In Copenhagen, traffic is usually caused by the two-wheeled means of transport: the bicycle.
Since bicycles were imported to Denmark from France in 1869, they have become the main means of transport in the Scandinavian city. In the 1920s it was not unusual to see both the working class and upper class cycling through the streets. But with the opening of the new M3 Cityring subway line, commuters have a new way to get around.
Although the Copenhagen Metro has always been quite efficient, many neighborhoods lacked stations and, therefore, accessibility.
Additionally, a growing population of about 10,000 new residents per year is taxing the buses and trains already on the road. In a city of 650,000 inhabitants, approximately 200,000 travel by subway daily, sometimes along with their bicycles during the journey.
Cityring, a 15.5-kilometer (about 9.63-mile) circular line with 17 new stops – nearly doubling the number of existing stations – now connects suburban neighborhoods radiating away from the city center. Residents won’t need to rely on their bicycles to get around, a plus especially during Copenhagen’s hygge winters.
According to Henrik Ploughmann Olsen, CEO of Copenhagen Metro, the impetus for the project was twofold. “First of all it was about improving public transport, making it more efficient and of better quality,” he said. “But it was also about urban development in other areas outside the city center.”
Public squares, with 150 benches and 800 trees, were built and 17 new stations were installed around them. The plazas not only allow access to the subway, but will hopefully encourage more commerce and housing.
“We see it attracting retail but also office and service-oriented businesses,” Olsen said.
Building the line was not without its challenges.
Olsen acknowledged that the eight years of construction have hindered traffic and generally disrupted people’s daily lives. “We had machinery right outside our windows for a considerable number of years,” she said.
Technical issues also challenged the tunnel planners. They had to build around older structures with shaky foundations, such as the historic Frederik Church, also called Marble Church, at Marmorkirken station.
Groundwater control was also critical during construction.
“Many houses in the inner part of the historic center are actually founded on wooden stilts from the 17th or 18th century,” explains Olsen, “If you remove the groundwater from those stilts, they will rot.”
Additionally, builders had to deftly maneuver around existing subway tunnels, but Olsen proudly notes that the expansion was completed without causing any disruption to the current system.
The line itself is a thing of beauty; elegant and glittering like a seal sparkling in water, this shiny new railway line runs automatically without conductors.
The system operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – a rare service offered by only a small handful of cities around the world, including New York, Chicago and Melbourne – and a full rotation around the line takes 24 minutes . The average speed is about 40 kilometers per hour (about 25 miles per hour), but when a train reaches top speed, it can travel at 90 kilometers per hour (55 miles per hour).
Unlike older stations, all new stops have two elevators instead of one, and the slope of the stairs has been reduced to make getting on and off flights less tiring. For today’s iTouch culture, ticket vending machine screens provide passengers with route information and maps.
Not only easy to navigate, Cityring stations are also pleasant to look at.
Glass and light are key design elements and the stations have been designed to blend in with their surroundings. At Frederiksberg Allé station, for example, the green interior color scheme follows the outdoor park that welcomes cyclists when they reach street level.
Cleanliness and efficiency are two fundamental principles of the metro system. Revenue generated from ticket sales is reinvested in maintenance, and quarterly ridership surveys provide subway operators with insights into what works, what doesn’t, and where they should direct funds.
The Cityring does not want to compete with bicycles, but rather integrate into existing transport infrastructures. “Metro actually supports the idea of having bicycles as a last- or first-mile mode of transportation, so you could use them in combination,” Olsen said.
Bicycles are allowed on the subway during off-peak hours, and cellars at each station provide storage for two-wheeled vehicles when not in use. Screens at exit points announce nearby bus and train departures for easy connections.
While these features have residents excited about the new system, Olsen believes “the most important thing is that you don’t have to look up the time,” he said. “You can just walk through the station and there will be a train right after.” For him, freedom from the shackles of a timetable exemplifies the ease of using the subway.
The new M3 line – and the metro expansion in general – not only serves the city internally, but allows Copenhagen to compete internationally. Citing Hamburg, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden, as nearby rivals, Olsen hopes to attract both businesses and tourists to Copenhagen through the opportunities offered by the metro.
With the opening of the M3 Cityring, passenger numbers are expected to increase from 65 million to 122 million by 2020 and two extensions to the current M4 line are expected to open in the next five years.
While the projections are ambitious, Olsen’s definition of success is more modest.
“The less people have to think about us, the better,” he said. “So if you can rely on us and you don’t have to think too much about using the subway, because it’s easy to use and you don’t have to plan your trip, then I guess we’re a success.”