Mikael Colville-Andersen on Building Effective Bike Lanes: Just Do It

It’s really not that difficult to build bike infrastructure so that city streets are safe and efficient for everyone. That’s what Mikael Colville-Andersen, the “bicycle urbanism” expert who founded Copenhagenize, wants Colorado to know.

Bike lanes are simple and necessary pieces of city infrastructure, Mikael Colville-Andersen said at the Colorado Bicycle Summit. Photo: David Sachs

“The greatest thing about bike infrastructure today is very, very simple,” Colville-Andersen told the crowd of about 250 at the Colorado Bicycle Summit on Tuesday. “It’s all been invented. It’s all ready to use, off the shelf, like in a supermarket. We have short memories as humans. The bicycle was a primary transport form in every city on the planet for decades and all we are doing is going back to that place.”

Colville-Andersen, who lives in bike-forward Copenhagen, compared Denver’s biking network to a broken chair: “It’s there. There are bits and pieces to it. It’s not really connected, it’s not a total network. But The Man is telling us you can use it, that it’s fine — just get out there and use it.”

Colorado DOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt, one of the proverbial Men, missed Colville-Andersen’s talk but came later. Bhatt spoke about the need for complete streets, including bike infrastructure on Denver’s deadly urban highways like Federal Boulevard.

“We’ve done all sorts of things to make driving very safe,” said Bhatt. “The problem is, we have roads now that are not safe for anybody but a car. And that cannot be. You cannot have vibrant communities, you cannot have places where people want to live and grow, build a business, build a family, and have these things that take up so much space.”

Sounds good. So what’s he gonna do about it?

Bhatt continued: “We have got to put our minds together, talk to our engineering geniuses and our communities, and say, ‘Do we want these [streets] to be big arterial highways that move tens of thousands of vehicles? Or do we want them to be more complete streets and have things like parked cars that provide shelter?’ Because I guarantee you, if we make it more safe and make it more comfortable, then more people will do it. And we can help build this out.”

In practice, we have yet to see Bhatt take street space and repurpose it for bike lanes that are protected from vehicle traffic. He does seem open to building protected bike lanes on some of Colorado DOT’s urban highways, but he’s been reluctant to act first, saying he wants neighborhoods to tell him they want change.

It’s always good for neighborhoods to speak up for safer streets, but at some point DOT has to take the initiative and make streets work for biking and walking.

As Colville-Anderson said, “There’s no such thing as chicken or egg, there’s just infrastructure.”