- Bicycle Culture by Design: City Plan Vest and Søringen - 1958-1974 - Copenhagen

A couple of twists of fate and this location in Copenhagen would have been a 12 lane motorway. When looking back over the last century of cities infatuated with Car Culture, it’s not hard to see how stupid we were - or almost were.

In the 1940s the so-called Finger Plan was developed for Copenhagen. By and large an interesting concept and the foundation for the expansion of Copenhagen.

The Finger Plan has, however, some dark secrets. Among them are two connected projects. City Plan Vest (City Plan West) and Søringen (The Lake Ring). The City Plan Vest, in 1958, proposed that Copenhagen be equipped with a Lake Ring. The #19 motorway from the north would continue over Hans Knudsens Plads - in a tunnel to Vibenshus Runddel - and then emerging again to continue along Nørre Allé in a 12 lane motorway down Tagensvej and Fredensgade. It would turn right along The Lakes to Vesterbro, where a comprehensive interchange would be built to lead traffic to the south towards Germany and the rest of Europe.

The Søringen project was approved by parliament in 1964. It involved expropriating and filling in a swath of The Lakes to make space for the 12 lanes of motoring goodness. Most of the Vesterbro neighbourhood next to the Central Station would have been expropriated and torn down to create a spectacularly modern motorway exchange. The plan didn't stay on paper. It actually left its mark on our city. Rows of houses were bought along Lyngbyvej and promptly torn down in preparation for the coming project and, farther out, many homes lost their front gardens. Along Tagensvej, Amorparken (from 1910) next to the National Hospital would have been sacrificed to become motorway and what is now Fredens Park along Fredensgade used to be buildings but they were bought up and torn down in 1973 to create the space for the motorway. On the other side of the street, the concrete, brutalist Panum Institut was built between 1971-1986 in anticipation of the project, as was the National Hospital's new buildings (built 1960-1978) as well. The Lord Mayor of the time was the ironically-named Urban Hansen and he was a declared modernist and fan of Le Corbusier. He was Lord Mayor between 1962 – 1976. Not so ironically he was the man who also single-handedly killed off the entire, proud and efficient tram system in Copenhagen, which served the city from October 1863- April 1972. Also on his CV in the housing development Urbanplanen (built 1965-1971)in Southern Copenhagen - named after himself - parts of which were classified as a "ghetto" in 2010. Basically, not a man you want to come back and haunt your city.

If you've been to Copenhagen, chances are you've probably been to the Vesterbro neighbourhood. If you live here, you most definately have. Above is the vision for the area of Vesterbro near the train station. A model of what it would have looked like if these projects were completed. An entire neighbourhood expropriated and levelled in order to create motorways and interchanges. Interestingly, if you've even wondered why the police station Station City on Halmtorvet looks so bizarrely out of place compared to the surrounding architecture, it's simply because it was also built in anticipation of the coming Søringen motorway project. The entire project was killed off in 1974 - more than 15 years after it was thought up. I wish I could say that it was political vision that killed it. Instead, the whole project lived on because there was never adequate funds for it. The oil crisis in the early 1970s intensified the protests against the project and you sense that it was put to rest extremely reluctantly. Fortunately, the development of Copenhagen from the mid-1970s took a radical change of course. The trams didn't return, sadly, but bicycle traffic was taken seriously once again and we re-established our high levels of bicycle traffic that we enjoy today because planners woke up and smelled the bicycle oil.

We have, however, returned to the Age of Urban Hansen. City Hall has regurgitated the idea of a Harbour Tunnel. This tunnel really is Lord Mayor Frank Jensen's Søringen Project. That we're even having the discussion about it is sad. That so many politicians at City Hall back the project is shocking.

We've written about this recently:

- Outrageous Harbour Tunnel for Copenhagen

- "Cars have come to stay and they're getting cleaner and cleaner"

We hope this article will highlight our near-stupidity and prevent us from history repeating itself.

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