What does good cycling infrastructure even look like?

At the latest Velo City conference, the annual international summit of the European Cyclists’ Federation that was held in Dublin this year, Dutch blogger and cycling enthusiast, Mark Wagenbuur, was quoted in the Irish papers on Dublin’s cycling infrastructure;

I couldn’t remember when I last felt afraid on my bicycle. Not just anxious, but genuinely fearing for my life. I do now, after I cycled in Dublin last week.

He went on to write, “Cycling infrastructure in Dublin is planned and built at the expense of pedestrians and trees. The city really needs to do something about the free reign of motordom in the city centre.” You can read his entire article here.

When I first read Mark’s comments, my initial feeling was that he was exaggerating. As a regular cyclist in Dublin over the past five years, I have never had an incident and frequently advise others that cycling in Dublin is “really not that bad, I promise”. It prompted me to reconsider my position and research what good cycling infrastructure really looks like. I quickly came to realise that my previously held belief that cycling in Dublin wasn’t “that bad”, was because I didn’t know what good cycling infrastructure looked like.

After doing some research, I’d like to share with you just some of the impressive and innovative ideas and plans I found cities have put forth to prioritise cyclists and their safety. In turn these changes have helped their citizens to reduce their personal emissions, improve their health and reduce traffic congestion.

Denmark’s Cycle Superhighways

In Denmark 9/10 people are said to own a bicycle, with cycling representing a strong element of Danish history and a symbol of freedom for the Danes. In the 1970s, Denmark introduced car free days during the Mideast oil crisis, with large parts of the city closed off to vehicles allowing pedestrians and cyclists to have a not too oft, joyous free reign of the city.

In order to facilitate the large numbers of cyclists, town planners had to look at ways they could widen cycle paths and increase cyclist safety. Hence the cycle ‘superhighways’.

These highways are designed to provide cyclists with wider pathways that have fewer stops and better connections in their city. This encourages residents to leave their cars at home, reduces the risks of obesity, increases positive mental health, lessens traffic congestion and improves air quality. The Dane’s unique perspective on the economical benefits of improved cycling infrastructure has helped politicians and town planners to develop this kind of infrastructure for their citizens.

France’s Reconquest of the River Seine in Paris

Two years ago, the left wing parties won a controversial vote to close off 3.3km of riverside road running along the river Seine. Car drivers met the decision with shock and anger, saying it would not decrease traffic congestion or pollution and would simply move it elsewhere.

The deputy Mayor and member of the Ecology Green Party, Christophe Najdovski, disagreed, “Behaviour will change. Habits will change. And our objective, to reduce traffic and thus pollution, will be achieved.”

The plan was launched in 2016, and in 2018 the courts ruled that Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s ambitious plan to remove cars from the once congested stretch would remain car free.

Norway’s Cycling Lift in Trondheim

The Trondheim bicycle lift aka Trampe bicycle lift, was invented and installed by Jarle Wanwik in 1993. To someone viewing the lift for the first time it appears strange, but as any cyclist will contest, it also looks undeniably useful. It is supposedly the first and only bicycle lift in the world.

I know many people who bought a bicycle for their daily commute and ended up selling it because what seemed to them an insurmountably steep hill. Would the Trondheim Lift prevent such resales? I think yes.

Daejeon-Sejong Solar Cycling Pathway in Seoul

One of the few solar panelled roadways in the world and stretching 20 km from Daejeon to Sejong, the solar panelled bike lane generates electricity while also protecting cyclists from harsh sunlight.

Critics claim cyclists are exposed to traffic fumes. However, without these new and innovative designs being piloted, cars will continue to command our city spaces and win out as first-choice for commuters.

Morlan’s Tunnel in San Sebastián, Spain

Once the thoroughfare for a railway train, Morlan’s tunnel was created in 2009 to connect the neighbourhoods of Amara and Ibaeta in San Sebastián. The tunnel itself is 840m long and runs on a 2km cycling path stretch. It’s a perfect example of how currently obsolete infrastructure can be reimagined spaces for the benefit of all. It’s model is not unlike the Waterford Greenway, a 46km cycling path from Waterford to Dungarvan in Ireland, also previously a railway track.

Holland’s Bicycle Carparks

If you’ve ever parked your bicycle in a “bad” neighbourhood, you know that feeling of relief when it’s still there when you get back. To make bicycling parking that bit easier, Holland has introduced multi-storey cycling carparks, with Utrecht boasting one of the biggest in the world.

An impressive 12,500 spaces are available in the parking lot, and the interior design leaves enough space for cyclists to cycle inside in order to quickly find the nearest parking space. These cycling spaces are separated from the walkways to prevent accidents between pedestrians and cyclists.

The Hovenring “Cycling Roundabout” in North Brabant, Holland

If I was going to mention any country twice in this list, it had to be Holland, and the Hovenring is such a cool bit of architectural engineering that it’s hard to leave it out of this list. This entirely suspended cycling path is the first of it’s kind in the world and was designed to increase the flow of traffic, while also improving the safety and infrastructure of cyclists.

Roundabouts can be tricky to manoeuvre as a cyclist, with studies suggesting cyclists’ safety decreases when intersections are converted to roundabouts. The Hovenring however takes that out of the equation; 72 metres in diameter, the steel structure is suspended from a single 70 metre pylon and 24 steel cables.

My list ends here, but these are just a few of the fantastic inventions and changes forward thinking developers, engineers, architects, politicians and citizens have welcomed into their cities. It’s good to keep in mind that there are other tried and tested models out there and that Dublin and Irish cyclists should not settle for anything less than improved infrastructure that keeps them safe, improves congestion and prioritises the planet.