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Bicycle Traffic Signals: How One City is Investing in Cycling


Once again, a European city takes a giant leap ahead for bicycle riders and drivers alike, in the face of the change-averse traffic infrastructure culture of the US.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, the city has just announced that they will be replacing the traffic signals at all 380 downtown intersections with smart signals designed to improve flow by recognizing and reacting to bicycles as well as cars.

The Cycling Embassy of Denmark explains:

“No more red waves and heavy traffic at low speed, when driving to and from work. Copenhagen has invested in 380 new intelligent traffic signals, in order to replace the old light. The new signals will save bus passengers between 5 and 20 percent of their travel time, according to the municipality. The traffic lights are online, making it possible to regulate traffic better and repair damaged traffic lights faster, says Technical and Environmental Mayor Morten Kabell (EL).”

The new signals will be able to sense the kind of vehicles approaching, which will allow them to signal for the best possible traffic flow.

In Copenhagen, according to bicycling.com, an incredible 50% of people ride their bikes to commute every day. To improve infrastructure for such a large part of the commuting population will make a huge difference for drivers and commuters of all types.

Copenhagen’s current traffic infrastructure is already miles ahead of our American cities, especially for bicyclists. With so many people cycling into the city every day, Copenhagen made the decision to design their signal system around creating “green waves”.

Green waves are, essentially, a phenomenon created by a flow of the traffic signals that allows cyclists riding about 20 kilometers per hour to hit all green lights on their way into the city. It helps encourage all cyclists to maintain a moderate, safe pace so as to catch the best momentum into the city.

And by making it fast and pleasant to get into the city for work and back home again every day, this system further encourages people to ditch their cars in favor of bicycles more often.

Now, Copenhagen is replacing all the downtown traffic signals to keep this easy, smooth flow of traffic going all the way into downtown.

Bicycling.com explains:

“The new smart signals are expected to facilitate the green wave concept so that everyone has a more seamless passage through downtown. According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, the new smart signals throughout the city will shorten bike commutes by up to 10 percent and bus commutes by 5 to 20 percent.”

The efforts made by Copenhagen and other bicycle-minded European cities clearly demonstrate how traffic flow and safety can be vastly improved by serious infrastructure changes, rather than the band aids and quick fixes we often see around the United States.

By taking bicycle commuters seriously and considering ways to include them in traffic planning, Copenhagen is making it possible for traffic flow to increase for everyone. When bicycles move more freely, so can buses and cars, which saves everyone time and keeps everyone safer.