In the ideal bike city, the word ‘wayfinding’ wouldn’t even exist

June 8, 2016

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

We’re reporting from Copenhagen this week — here’s why.

The first thing people realize when they start to get around Copenhagen on a bicycle is that they don’t need to ask for two sets of directions.

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Which way do we need to go to get there on a bike?

On a bike in Copenhagen, you can more or less stop at question 1.

Here’s Google’s map of central Copenhagen:

And here’s Google’s map of central Copenhagen’s bike network:

On a map, this network looks good. At street level, it looks great.

For example, let’s say you were at the WakeUp Hotel and needed to go west. You’d start by looking down the street for the nearest significant east-west street:

Then you’d head toward it. If you wanted, you could simply walk in the street, because (as you’d see when you got there) a raised, cobbled area sets off the side street, communicating to anyone who turns onto it that they’re entering a slower-moving, person-paced block:

When you got to the bigger street, you’d see this:

Then, of course, you’d turn right and join these folks heading west.

For someone who knows a city’s bike network well, it can be easy to forget how confusing a city can be to people navigating it by bike for the first time. This isn’t just about tourists — it’s about anyone who is accustomed to driving, or riding with a friend or family member, or riding a bus and decides to try a bicycle.

If a city wants its bikeway network to be a recruiting tool — and for most cities, that’s sort of the point — it needs a network that is legible. A robust bikeway network isn’t just direct and efficient; it gives everyone the gift of improvisation, of exploration. In most U.S. cities, deciding (or resigning yourself) to not use a car usually means constricting one’s world, limiting oneself to familiar routes. A bike network as complete as Copenhagen’s rewidens that world again.

Copenhagenize Design Co. has created a graphic that sums up the problem well:

As we’ll see in a future post, Copenhagen isn’t perfect on this count either. But if you’re trying make biking an attractive option for most people, it’s perfectly obvious that you need a bikeway network that’s as direct and well-connected as the roadway network already is.

The Green Lane Project helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write [email protected]

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