copenhagen is involved in the Cycle Superhighway collaboration, which includes thirty municipalities. With an average trip length of 11 km one way, and some users of the network commuting distances longer than 20 km, a smooth and pleasant ride is extremely important.
Recently, the collaboration gathered knowledge directly from users to improve the cycling experience on the Cycle Superhighway. This initiative is a good example of the solution presented by Copenhagen in the framework of the Handshake project, called “User-driven prototype tests as an innovative method to develop new concepts for campaigns, wayfinding solutions and bicycle parking”.
The collaboration has partnered with the strategic innovation agency called Is It a Bird, to ask commuters what constitutes an attractive cycling experience on cycle routes and cycle highways. The main question in the analysis was, which factors define an attractive user experience, and what measures can help to improve upon this experience.
To connect with users and ultimately define the attractive cycle experience, Is It a Bird used the method of digital ethnography for data collection. Participants kept a digital “bike diary” through an app on their phone. They used text, photos and short videos to document their daily trips. Twenty-six users from the Capital Region participated in the analysis, all of which were 19-63 years old and use their bike on their daily commute at least three times a week.
Based on the experiences and reflections of the participants, Is It a Bird defined three main criteria for the attractive cycling experience: good flow, prioritisation and route predictability.
The routes considered most attractive are those with the least stops, because they help to ensure a good flow of cycling traffic. Commuters are very much aware of the number of stops on the route, and several participants were even willing to choose another, possibly longer route in order to experience a better traffic flow.
According to participants, difficult traffic crossings require more attention and lower speed. Crossings must be designed so that they are easy to orient and so that cyclists know vehicle drivers can see them. When designed well, good flow can be both functional and enjoyable. Some participants particularly appreciated routes with good flow, no vehicle traffic and plenty of nature.
Cyclists have needs than differ from those belonging to other modes of transportation. The attractive route, is therefore one that takes their needs as seriously as those of other commuters.
If vehicles and cyclists share the road, their lanes need to be as separated as possible. If there is no physical barrier, collective traffic tends to prioritise the needs of vehicle drivers. When traveling alongside heavy vehicles like truck and buses, cyclists do not have sufficient space and thus feel unsafe. The attractive cycling route should therefore be separated by a kerb and have as much distance from the vehicle lane as possible.
According to participants, a pleasing cycling route is also that which is free from pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists have different speeds and needs, so the route does not appear attractive if it crosses shared spaces. The most problematic are those places where separated spaces suddenly change into shared ones. Cyclists feel, in many places, that they are treated similarly to pedestrians, although these two modes have completely different speeds.
The feeling of being in control is one of the pros of cycling, but the cyclist is in control only if the route is easily recognisable and predictable. Cyclists want to be sure that their favourite route is always accessible and that there is good signage, particularly when there is roadwork or closures. It is frustrating to suddenly find the cycle path blocked by cars, delivery vans or roadwork that forces the cyclist to bike between cars or take a detour that is not clearly marked.
According to participants, cycle paths need to be maintained so they continue to be clean and safe. Holes, cracks, tree branches and garbage on the path requires cyclists to slow down. Also, good wayfinding matters, even if the route is familiar, and signs and landmarks ensure that the cyclist is taking the best route.
In summary, the study brought many interesting insights for the future planning of the Cycle Superhighway. Many of the insights confirmed prior expectations, but data from the field is always extremely valuable. The City of Copenhagen strongly encourages all cycling cities to get out there, talk to users, and start making the cyclists experience more enjoyable!