The Green Wave Prioritizes Active Transportation

I live in a community with lots of trails.  They’re pleasant and attractive but they’re not all that they could be.  With a little vision, these trails could carry traffic and be used as an active transportation resource, but mostly they are just a toy to be used for recreation.

The Green Wave - photo/New York Times

The Green Wave – photo/New York Times

This becomes obvious to trail users very quickly, for whenever a trail intersects with a road, trail users are forced to stop and wait until automobile traffic clears the intersection.  The message could not be more clear.  Motorized traffic is more important than non-motorized.

Imagine instead a system where the non-motorized are given priority.  What do you think the impact would be?  Would it encourage people to park their cars and bicycle, especially for shorter trips?

That’s what it has done in Copenhagen and other places where such priorities have been established.  In fact, the Danish capital has even gone so far as to develop a system that keeps bicycle traffic moving no matter what.  It’s called the Green Wave and it consists of a series of green LED lights embedded in the pavement.   These lights act as a guide to cyclists.  If they’re lit, it means that you will make the next light.  If they’re dark, you won’t.

The green lights roll in a wave.  They’re set to 12 mph, a speed that most people can easily achieve.  Once you catch the wave, you won’t have to stop until you reach your destination.  Motorists stop.  You roll.

Systems like the Green Wave prioritize active transportation over motor vehicles.  They make cycling more attractive than driving.  This, in turn, leads people to choose cycling.  You didn’t think that Copenhagen just happened, did you?  Lots of thought and planning went into it.  It is by design…

I’d like to see the Green Wave in the US but I’m not holding my breath.  As a stopgap measure, I’d settle for recognition on the part of traffic planners that gives cyclists and pedestrians priority and forces motor vehicles to stop at crosswalks.  It would have a positive effect on our communities.  It would gently nudge people out of their cars and onto bicycles.

This is a very easy thing to do.  If done, it would allow our recreational trail networks to morph into transportation resources.  I challenge cities and towns, both large and small, to change crosswalk prioritization now.  If they do, I’m willing to wait a little longer for the perfect wave.


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