The Copenhagen Metro’s new M3 city ring line is groundbreaking

Copenhagen (CNN) — In Copenhagen, traffic is usually caused by the two-wheeled mode of transport: the bicycle.

Since bicycles were imported to Denmark from France in 1869, they have become the main means of transportation in the Scandinavian city. In the 1920s, it was not uncommon for both working class and high society to cycle the streets. But with the opening of the Metro’s new M3 Cityring line, commuters have a new way of getting around.

While the Copenhagen Metro has always been fairly efficient, many neighborhoods lacked stations and therefore accessibility.

In addition, a growing population of around 10,000 new residents per year puts a strain on the buses and trains that are already in service. In a city of 650,000 people, about 200,000 commute daily by metro, sometimes combined with cycling while driving.

Better accessibility

The ring line has 17 new stations, almost doubling the number of existing stations.

The ring line has 17 new stations, almost doubling the number of existing stations.

DA MARIE ODGAARD/AFP via Getty Images

Cityring, a 15.5-kilometer ring line with 17 new stations – almost doubling the number of existing stations – now connects outlying parts of the city that are far from the city center. Residents don’t have to rely on their bikes to get around, a blessing, especially in Copenhagen’s cozy winters.

According to Copenhagen Metro CEO Henrik Ploughmann Olsen, there were two impetus for the project. “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 of the city center.”

Courtesy of Copenhagen Metro

Public squares with 150 benches and 800 trees were built around the 17 new stations. Not only will the squares provide access to the subway, but they will hopefully encourage more commerce and housing.

“We see that it attracts shops, but also offices and service-oriented companies,” said Olsen.

The construction of the line was not without its challenges.

Olsen acknowledged that the eight-year construction period disrupted traffic and generally disrupted people’s daily lives. “We’ve had the machines right outside people’s windows for a significant number of years,” he said.

Glass and light are key design elements, and the stations have been designed to blend into their surroundings.

Glass and light are key design elements, and the stations have been designed to blend into their surroundings.

Reginaldo Sales/Metro Company

Technical problems also posed challenges for the tunnel designers. They had to rebuild older structures with shaky foundations, such as the historic Frederikskirche, also known as the Marble Church, at Marmorkirken station.

Groundwater monitoring was also mandatory during construction.

“Many houses in the inner part of the old town are actually founded on wooden piles from the 17th or 18th centuries,” explains Olsen, “if you remove the groundwater from these piles, they will rot.”

Additionally, construction workers had to deftly maneuver around existing subway tunnels – but Olsen proudly notes that the expansion was completed without shutting down the current system.

Shiny new rails

The new M3 line allows Copenhagen to compete on an international level.

The new M3 line allows Copenhagen to compete on an international level.

Reginaldo Sales/Metro Company

The line itself is a thing of beauty; Sleek and shiny like a seal gliding through water, this shiny new train line runs automatically without a ladder.

The system operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – a rare service only offered by a small handful of cities around the world, including New York City, Chicago and Melbourne – and a full rotation around the line takes 24 minutes. Average speed is about 40 kilometers per hour (about 25 miles per hour), but when a train reaches maximum speed it can travel at 90 kilometers per hour (55 miles per hour).

Unlike older stations, all new stops are equipped with two elevators instead of one, and the incline of the stairs has been reduced to make getting on and off them less strenuous. For today’s iTouch culture, screens alongside ticket machines provide passengers with route information and maps.

The stations of the city ring are not only easy to drive, but also easy on the eyes.

Glass and light are key design elements, and the stations have been designed to blend into their surroundings. At Frederiksberg Allé station, for example, the green interior color scheme is a transition to the exterior park, greeting drivers as they reach street level.

Cleanliness and efficiency are two tenets of the Metro system. Revenue from ticket sales is reinvested in maintenance, and quarterly surveys of riders give subway operators clues as to what’s working, what’s not, and where to direct funds.

Bike friendly

The city ring does not want to compete with the bicycle, but integrates itself into the existing traffic infrastructure. “Metro actually supports the idea that bikes are either last mile or first mile modes of transportation, so you could use them in combination,” Olsen said.

Bicycles are allowed on the metro during off-peak hours, and basements at each station provide storage for the two-wheeled vehicles when not in use. Screens at exit points announce nearby bus and train departures for easy connections.

This shiny new train line is ladderless and runs automatically.

This shiny new train line is ladderless and runs automatically.

Reginaldo Sales/Metro Company

While these features have residents excited about the new system, Olsen believes that “the most important thing is that you don’t have to look up the timetable,” he said. “You can just walk through the station and a train will come right after that.” For him, freedom from the shackles of a schedule is an example of the ease with which the metro is used.

The new M3 line – and the metro expansion in general – not only supplies the city internally, but also allows Copenhagen to compete internationally. Olsen cites Hamburg, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden, as close rivals and hopes to use the metro’s capabilities to attract both businesses and tourists to Copenhagen.

The opening of the M3 city ring is expected to increase ridership from 65 million to 122 million by 2020, and two extensions to the existing M4 line are due to open over the next five years.

While the projections are ambitious, Olsen’s definition of success is more modest.

“The fewer people we have to think about, the better,” he said. “So if you can just count on us and don’t have to think much about using the metro because it’s easy to use and you don’t have to plan your journey, then I think we’re a success.”

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