The main purpose of this post is just to provide some images of Copenhagen bus stops for those who are already well informed. You might like to jump the explanation and go straight to the images.
This might seem odd to some, but on a recent family trip to Copenhagen I found myself taking photos of the way that bus stops co-exist with roadside cycle tracks.
I’m not going to discuss floating bus stops and UK infrastructure in any detail because others have already done a good job of this. I’ll really just show the Copenhagen images.
[Update, August 2020: This post is being shared as part of discussions about the safety of various arrangements around bus stops and cycling. Please note that this was never written as a proper discussion of these issues – and in particular it doesn’t attempt to discuss issues around visual impairment and cycling in any depth. It’s really intended simply to present an analysis of what I saw in Copenhagen. I’ve now added a very short discussion of issues at the bottom of the post, but if you want to know properly how my thinking has evolved since writing this article you’ll need to ask me.]
Briefly – for those that haven’t ever considered bus stop design in detail – here’s the problem illustrated in a simple image. The details don’t matter here – what the image illustrates is very simple. There is a need to get bus passengers on and off buses. Where cycling space is between walking space and driving space, people and/or vehicles have to cross paths.
Obviously the situation in this particular diagram presents one of the most dangerous of the available options, with the bus moving directly onto the space being used by people cycling to stop. The bus driver in this situation probably can’t see the person cycling. If we want to keep people alive, and to make it possible for a wide variety of people to cycle happily and safely, then we need a better arrangement.
However, one of the biggest problems is nothing to do with conflict between buses and people cycling (which is what everyone talks about). It’s what happens when buses aren’t there – as in the second image I’ve shown. Sometimes in the UK we’ve built protected space for cycling, but left out the protection at bus stops. What’s left – when there’s no bus there – is often a long area where people aren’t protected from ordinary traffic. And people being people, it’s quite likely that this will be the space they choose to pull up to drop off a passenger, or park ‘just for a couple of minutes’, which seriously erodes the level of protection offered for cycling on the road as a whole.
Take note that the diagrams I’ve created here show people walking and cycling on the right of the road in order to match the photos of Copenhagen. Which leads me to point out that I didn’t see any situations like the one in this diagram in Copenhagen. This is more representative of what’s seen in the UK (although I didn’t draw the drain covers, faded paint, gaps, narrow bits, etc).
It is interesting to note that there is one specific rule/convention at work in Copenhagen that I’d not knowingly come across elsewhere. As indicated in this article [external link] the expectation is that where the bus picks up or offloads people immediately onto a cycle lane those on bikes are obligated to give way – not through local signs, but by basic rules of the road. Some of the images below illustrate this arrangement. I assume that it works fairly well, but I don’t have enough information to be sure of this. I consider that it is very important that this is a proper rule, not something indicated by faded bits of paint and badly designed give-way symbols, as we see often in the UK.
So here are the images.
Floating bus stop – example 1
There are no special measures in place here. People on foot simply walk across the cycle track when it’s clear. It’s incredibly simple.
I saw no issues occurring with this arrangement (but see my comments about visual impairment at the end of the article). I think this is because:
- everyone understands what’s going on and the design is very simple;
- those cycling are relaxed because their whole journey has been on tracks like this;
- those cycling are relaxed because the design is free from risks to them so they are free to look at what’s happening ahead of them;
- everyone can see everyone else.
Note the low kerb edge. In comparison to the UK this will be a significant aid to access (or crossing the space) using a wheelchair or with any other wheeled device (pushchair, pushed bicycle, shopping trolley, walking aid, etc). There is also a very obvious distinction between spaces for walking and cycling – the cobbled stone may not be tactile paving, but it certainly delineates the space well. The low kerb also makes cycling much safer here – some UK designs have full kerbs and lots of wiggles, meaning that those cycling need to be concentrating pretty hard on not getting too close to the side of the track where their pedal will hit the kerb and knock them off the bike. Often what I see as well intended measures designed to slow people down actually just increase risks and distract them further.
Note also, that this hasn’t been achieved by sticking a cycle track on pavement space, but by sticking a bus stop and cycle track on what would previously have been wide roadway.
A quick internet search for ‘poor quality bus stop bypass‘ images brings up some good UK examples of where space is taken from the footway instead. I particularly like these: image 1 : image 2 : image 3 – from ‘Alternative Department for Transport’ blog posts 1 : 2 : 3
Here’s a Google Streetview image of the stop above, although it’s not particularly helpful due to the viewing angle.
Floating bus stop – example 2
This is another example of just the same thing. The cycle route that this is part of [map link] carries people at speed, travelling longer distances alongside a fast road (and motorway). People who appear to be cycling fast can be seen on Google Streetview, which also reveals recent changes – indicating that Copenhagen is still moving forward. Where the bus previously pulled off the road, now there is no need. What was previously a bus lay-by has become the floating bus stop island. The bus now just stops on the road.
An interesting feature here is the simple tarmac ramps. These are extremely common in Copenhagen, providing an immediate, cheap, and adaptable way to support access across deeper kerb edges. They may not be pretty… but they work. Here they take people down the kerb from footway to cycleway.
While we’re looking at this example, note the absence (as above) of any special markings (or more advanced facilities) on the cycle track to support people to cross. What I observe here is that for most people (for comments on visual impairment please see below) what makes this arrangement safe is the same as above. The presence of the cycle track is obvious, everyone is relaxed, everyone can see one another, there are no hazards distracting the people who are cycling.
Floating bus stop – example 3 (with separate shelter)
This has a small kerb edge (and shallow tarmac ramps) on the right, but it has a level surface delineated with cobbles on the left. Here it is on Google Streetview. The bus shelter isn’t part of the ‘island’ but is on the main footway (actually a wide public square area).
I think I’m less impressed with this. It would be nice if the track stood out a little more. But the low kerbs must be helpful for access in other ways.
Floating bus stop – example 4 (with separate shelter)
This stop is on a road heading out of the city, which is wide and straight. Here it is on Google Streetview. Interestingly despite the huge amount of space available there is only one running lane in each direction for the motorised traffic. There is a lay-by arrangement for the bus to stop. You’ll also notice that again the actual shelter isn’t part of the ‘island’ but is on the main footway.
A double floating bus stop
As if to prove that floating bus stops are a simple and safe thing to implement, here in the middle of Copenhagen is a much more complicated arrangement. The very wide road at this point has two bus lanes/stops (going in the same direction, in the image to the left of centre, and further left again), and a cycle track (right side of this image) and ordinary traffic to the left of all these features. On Google Streetview it is possible to see that the signalised crossings are here to support people to cross the whole road, but that they have also been utilised to support crossing to the bus stops. I understand this to be something intentionally utilised in designs in the Netherlands – making it easier for some people to cross to the bus stop.
This isn’t Utrecht or Amsterdam. The streets of Copenhagen are still dominated by motor vehicles, and wide crossings like this are common.
Loading/unloading from/to cycle track – example 1
As far as I could see this worked just fine. Clearly it’s not seen as a good arrangement, but one that is employed when there’s less willingness to take space away from the road. I’m sure it’s irritating when you’re cycling and in a hurry, but the compensation is that so many roads have direct and wide cycle tracks.
This location is close to the central station. As with much of the infrastructure in Copenhagen there is a feeling that it has been introduced fairly rapidly, with issues tackled as they went along. I’m assuming here that the barriers have been introduced to discourage people standing on the otherwise less obvious cycle track while they wait for the bus. Google Streetview confirms that they were added relatively recently.
Loading/unloading from/to cycle track – example 2
This is another situation where bus passengers load/unload directly from/onto the cycle track. Google Streetview shows that this is yet another situation in Copenhagen where (since 2014) a cycle track has taken space from the road (NOT from the footway). Discussion over the detail of the bus stop has to take this into account. While it’s not ideal that those cycling need to wait if people are getting on or off a bus, most of us would accept this if it was the price for such long stretches of properly segregated cycleway as exist here.
While using a long stretch of track here we did not need to wait at all at any bus stop. Such arrangements perhaps work best further out of town, where buses are relatively uncommon.
Loading/unloading from/to cycle track – example 3
Another example of buses loading/unloading directly from/onto the cycle track. Here it is on Google Streetview.
This was further from the city centre.
Loading/unloading from/to cycle track – example 4
This example is much more interesting. A look at the area on Google Streetview makes it clear that this is in the middle of a major shopping street – with high end shops.
While I’m saying that to me this is interesting, what it emphasises quite how unremarkable such arrangements are in Copenhagen. From the perspective of people actually living in Copenhagen, mixing cycle traffic and bus passengers seems like a quite sensible thing to do. The whole thing seems about as uncontroversial and unremarkable over there as any old ordinary bus stop is over here.
Take a look at some further images of this area and people cycling through it.
If we treat people on bicycles properly – not just tolerate them, but really genuinely treat them properly – and give them space to relax, and generally speaking they treat people not-on-bicycles properly in return. People don’t cycle more gently in Copenhagen and the Netherlands because of some national characteristic, but because they can. Many people cycle more furiously or more aggressively in other places because it feels (and is proven to be) very much safer to do so. If generally people are making their way around their city in that way – afraid for their very lives – then it’s not surprising that they behave badly to those on foot. We observe this kind of thing in many other situations. Kids who are bullied bullying others, and so on.
First some context. This is on a road which, for me, emphasises that Copenhagen is still a long way behind some of the cities in the Netherlands. Take a look on Google Streetview. Protected infrastructure on this road comes and goes – often giving up and leaving people mixing with fairly heavy traffic. My family cycled from the far north to the far south of the city, but despite staying locally we didn’t cycle here. But we saw plenty of people trying. My overall feeling about Copenhagen is that it remains completely dominated by motor vehicles – even although many people cycle. This isn’t true in the Utrecht or Amsterdam or the areas surrounding them.
So with that context, what we have here is a device which means that it’s possible for people to overtake a bus on the right while it is at the stop.
I guess that in some ways this is better than asking them to overtake in the middle of the road. But presumably on those occasions when a bus has stopped the person cycling will be expecting to have to stop for those passengers getting on and off the bus. So how is this helpful?
What I think is the major effect is what happens when no bus is present. It encourages people on bikes to very temporarily leave the stream of traffic and then re-join. Presumably this sets up all the normal risks that people in the UK are familiar with. Again, how is this helpful? Perhaps the only benefit is to provide somewhere relatively safe to stop the bike while waiting for the bus to move on?
Despite these issues what this stop does emphasise, again, is that Copenhagen is completely relaxed about mixing bus passengers with people cycling.
Which is my main message after all.
Additional note: August 2020
Since writing this article I have seen it shared as part of heated discussions around bus stops and cycling in the UK. This article was never written as part of this kind of discussion, but really just to present what seems to be ordinary infrastructure in Copenhagen. But it feels important now to add some additional notes. The following notes are written quickly, to summarise issues.
- Arrangements like this can create real issues for people with visual impairments who depend on bus access, but who are worried about collisions with people cycling. Where people are already badly excluded by wider issues of street design, this additional loss can be very serious. Even if fears are unfounded it is wrong to ignore or downplay these fears.
- If we are to properly support cycling in the UK we must provide for safe cycling on direct routes on ordinary streets, which will very often mean they are on a bus route. Buses are big and dangerous and if we are to keep people safe, and to make it feel safe to cycle, then we cannot have buses driving into space used by people cycling, and leaving gaps in protection where they have to cycle on the ordinary road simply isn’t going to deliver the quality of route that most people will be prepared to cycle on. That means there is no alternative other than to find a way to safely have interaction between bus passengers and people cycling.
- Recently I’ve seen a myth arise, which is that these kind of arrangements are put in place because people cycling don’t want to wait behind a bus. This is clearly not the case – as I outline above, these arrangements are entirely about making cycling something safe and welcoming. Indeed, many of these Copenhagen designs have a law attached which means that people cycling must wait for the bus – but they do it in a safe place, and the bus hasn’t driven over the space for cycling.
- The main elements that make the arrangements above safe are those I mention above – clarity of design, plenty of space for cycling, a lack of hazards for people cycling, people being able to see one another, and an environment for cycling which means people are relaxed.
- There is nothing in these designs which attempts to make the arrangement safer by physically slowing people on bicycles down. I think this is good, because such designs tend not to work, but to increase distractions (thus making the arrangement less safe for all).
- There are also clear (national) rules that apply to those situations where bus passengers step out of a bus onto a cycle track. We should consider such rules in the UK.
- In the UK, if we want to do better than this (and I hope we do) we may also need to find a way to provide additional reassurance to people who want or need to trust that people cycling are going to wait for them to cross. We do not currently have appropriate tools available for this job – ordinary traffic signals (traffic lights) cause more problems than they solve, zebra crossing markings generally aren’t really obvious enough on their own (because tracks are narrow), and most pedestrians won’t bother crossing at those points, making for a confusing environment. I consider that it may well be both possible, and necessary, to design a simple new type of signal which can be activated by people needing to indicate clearly to people approaching on a bicycle that they need people to stop to let them across.
- Design is everything. I see lots of people trying to draw conclusions from studying one bus stop arrangement – trying to use this to draw conclusions about everyone who cycles or all bus stop arrangements. This is ridiculous. The details of design and location make a huge difference. I have experienced bus stops in London where I have seen that people were wanting to cross, but where it wasn’t safe for me to stop because people behind me couldn’t also see this. I’ve seen arrangements were pedestrians must contend with bicycles traveling in both directions, which clearly makes things much more difficult. And worst of all, I’ve encountered arrangements where there were so many hazards for me as I cycled (at a reasonably gentle pace) that I couldn’t pay attention to people wanting to cross at all.
There’s much more to say about these issues – but you’ll need to wait until I have time to write a proper article.
- Read everything – New here? This is a suggested reading order.