Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Dispatch from Europe: Bikeway innovations abound in Malmö

Posted by on November 22nd, 2011 at 3:50 pm

— This guest article was written by Denver Igarta. Denver is a transportation planner with the City of Portland who’s on a study trip in Europe funded by the German Marshall Fund.

Welcome to the land of innovation.
(Photos: Denver Igarta)

Malmö, Sweden is the place bikeway inventions are born.

The city its first bicycle plan way back when I was two years old (1976 if you’re wondering). Even before that time, they have been leading the charge to create bicycle-friendly communities. It was back in the 1960s when they decided to invest in a system of segregated cycle tracks on major roadways. It must be strange for them to hear bicycle planners from other cities talk about their “breakthroughs” in bikeway design. Oh yes, we did that over 20 years ago, might be the response.

“I felt like Charlie Bucket being led through the Wonka chocolate factory by the great Willy Wonka himself.”

Despite the already high proportion of trips made by bike (or perhaps because of it), bicycle ridership in the city continues to grow. They saw bicycling jump from 20% to 30% of all trips since the late 90s – which is not an easy task. There are now 260 miles of bikeways in Malmö and about 40% of all journeys to and from work are made by bicycle.

Since arriving in Sweden, I have had the great privilege to be hosted and led around town by Leif Jönsson, manager of the bicycle program in the municipality’s traffic division. He has a modest disposition despite being the brains behind many of the bikeway innovations that are not only found in Malmö but have made their way to some of the world’s best bicycling cities. On Monday afternoon, we took a three hour bike tour around town. I felt like Charlie Bucket being led through the Wonka chocolate factory by the great Willy Wonka himself. It’s a bicycle wonk’s (sorry for the bad pun) dream come true! I thought I’d share just a few highlights we encountered along the way.

Leaning rails at signals

The hand and foot railings at traffic signal is the bicycling equivalent to the cup holder on your car’s dashboard. You know you are in a City with advanced bicycling infrastructure when it offers this level of comfort and convenience on bikeways. If you find yourself stuck at a signal, just kick up your foot and take a rest against the rail.

Public air pumps

There is no need to search out a gas station to inflate a flat or low tire in Malmö. Public air compressors have been placed at strategic locations to create mini service stations for people on bicycles. If we had this in Portland, I’d lose my only regular upper body exercise – the floor pump.

Bicycle counters

Bicycle barometers count passing cyclists and provide a visual indication of cycling levels each day at key intersections in Malmö. People on bikes can see that their trips count as they pass the site. The permanent installation allows them to see the change in cycling numbers throughout the year. Winter ridership numbers are a whopping 80% of volumes in the Summer.

Radar bicycle traffic sensors

In Malmö, the signals are watching you. And if you’re on a bike, you might be rewarded. Small sensors have been fitted above the signals at around thirty intersections in Malmö to detect approaching cyclists. Once detected, the bicycle signals quickly turn green. I was told that the radar costs fraction of loop detectors in the pavement which require tearing up the pathway surface to replace.

Bike lounge

The newly opened City Tunnel, built to shorten the travel time between Copenhagen and Malmö, has brought with it two new stops (underground stations) within the city limits. The Hyllie Station is equipped with a state-of-the-art “bike and ride” facility. The garage not only accommodates a thousand bikes in both open and secure facilities, it offers a repair station and waiting room for those who arrive by bicycle.

Braille bollard

One of the coolest bits of infrastructure I saw was actually for people on foot. Small bollards have been placed at crossings of major and minor roadways. The cap of the bollard has a tactile diagram for those with impaired vision to inform them of the number of lanes they must cross and of the presence of a median refuge.

— Read more dispatches from Denver’s Trip on his blog.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Steve Hoyt-McBeth November 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Excellent post from one of PBOT’s favorite sons.

    As my colleague Scott commented on Denver’s blog, don’t forget the awesome education and encouragement campaign Malmo has done through ‘no more ridiculous car trips campaign:

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  • 9watts November 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Too bad our elected officials prefer to wage oil wars abroad. Talk about falling behind the curve.

    This is very inspiring.

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  • Jim Lee November 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    In case you are wondering, Jonathan, I bought a SAAB in Malmo…1969.

    Now, really neat bike stuff!

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  • A.K. November 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Wow, super cool. I really like the bike counter. I think one of those should be installed on each major bridge into downtown that cyclists use (such as the Hawthorne) so everyone can more easily see cyclists impact on traffic.

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    • peejay November 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      Yes, but will it count down for every salmoning rider?

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  • Chris November 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    I watched that video posted in the first comment, and it is well worth the viewing. I really enjoy seeing how communities can use clever, fun campaigns, and make simple, but intuitive alterations to to infrastructure to encourage more cycling. BTA take notice!

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  • bikesalot November 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I really like the rails at the traffic lights. I know I’ll never be able to do a track stand on the recumbent, so a railing would be really nice!

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  • Jim Lee November 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    At the end of the video the planner says they plan to reintroduce streetcars.

    With the cycling infrastructure in place it will be necessary to adapt the rails to it.

    We should watch to see how they manage that.

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  • Andrew Seger November 23, 2011 at 12:10 am

    I love the rogue railing dedicated to Dr Unthank outside the rose quarter/I-5. Would be a great place for a real one to go.

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  • Pea Sandwich November 23, 2011 at 5:11 am

    Recently a Swedish cyclist hit by a motorist was found guilty of NOT using the bike lane. The motorist claimed that the man in question “wanted to be hit” by his car and was not charged.

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  • Scott November 23, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Nice article. Now I know what cycling infrastructure to ask Santa for this Christmas!

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  • Uncle Muscles November 23, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I believe the plan here is for the City of Portland to reduce emissions by constantly flying transportation planners overseas where they can learn about bikeway improvements that will never be implemented.

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  • Doug Morgan November 23, 2011 at 11:50 am

    What’s the difference between a bikeway and a sidepath? Seems like very little of substance.

    On Swedish Bikeways are pedestrians and rollerbladers authorized? Looks like it from the pictures.

    I find these modes to be incompatible with cyclers. Pedestrians don’t pay attention, they walk on the wrong side of the path, they walk 2,3,4 abreast, they are completely unpredictable and the commingleing of the modes results in accidents. If you ask me we need better engineers roads. Mixing pedestrians and cyclists on a bikeway seems like just glorified sidewalks.

    Bikes belong on the road. These seem like very very expensive solutions that will cause as many problems as they solve. I should go to Sweden and do more research.

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    • Pete November 23, 2011 at 7:27 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. I think that among many Portland bike activists there’s a fetishization of European-style cycle tracks that overlooks the successes in the way Portland does bike infrastructure. The neighborhood greenway system is a great one because it doesn’t put cyclists in their own bike-only ghetto and instead reinforces the idea that bikes are members of traffic and should be treated as such. Cycletracks are very expensive propositions when compared to the prospect of creating more neighborhood greenways or widening existing bike lanes. We shouldn’t be trying to make our bike infrastructure more European; we should be trying to make it more Portland by expanding and intensifying our current network of bike routes.

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      • Severin November 26, 2011 at 12:21 am

        Sorry, that’s a bs response. Portland successful? Bicycle mode split is under 10% in Portland and nobody feels sufficiently safe to cycle without a helmet yet it seems. I don’t understand, you want the best right? Well Europe, particularly the Dutch, have perfected cycling conditions and safety– drop the “Portland #1”, it’s not true. Bike only ghetto? biased much? Portland forces bicyclists onto the no name streets where there are zero destinations which are affectionately termed ‘neighborhood greenways’. I don’t care to be “member of traffic”, frankly I don’t want to ‘share the road’ with killing machines. I value bicyclists, I think we should have our own quality infrastructure and not have to share with pedestrians or motorists.

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        • El Biciclero November 26, 2011 at 11:42 am

          It’s not a BS response for the U.S. There are roughly zero bicycle-only facilities here in the U.S., yet there are many, many “Multi-Use Paths” (MUPs) that are deemed to be “bikeways” on which we expect cyclists to exclusively travel. Such so-called bikeways serve only to impede bicycle travel, rather than facilitate it–and also suffer from the problem you mention of having “zero destinations”, because here in America, we seem to think that people only ride bikes at less than 10 mph for recreation only.

          Cyclists in the U.S. are rightly distrustful of any advocacy for “separated bikeways”, because U.S. engineers are fixated on creating only mixed-use, recreational, out-of-the-way paths. Those few “cycle tracks” that are experimented with in cities tend to end up being more dangerous (even if they aren’t perceived that way) than plain old cycling in the street.

          The other factor that makes cycling infrastructure so successful in other countries is the legal “infrastructure” that actually holds drivers responsible for their actions. Even separated cycleways require many street crossings at which there must be either separate signal controls, or rules of right-of-way that are actually enforced. Again, here in the U.S., drivers careen around with virtual impunity–about the only way a driver will be held accountable for killing someone is if they are drunk at the time. Otherwise, the driver has only to say “I didn’t see him!”, and it becomes just a tragic “accident”.

          So, before we talk about what is “BS” or not, let’s look around at the “cycling infrastructure” that has been built in the U.S., and ask whether or not we want more of the same thing, because chances are that is the only kind of thing we will get. Also ask whether we have a single politician in this country with the guts to even propose laws that would hold drivers accountable for anything other than the most egregious of offenses. Here we have politicians who want to pass mandatory helmet laws and ban the use of passenger trailers rather than “burden” drivers with an appropriate level of accountability.

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    • Todd Edelman November 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Doug: 40% of trips!! Do that research.

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    • Don November 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm

      I studied in Lund for an MBA last year; I could ride my bike to Malmö in about the same time as the slow bus. The bike tracks in Lund (a college city) are shared with pedestrians; however, the pedestrian side looks like a side walk while the bike lane is usually paved and there are markings delineating both. True, sometimes there are pedestrians walking abreast in the bike lane. A little “ding-ding” with your bell has them hopping aside somewhat apologetically. It is a very civil place and no one gets aggressive. These are the rules of the road, so to speak and most folks abide quite matter of factly. Of course it goes without saying, but I’ll say anyway, you must ride at a responsible speed for the given conditions. In Malmö most of the bike tracks transition into the streets where bikes and buses share a lane with the bus drivers yielding to the cyclists. I commuted by bike and never had a problem. And many of my friends, who were in their mid 30s have never had a need for a driver’s license. If you want to experience the premier bicycle culture, I suggest taking the train to Copenhagen.

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      • El Biciclero November 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

        “…but I’ll say anyway, you must ride at a responsible speed for the given conditions.”

        So I am curious then: if riding in what we would consider a central business district in the U.S., where the speed limit for cars is 20mph, what would be a “responsible speed” for bicycles to travel in such a district, given the typical “bike infrastructure”?

        Not knowing the answer to my question as it applies to the cycling infrastructure in Sweden, the speed issue is something that gets on my nerves. Why (at least around where I live), when the speed limit is 25 – 30 mph, do people think cyclists are “speeding” if they are going any faster than 15mph?

        When I am riding to work in the morning, 10 – 12mph is my minimum speed for most of the way. I am normally in the 15 – 20mph range, with some downhill sections getting me up to 30mph or above. This would be impossible on a pathway shared with pedestrians and dogs and such. My 40 minute commute would jump up to an hour or more if I were constrained to 10mph the entire way, which seems to be the most-often-mentioned “acceptable” speed for transportation cyclists. Anybody going faster than that is usually described as a “Spandex-wearing, Lance Armstrong wanna-be, aggro, ‘cat-6’ racing commuter jerk”, but higher (and quite reasonable, IMO) speeds of 15 – 20 mph or more are often desirable if one is to cover more than a couple of miles on a bike in any kind of timely fashion.

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        • 9watts November 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

          I wonder if this harkens back to an issue I’ve pondered often – when people who do not regularly ride bikes see someone/others riding bikes in a manner they themselves would not feel comfortable, might some of these observers rush to judgment and label that riding behavior dangerous based not on any evidence other than their own discomfort, fear of riding in that manner?

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          • El Biciclero November 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm

            Definitely. “You wouldn’t catch me doing that!”

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  • Severin November 23, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Doug, there’s a reason countries with separate cycling facilities have higher rates of cycling. Swedish bike paths/cycletracks/sidepaths/bikeways are for bikes only. I lived in Malmo, it’s my hometown. Their cycling facilities are very safe and liked compared to Portland.

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