I very much enjoyed meeting Andreas Røhl, the Bicycle Program Manager from Copenhagen, DK. He was very generous with his time, and in addition to speaking at the party Sunday night at Chris Kegel’s house and at the Wisconsin Bike Summit Tuesday, I asked him to give a presentation to City of Milwaukee staff on Monday.
I also gave him a mini Dave Tour of Milwaukee. We rode from the Iron Horse Hotel where he was staying, west up the Hank Aaron, down on to the secret Art Trail, past Miller Park, along the Menomonee River past fly fishermen, through the new Valley Passage, and into the near south side. I felt like this route highlighted some of the best of Milwaukee and illustrated the range of our bicycle facilities in the limited time we had on Sunday afternoon.
After we had tortas carnitas for lunch at the new El Rey on Chavez, I decided to head east (rock reference intended) down the bike lanes on the recently repaved Greenfield Avenue, north on the new bike lanes along recently reconstructed S 2nd Street, under the Polish Moon, around the summerfest grounds, through Lakeshore State Park to the Milwaukee Art Museum campus and back through downtown Milwaukee to his. hotel.
The tour gave Andreas a good idea of what Milwaukee is like. Our two home towns have a number of similarities and some major differences. The metro area of Copenhagen is about 2 million and Milwaukee is about 1.7 million. Copenhagen is about the fifth wealthiest large city in Europe and Milwaukee is the fourth poorest in the United states. Copenhagen is 95% white. Milwaukee 43% white, ethnically very diverse and simultaneously the most segregated city in the US.
When it comes to factors that influence cycling, Copenhagen occasionally has a very snowy winter, but only averages about 8 inches of the white stuff, while Milwaukee averages 52 inches of precipitation and has seen double that in recent years; advantage CP. Copenhagen has a population density of just over 5,700 people per square kilometer, while Milwaukee is comparatively sparsely populated with an average density of only 1,001.7 people/km²; advantage: CP. Copenhagen has a robustly funded light rail and bus transit systems, while Milwaukee has a bus-only transit system that is fighting for economic survival, advantage: CP.
With all those differences and the overall disadvantage Milwaukee, we can still learn from Copenhagen’s example. A 30% mode share for bicycles is not in the forseeable future for Milwaukee, but we might pick up another few percentage points if we follow their example. While Denmark certainly has a long history of using bicycles for transportation, the car has made great gains in the country and bicycle use has gone down across the country as a whole. In Copenhagen had a network of 200 km of cycletracks (raised bike lanes) and bicycles made up more than 60% of all traffic in the City. As the car became more popular, bicycles were pushed out and cars dominated the streets by the mid 1970s.
With a cultural memory of a better city life before cars, the residents of Copenhagen held massive pro-bicycle demonstrations in the late seventies. With the vast majority of voters in support of improving conditions for bicycles, politicians and bureaucrats began an ambitious effort to reclaim the streets for people and improve conditions for cycling. Since then, Copenhagen has increased the cycletrack network to more than 300 km and leads the world in innovative bicycle facilities designed to make cycling the most attractive and convenient form of transportation in their City.
Currently, more than 37% of people get to work or school by bicycle, the most popular form of transport in the city. Transit has a mode share of 28%, but it is growing. About 31% of people still use the car to get to work, and 4% travel by foot. Fully 68% of people in Copenhagen travel somewhere by bicycle at least once a week. The taxes on a personal automobile in Denmark are 180% the cost of the vehicle itself and gasoline cost around $9/gallon.
That is certainly a lot to take in. The differences between the two cities are staggering. But since the bicycle is such a simple and inexpensive solution to so many complicated and costly problems in Milwaukee, what can we learn from Copenhagen? The first thing that I learned is that Copenhagen has made all their improvements almost exclusively with local (municipal) funds. Very few of their projects are paid for with national money. That is a complete contrast to Milwaukee, where all of our projects have been funded with federal money, with the exception of a 20% required local match on federal grants. Milwaukee has no local budget from with to plan and construct bicycle improvements.
As we rode through the bike lanes and trails in Milwaukee, the main advice I got from Andreas was to try putting our bike lanes between the parked cars and the curb rather than between the parked cars and the motor vehicle travel lane. This, he said, would make the lanes much more attractive to people who don’t like the feeling of riding next to moving traffic.
I countered that crashes happen at intersections, not mid-block, so his proposed arrangement offered no safety improvement. I also noted that crashes happen at intersections and hiding cyclists behind parked cars could increase the number of crashes as motorists would not see bicycles when they made turns. He suggested pulling parking back a bit before the intersection and marking the bicycle travel lane through the intersection with colored paint of high-visibility bike and chevron symbols.
I also noted that a five foot bike lane pinched between the parked cars and the curb would cause problems when people opened the passenger side door. He said although they have very little on-street parking, where they do, the cycletrack is only 1.8 meters wide (about 5 .75 ft) and they experience very few problems in Copenhagen. He emphasized on several occasions that we really need to try this arrangement in Milwaukee.
I discussed this briefly with our City Engineer and plan on trying to find a test location in Milwaukee. If you were picking a pilot passenger side bike lane, where would you try it?