ban private cars in london)
When I planned my trip to Copenhagen in late March, I was anticipating the first rays of spring sunshine. Unfortunately the beast from the east was still lingering over Europe and the wind chill was -10 and with snow.
What surprised me was the upbeat mood in the city. It was as cold as it ever gets in London, but the streets were buzzing with men and women cycling. At evening rush hour the main cycling lane on Norrebrogade was accompanied by chirpy chatter, a social life on wheels that drifted through the city. I could see that properly protected cycle lanes can be both social and transport infrastructure.
Cycling outfits, designed for both warmth and style, were very much part of the cultural engagement. Not a faceless sea of fluorescent high vis and helmets, but individuality, fun and creativity. The Danes have style and like the Japanese, it is something that imbues the everyday (even the most challenging everyday) with meaning, beauty, poetry and fun.
Building Bridges Copenhagen to London
I was primarily in Copenhagen to look at the Cycling bridges. The Danish architecture and engineering practice Bystrup, together with Robin Snell Architects, have been commissioned to build the walking and cycling Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge. We don’t currently have any cycling and walking bridges in London, so I was interested to see what a walking and cycling bridge looks and feels like.
The proposed Nine Elms to Pimlico bridge, included in the Mayor’s Transport strategy, is a vital piece of infrastructure, along this part of the river Thames. It is the longest stretch of riverside in central London without a crossing point. According to a Transport for London feasibility study, the project would pay for itself twice over in terms of reduced journey times and other benefits.
The winning bridge design features a slender structure with spiralling ramps at both ends, the aim is to create a ‘seamless crossing’ with single spire masts and an “elegant” winding deck. The design celebrates the river and aspires to create a thing of real beauty.
I had met Henrik Skuboe (of Bystrup Architecture, Design and Engineering) at a presentation of the bridge in London. Henrik and his colleagues Elisabeth and Aliki kindly organised a cycle tour in Copenhagen, taking a very scenic route around the cycling bridges and other infrastructure.
We met at the new ‘Kissing Bridge’ (Kyssebroen) at Nyhavn, recently opened in 2017. The bridge is 180 meters long and eight meters wide and is one of three inner harbor bridges that allows pedestrians and cyclists a quick and direct route from Nyhavn to the canals of Christianshavn and beyond. The funky coloured glass adds a turquoise and yellow tint to the deep inky blue of the Baltic sea. There has been some criticism that the Bridge is too angular for the natural flow of cycling but it certainly does create the wow factor.
Another funky bridge on our tour was the bridge designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson The Cirkelbroen (Circle Bridge) spans a Copenhagen canal and features a series of wire masts, based on ships’ rigging. The 40-metre-long cycling and footbridge is made from five interconnected circular platforms, where visitors are invited to rest and take in the view.
We also took in a walking and cycling bridge, designed by Bystrup, which crosses the railway. It is called “Langeliniebroen” / The Langeliniebridge. It is approximately 180 meter long and at 7,5 meter wide, it is very similar to the proposed Nine Elms to Pimlico bridge. It does not have a dividing central reservation between walking and cycling but that seems to work well in this environment. And it makes it accessible for emergency services.
Cycling bridges are a central and cultural focus for the cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen. They provide practical connectivity across the watery natural infrastructure of the city, but again embrace beauty and fun design. And of course this is dedicated traffic-free infrastructure, tailored to active travel. It made me feel like the red carpet had been rolled out for cycling. And it was liberating!