Even a decade ago, the thought was downright crazy. Install hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, launch a massive bike sharing program and entice dubious New Yorkers to pedal the mean streets of Gotham? Please! But it’s happening before our very eyes. And, New York City certainly isn’t alone. Across the globe, cities have succeeded, with innovative bike lane designs, in creating streets that serve bicyclists and pedestrians — not just automobiles. They’ve captured the imagination of their residents with beautiful architecture and functional, people-focused urban design that makes cycling not only more efficient and safer, but also more enjoyable and scenic.
Inspiration from bike-friendly cities abroad helped to reshape the streets of New York City over the past decade. As we move into prime time for city riding, it’s thought-provoking to think about what might lie ahead. So, we asked leading advocates from PeopleForBikes, Project for Public Spaces and the National Association of City Transportation Officials to share what new and long-standing bike lane projects are turning their heads. Here’s just a handful of examples from across the world that inspire us:
CycleSnake Bridge: Copenhagen, Denmark
There’s only one place start when dreaming about urban cycling: Copenhagen. And one of its most iconic structures is a biking overpass that undulates over water and traffic like a snake. Aptly named the CycleSnake, it’s now smooth sailing for people of all ages and a shining example of the exciting variety of bike infrastructure throughout the city.
[Top Photo] Floating Bicycle Roundabout: Eindhoven, Netherlands
Like Denmark, the Netherlands is a mecca for urban cycling design. In fact, in Eindhoven a bicycle roundabout serves as an unofficial gateway to the city, with a 240-foot circle, suspended by 24 cables, allowing bicyclists to seemingly “float” over motorized traffic. Eindhoven is also the birthplace of Vincent Van Gogh and boasts the Starry Night bike path, illuminated with LED lights to evoke the painter’s most famous work.
Trampe CycloCable: Trondheim, Norway
We all love to coast downhill, but few enjoy the effort to get up an incline. Trondheim boasts the world’s first — and only — bicycle lift: a 420-foot mechanism that allows bicyclists to place their right foot on a footplate that propels them up the hill without having to pedal. Upgraded in 2013, it carries as many as 300 cyclists per hour and has given more than 300,000 riders a boost over the past 25 years. Photo: Trampe CycloCable
Starpath: London, England
Bicycling lights us up inside — in London, the ground beneath cyclists’ wheels lights up, as well. Called the Starpath, the patented pavement is made from a material that soaks up the UV rays of the sun during the day and emanates a glittery, blue glow at night, which makes every ride seem magical. London is also home to an evolving network of Cycle Superhighways; a mayoral promise dating back to 2008 that envisioned a dozen high priority, protected facilities connecting the suburbs to the city. Photo: Pro-Teq
Cuyperspassage: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Running beneath the city’s central train station, the recently completed Cuyperpassage in Amsterdam is a striking blend of art and innovation. Connecting the city to the IJ River, the tunnel accommodates both bicyclists and pedestrians, with dedicated lanes for each mode, and regales travelers with the soft glow of LED lights and a gorgeously tiled wall depicting a 17th century painting. Closer to home, the City of Davis, CA has made biking more fun and functional with a number of tunnels that eliminate the need to tangle with car traffic. “You can cruise leisurely through our bike tunnels or ride no hands and scream like a schoolkid,” the city says. Photo: Matthijs Borghgraef
Protected intersections: Salt Lake City, Utah
If you live in New York City, you know the increased comfort of riding in the many protected bike lanes. But you probably clench your handlebars when you hit a busy intersection. Salt Lake City became the second spot in the nation to install a protected intersection — that maintains that separation for bicyclists all the way through.
Bikes + transit: Hangzhou, China
Hangzhou and NYC actually have quite a bit in common: a great bike share system and extensive public transit. Lucky for residents of the China metropolis, the city has integrated the two seamlessly by creating wide bike lanes connected to rapid transit and separated from cars with barriers or landscaped islands. American cities are taking note of the innovation by focusing on how bikes and buses can compliment — rather than be in conflict — on the streets, with great designs in Seattle and Chicago.
Comprehensive bicycle network: Seville, Spain
Rising to global prominence almost instantaneously, Seville has become a legitimate competitor of biking meccas, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, not because they’ve come up with new, creative designs. Their innovation is going big — fast. In a matter of years, the city put down more than 50 miles of bike lanes (many protected) that created a true network throughout the city and, wouldn’t you know, the cycling rate soared 11-fold. Photo: Barry Neild/CNN
Shared space intersection: Poynton, England
It sounds counter-intuitive, but, when done right, making streets less predictable can increase comfort for everyone. Poynton — a village of 16,000 in England — is a great example. They redesigned a busy intersection by creating a wide open roundabout, removing defined crossings and creating a “shared space” where cars slow their roll to accommodate human traffic.
Bike-friendly highway: Boulder, Colorado
In Colorado, a massive highway expansion project resulted in fantastic new commute option — for bicyclists. It took 20 years of advocacy, but US 36 now boasts a bikeway from Boulder to Westminster that’s 18 miles long and features 12-foot-wide lanes with 2-foot shoulders. Photo: James Dziezynski
Inspiration abounds when it comes to creative approaches to shaping our streets. They offer tantalizing possibilities as more cities recognize and embrace the benefits of bicycling for transportation. From your own reading or travels, what bike lane project would you add to this list?
Carolyn Szczepanski is a writer, advocate and communications consultant focused on sustainable mobility and social justice.