Copenhagen’s Bike Lane in the Sky

Is it valuable infrastructure or a tourist attraction?

A project rendering of Copenhagen Gate (Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects)

Denmark loves bike lanes so much, it’s building one on top of a skyscraper.

Copenhagen Gate is a spectacular plan to link disparate parts of the Danish capital’s harbor, using a suspension bridge designed especially for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s the bridge’s supports that make it groundbreaking. The span will hang between a pair of mixed residential and office towers located on opposite piers at the harbor mouth.

Designed along with the towers by American architect Steven Holl, the bridge will cross between the towers not at water level, but at a height of 65 meters (213 feet). This elevation will provide spectacular views of the city and create a new visual gateway to Copenhagen for passengers arriving at the city’s cruise-ship terminal. After winning a competition 2008, Holl’s twin towers and bridge are finally due to start construction in 2016.

When finished, Copenhagen Gate should easily be the most spectacular piece of cycling infrastructure in the world. But could it also be the silliest?

To use the bridge, cyclists will need to pack their bikes into elevators on either side. That’s surely going to be a time-consuming, unwieldy process that, after the initial wow factor fades, might encourage riders just to pedal around the harbor at ground level. And even when the harbor is fully rebuilt, this peripheral site in its northern section will never be one of the most vital links in the city.

There is nonetheless a practical underpinning to the bridge plan. Copenhagen laws require new housing to be within 500 meters of a transit stop. The pier where the southern tower is located lies beyond this limit. Spanning the harbor basin will bring residents of the new tower closer to bus stops and to the upcoming new Nordhavn metro station. The plan thus frees up the area for residential development.

As for the unusual height, a standard bridge at water level wouldn’t work, because this port is still an active one for cruise ships. The sky-lane plan connects the harbor’s two fingers of quayside without blocking the port’s mouth to tall liners.

These arguments make sense, but they also sidestep an obvious question: If the city wants the quayside to be accessible to public transit, would it not be far simpler to just put in a bus line? Creating a new route, or diverting an existing one, would be infinitely cheaper, and the city would no doubt do so eagerly if it freed up extra space for badly needed housing.

Seen this light, the bridge looks less like a valuable infrastructure addition and more like a tourist attraction and visual branding exercise dolled up in infrastructural drag. The Danes normally steer clear of this sort of thing; the charm of the city’s Cycle Snake is that it’s both spectacular and very useful. That said, there’s no denying the impressiveness of the design. When Copenhagen Gate is finished, cycling up in the sky looking across roofs and endless open water—as far as Sweden on clear days—is surely going to be quite a ride.

This post appears courtesy of Citylab.