Cykler By

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 30.

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The Civilised Cyclist

Both Denmark and the Netherlands are noted for their provision for cyclists, so three years ago there was a Campaign visit to Groningen (the Netherlands) and this Easter five of us travelled to Århus in eastern Jutland.

Århus is a modern city about twice the size of Cambridge. It is a port and commercial centre, with a hinterland of gently rolling hills, copses, beaches, small towns and villages. Over the holiday weekend most shops and workplaces were closed, except for Saturday morning shopping. Of course, there would be much more traffic on working days, but there is an excellent bus service and many cyclists.

The holiday made hiring bikes a bit tricky so our thanks go to Sabine and Ea from Dansk Cyklist Forbund who collected and returned them for us. They also showed us around their city.

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3D hanging signs still a feature! Mini eye-level traffic lights for cyclists are widely used

What’s different about Århus?

Their cycling facilities are far in advance of those in Cambridge but the biggest difference for us was driver behaviour. Drivers in Denmark give way to cyclists. That is not to say everyone behaved well at all times, but the great care afforded to us at junctions was most noticeable. If we were going straight on, whether from the ubiquitous cycle track, or on the road, cars invariably waited for us all to pass on their inside before turning across our path or out of junctions, even when we were some way behind them. Occasionally this was taken to embarrassing extremes: a driver might wait for some time for us to cross when we were simply chatting at a street corner.

Of course the street scene is different. In common with other European cities, apartment living is widespread, though there are plenty of detached houses in the suburbs. Outside the central area the avenues are wide and both sides have cycle tracks segregated from pedestrians and motor vehicles. Hills Road and Newmarket Road would be the Cambridge equivalent in terms of size, but not in terms of cycle provision.

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One way except for cyclists

In contrast to the inner suburbs, the centre is quite old and narrow streets have been pedestrianised or given pedestrian priority. Since I first visited Århus ten years ago, one central street has been transformed from a busy dual carriageway to a pedestrian zone river frontage! The river used to be tunnelled under the road. Woven into these streets there is a central ring for cycle access, mostly contraflow cycle tracks, that is marked by special paving. It links with the coastal north-south route, to the western suburbs, and beyond.

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Contrast with Malcolm Street as a way of exiting an otherwise one-way street. Annular cycle lanes only work because drivers respect them

Mini-signals and annular lanes

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Cycle tracks merge smoothly with the road at minor junctions

Cycle tracks meeting major junctions typically have their own mini traffic signals, either phased in with the vehicle lights or phased so that straight-on cyclists do not conflict with right turning traffic. This achieves an effect much like that at Hills Road-Brooklands Avenue, but their better junction design takes up much less valuable road space.

At lights, cyclists aren’t allowed to turn left from the left lane: they must continue as if going straight on, and then cross from the far side when there is a gap in the traffic or when signals allow. This removes a difficult manoeuvre at the cost of having to wait twice. It also means advanced stop lines are rarely necessary.

There are fewer roundabouts in Århus than Cambridge. We saw only three, one large and two small, and none on the main avenues. All three had ‘annular’ cycle lanes – a cycle lane right around the outside. We would not advocate these here – indeed we have just objected to a similar proposal for Chesterton Road-Elizabeth Way. They have been tried, unsuccessfully, in a couple of British towns. They only work in Denmark because drivers are prepared to give way to cyclists crossing their exit. In Britain, driving is more assertive and roundabouts are bigger and faster.

Cycle tracks universally have priority over side roads. This can be achieved in two ways: either the cycle track merges with the main road to cross the junction mouth, with an imperceptible ramp in contrast to the lousy dropped kerbs we have here (our Danish hosts told us they are asking for longer approaches on the road to make their presence clearer), or the footway and cycle track continue at the same level and texture, with the side road or driveway dropping to the road on a little ramp, so that the car bumps down.

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The car gets the bump, not the cyclist Cycling on water: using an existing railway arch

Out in the countryside

Denmark’s network of national cycle routes served Sustrans as their model, so, just as here, the routes are mostly along quiet country lanes, with cycle-specific key links in and around towns. One ingenious and, probably, expensive link near our hotel crossed a railway on a platform over the river beneath the railway arch.

We sampled route 4 on the Saturday and visited the lakeside town of Ry, but it was remarkable that, once away from the city, we saw not one other bike! And this on a lovely spring weekend when the wood anemones carpeted the woodland, the larks sang, the hares boxed and the hot chocolate beckoned.

David Earl