These RFID Tags Allow Danish Cyclists To Turn Traffic Lights Green

Sorry, cars: The bike always gets to go first.

It really must be heaven to be a cyclist in Denmark. You get lovely, dedicated infrastructure, like this new bridge. You get cities that run analyses showing how bikes are good for people, and cars aren’t. And now, if you live in Aarhus, you can get a special tag to help beat the traffic lights.


Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, is currently running a trial where cyclists are given RFID tags that they attach to their wheels. As they approach a junction, the tag sends a signal to a nearby reader, which in turn switches the light to green. Cyclists never even have to stop, even as car drivers on the other side of the junction are brought to a standstill.

“In Aarhus, we have a vision of helping the cyclists more and more to get the cars out of the inner city. So it’s a good idea to make the way round the city better for the cyclists and maybe not that good for the cars,” says Louise Overgaard, who works on the project for the city.

The tag-and-reader combo is the biking equivalent of the electromagnetic road coils that change traffic lights when cars go over them. But it’s unusual for such a system to be in place for cyclists. In most places, cyclists have to break the law, technically speaking, if they want to pass through the city at a reasonable speed.

The readers are in place at only one medium-sized junction and only 200 cyclists have the tags. But Overgaard says there’s a good chance the project could be extended to other parts of the city. “I don’t think it’s going to go city-wide. But in the inner city there are a lot of cyclists, and we want to have fewer cars and more cyclists.”

Rita Westergaard, from ID-Advice, the company behind the system, says it costs about 40% less than magnetic coils in the road, mainly because you don’t have to dig up the surface to put them in. So, it shouldn’t be too hard to put in the technology other places.

Should we start feeling sorry for Danish car drivers?

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.