Cycling is currently the fastest growing mode of transport in cities. The potential for accelerating cycling through ITS (intelligent transportation service) and other intelligent solutions is huge. Cities and the private sector can work together to make sure the innovations and new technologies align with the needs of both public authorities and residents for mobility, better use of public space, freedom from congestion, better quality of life, improved public health, more vibrant urban life, and reduced noise, emissions and pollution.
This column presents some solutions from Denmark, which can easily be implemented elsewhere to achieve common goals.
Optimizing Flow, Speed, and Safety
Cities can accelerate cycling uptake by making it even more attractive to cycle—by optimizing corridor flow and speed for cyclists and reducing the number of stops. For decades, cities have worked to ease these aspects of the driving experience for motor vehicle drivers. Yet stopping at an intersection is arguably even more annoying for a cyclist who must give up momentum by braking and subsequently use more energy to get back up to speed.
Transfer of the technology and practices already proven to be effective in car lanes can achieve these results in bicycle lanes.
Riding the Green Wave
Cycling through several intersections without having to stop is called a green wave. To help their cyclists ride the green wave, some Danish cities post signs or LED lights advising cyclists of the cycling speed that will keep them in sync with the traffic signals. The city of Aarhus is testing an RFDI technology that enables cyclists to carry an RFDI chip on their bikes that can activate the green signal phase at an upcoming intersection when passing an RFDI detector placed in the cycling lane a measured distance ahead of the signal.
Siemens has created an app-based system called SiBike that determines the speed and direction of the cyclists via the GPS sensor in their smart phone and activates upcoming green traffic signals.
Supercykelstisekretariatet (The Cycle Superhighway Secretariat) in Greater Copenhagen is testing a countdown system that allows cyclists to see when the signal will turn green and use that information to adapt their speed to the signals.
In the most optimal systems, a cyclist would not have to activate, wear a device, or change her behavior, but be automatically detected and the signal dynamically adapt to the actual speed of the cyclist.
When it Rains, it Greens
In the city of Odense, cyclists get 20 seconds of additional green time when it rains on the cycle superhighway at an intersection between the city center and the university. A combination of rain sensors and laser detection of cyclists approaching the intersection activates the extended green time during pre-defined conditions.
A small sign at the intersection explains the system to the cyclists, and a light goes on when they are detected, so they can see that the system is functioning.
ITS Can Increase Safety
Many intersections in Denmark feature smaller, special traffic signals for cyclists. These can be programmed to give cyclists a leading phase green light to cross the street before the cars get a green signal. Giving cyclists a head start reduces conflicts with motor vehicles.
LED studs have been used in Copenhagen to warn right-turning truck drivers of cyclists in the bike lane, thereby preventing right-turn accidents (where truck drivers have low visibility). The road studs flash in the driver’s side mirror when activated by cyclists crossing on green, improving awareness of the lorry drivers.
The City of Aarhus installed dynamic signs at an intersection as a pilot test for a similar right-turn warning system. In this case, the signs flash and warn cyclists when there is a large vehicle in the right-turn lane, rather than warning the driver of the turning vehicle that a cyclist is approaching. In either case, these systems must be highly reliable and designed so that road users are not confused in case they fail to function.
Showing Cyclists That They Count
Developing ITS solutions for cycling shows cyclists that they are appreciated and welcome in the city. Creating high-quality tech solutions for cyclists as a way of encouraging cycling was first tested in Denmark in 1999-2002 during the Odense Cycle City project.
In addition to green waves and LED lane lights, the city and a local ITS company developed the world’s first so-called cyclist counter, which is now implemented in cities all over the world. In addition to showing cyclists that they count, the counter also serves the critical purpose of providing the city with valuable daily data about cyclists. To be meaningful to the cyclists, the counting mechanism must be installed a sufficient distance ahead of the counter display so cyclists can actually see themselves being counted.
App Technology and Cycling
Since 2002, when the first cyclist counter was installed in Odense, a technological revolution has taken place. With the introduction of the smart phone and apps, using technology to accelerate cycling has entered a new era.
Wayfinding apps for cyclists that enable them to choose the fastest, safest, greenest or even happiest route are now available. Tracking and gamification apps that offer prizes or points to get coffee or discounts at local shops by cycling are being used to promote cycling and collect data in cities all over the world. App technology has made dockless bikeshare possible, allowing cyclists to locate and unlock bikes using an app. And some problems presented by the increase of dockless bikeshare systems are being solved with technology such as geo-fencing. A geo-fence is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area. A geo-fence can be dynamically generated—as in a radius around a point location—or can be a predefined set of boundaries (such as school zones or neighborhood boundaries).
The European Commission named 2018 the Year of Multimodality. Technology plays a big part in making a multimodal lifestyle easy. The Cycle Superhighway Secretariat in Copenhagen has worked with the Danish travel planner service Rejseplanen to develop new features that make it easier to combine longer bicycle rides with public transportation. The main purpose is to test different solutions that may reduce the barriers experienced when shifting between public transport and a long bicycle ride, such as mismatches in schedules or poorly located bicycle parking.
The project focuses on multimodal journeys that include a bicycle portion longer than five kilometers (three miles). This typically involves journeys that go beyond the normal bike ride to the nearest bus stop or train station. In Denmark, there has not been a lot of focus on these types of trips, where the commuter wishes to travel further by bike, even though there are other options available.
In the small Danish town of Egedal, the world’s first cycle zooperhighway uses technology and African animals to motivate local kids to bike to school and wear a helmet. Along the 2.3 km (1.4 mile) school route, nine different animal sculptures have been installed.
Lights in the animals are activated by RFDI chips on bike helmets. The project idea was developed with the school children to create an incentive to bike to school, ensure a better school route experience, and make the children feel safer.
Make It About People
There is no doubt that technology and ITS will play a big role in planning for and accelerating cycling in the future. The Cycling Embassy of Denmark is engaged in the debate about autonomous vehicles’ impact on cycling, the potential for cycling as part of MaaS solutions, space optimization through advanced cycle planning tools, and data management for bicycle traffic. We are excited about the huge potential technological development holds in this area.
At the same time, we recommend that the new solutions focus on making cycling more attractive and easy for people and helping cities reach their goals for a safer, sustainable, liveable, climate friendly, green, effective and healthy city.