25 October 2016

From the Bicycle Snake to Chinese Vanity Project

Let's just get to it, shall we.

Cyclists are not random boxes of corn flakes that you store up on a shelf, out of sight - out of mind.

They are urban citizens contributing as much as the next - often more - to urban life. Like pedestrians and public transport users, they are best served at street level as integral threads woven into the rich urban fabric to contribute to the beautiful complexities of city life. Anthropologically, socially, financially.

For over a century we have understood the necessity of Best Practice infrastructure. We have tried and tested it with hundreds and hundreds of millions of people - and perfected it. We have measured and gauged it in order to understand it. We have regarded it as a beautiful, functional thing and designed it accordingly.

For 7000 years we have lived together in cities, on equal footing. In the splendid democracy of urban space. The streets were the most democratic spaces in the history of homo sapiens.

Super Bicycle Snake planned for Chinese city Xiamen.

Which makes this new project by Danish architecture bureau Dissing+Weitling for the city of Xiamen look completely ridiculous. An eight kilometer long shelf designed to place cyclists out of sight and out of mind. This is what happens when architecture gets drunk at the christmas party and sleeps with car-centric engineering, without listening to the wise advice of urban planning and anthropology.

British architect Norman Foster amused us back in 2014 with his plans to shelve cyclists in London with his ridiculous SkyCycle project. Other plans for bicycle "infrastructure" in London were equally amusing in this 2015 article.

It is nothing short of embarrassing when a Danish firm is so keen on producing "Magpie Architecture" and even tries to polish it shinier:

"Xiamen's broad boulevards are reserved for automobiles and they are life-threatening for cyclists. Therefore, the raised bicycle connection will be a welcome improvement of the city's infrastructure for cyclists", it says on the Dissing+Weitling website.

This is the firm that designed the renowned Cykelslangen - Bicycle Snake for the City of Copenhagen. - an solution that fulfills all the requirements of Danish Design - functional, practical and elegant.

The Bicycle Snake is a short, simple and brilliant solution to one unique location. There is nowhere else in Copenhagen where such a structure is needed. It is a perfect example of tactical, location-oriented design. And hey. Dissing+Weitling know bridges. They have been quite good at designing them - both for cars and for bikes/peds. Many are beautiful and their designs avoid the usual Squiggletecture we see emerging from the Photoshopped ideas of many others who don't understand bicycle urbanism.

Using the basic concept of the Bicycle Snake to erase cyclists from the cityscape, however, reveals the complete disconnect between our struggle for creating better cities and the seductive, ego-enhancement of mega-projects. Rationality falls off the back rack.

When designed infrastructure or, indeed, anything involving public space, do we not also bear an enormous responsibility on our shoulders for teaching about urban life and development? Is it a sell-out to just cash a paycheque from a Chinese city so completely intent on maintaining a car-centric paradigm?

"There is still a massive potential related to spreading the humanistic, user-oriented approach to design that we take for granted in our modern, Nordic design tradition. Foreign clients really listen when we present them with our complete, well thought out solutions that often show great consideration to the people who will use the solutions - and that also combine functional, Nordic architecture". So sayeth Steen Savery Trojaborg,  partner at Dissing+Weitling.

You want to know where the potential is? In understanding urban life. Understanding a urban, human journey across seven millenia - as well as promptly rejecting outright the past century of car-centric thought - and applying that to our established designs.

Visualisation of a Guangzhou street with Danish cycle tracks with curbs

Fortunately, other Danish influences in China are rational and based on user-friendly designs, as we wrote in this article back in 2011, about Danish consultant Troels Andersen and his work in the city of Guangzhou. The city is planning 1000 km of bicycle infrastructure and greenways, including Best Practice designs like the curb-separated infrastructure pictured above.

We had a look at the city of Xiamen here at the Copenhagenize Design Co. office today. To gain some context.

According to the local media, the city is, like so many other Chinese cities, starting to take the bicycle seriously as transport once again. The city has 43 km of cycle track under construction around the lake - primarily recreational and therefore less relevant for transport. But as you can see on the map on the left, 107 km of bicycle infrastructure is planned in two phases on the island on which Xiamen is located. The proposed Bicycle Snake is highlighted in orange on the left and presented on its own on the right.

107 km is far from the 1000 km underway in Guangzhou or the proposed 3200 km (!) planned in Beijing by 2020 (!) but nonetheless positive. It really is what we're seeing all over the world.

It was difficult for our in-house Chinese architect to find any comprehensive information in Chinese about the proposed Bicycle Snake in Xiamen apart from this article. The only official comment about it, from the zoning commission, reads like this:

"The “Yunding Road” bike bridge is an attempt to popularize the bike life. In the future we would combine the needs of the citizens, gradually implementing cycle tracks and other facilities in and outside Xiamen Island".

So it reads a bit like a vanity project for the city. What an expensive route to take when your plan is allegedly to integrate the bicycle as transport properly "in the future". If, as Dissing+Weitling say, "Foreign clients really listen when we present them with our complete, well thought out solutions that often show great consideration to the people who will use the solutions" then get them to listen to rational ideas that actually make sense, benefit the citizens, the public health and expedite the transformation to a more liveable city where the bicycle is an equal partner in the traffic equation instead of designing Disneyland gimmicks for them.

On this local forum, there are positive comments about the "Air Bicycle Bridge", which is how the project name translates directly from Chinese.

- "If Xiamen succeeds, other cities will catch up, right? This is good news!"
- "Green transportation is being pushed everywhere. I hope we can do more for bicycle development."

There are, however, detractors. Giving us an insight into the background for this project.
- "Us cyclists need basic rights and a good environment, not just one or two vanity projects. Who will maintain this facility?"
- "Our government is rich and just wants to spend some money".

The Bicycle Snake in Copenhagen is a project of visionary, iconic proportions and serves a functional, practical purpose. An eight kilometer long version in Xiamen is merely a vanity project for everyone involved. 

"Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief". Jane Austen.

24 October 2016

Copenhagenize Slopes - Iconic Architectural Topography, Housing, and Public Space

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Copenhagenize Slopes 1,2,3. Reversing the Arrogance of Space on Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard in Copenhagen and re-demoractizing the space with 507 apartments of 50 m2, an urban park at street level, public space on 500 m of green roofs and bicycle parking for every resident and guest.

For all the talk of Copenhagen being “all that” in so many urban ways, challenges and problems persist in the Danish capital. Here at Copenhagenize Design Co. we channel our impatience with lack of political will in our own city into design and ideas. Lack of bicycle parking around Copenhagen Central Station led to this solution. A dreadfully planned street in the Østerbro neighbourhood led to this redesign.

Now we decided to tackle the biggest, smelliest elephant in the Copenhagen room. One that that has been demonstratively ignored by generations of politicians in this city. Denmark’s most famous writer, Hans Christian Andersen, would surely turn over in his grave if he knew that the nation’s most car-congested street was named after him.

Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard. Clockwise from bottom left: As it looks now; 1960s, 1905, 1970s

60,000 cars rumbling down the canyon-like swatch of asphalt that carves the city centre in two ain’t no fairytale, sunshine. Cities with attitude need grand boulevards, it would seem. What they do with them, however, in an excellent indicator of how a city is geared towards the future of mobility. On this front, Copenhagen lags behind so many other European cities by allowing H.C. Andersens Boulevard and Åboulevarden exist in their current form.

For at least a couple of decades there has been talk of putting the 60,000 cars into a tunnel underneath the existing road. Not a strange idea, considering that so many other European cities have been doing that for ages. When H.C. Andersen Boulevard crosses The Lakes, it changes name to Åboulevarden. Recently, a proposed project to dig up the stream that used to run along the surface before car-centric urban planning buried the stream into a pipe beneath the cars gained purchase in the imaginations of the citizens of the city.

Åboulevarden - clockwise from left: proposal for restoring the river, the river as it used to be, the current traffic each day on the road.

Great stuff. We don’t, however, have faith that City Hall is going to act on this. The discussion pops up every few years and then fades away. This city is, quite simply, afraid of reducing car traffic.

Copenhagenize Slopes 004

So here is our baseline. We need housing in Copenhagen, preferably affordable housing. We need it badly. We need more green roofs for biodiversity and more public space. We have a huge swath of urban space used primarily by what Italian traffic planners called parasites. People who don’t even live in the City of Copenhagen or Frederiksberg and who certainly don’t pay taxes here. We have such high pollution on this stretch that the European Union has subpoenaed the Danish government, wanting to take them to court over their inaction on reducing pollution on this road. The current, right-wing Danish government actually wanted to move the air quality measuring station farther away from the road in order to get better results - even though we all know that a reduction in car traffic can drastically reduce pollution - as proven here.

So, basically, if nobody is willing to bury the road, then let’s simply reallocate the space to more intelligent use. Let’s re-democratize it. I cycle along the boulevard every day. There are wide, safe cycle tracks to accommodate the over 25,000 daily bicycle users on the stretch, but it is bizarre to ride alongside 6-8 lanes of cars. It is Arrogance of Space ftw. For years I have envisioned a different solution and I have finally had the time to develop it. Together with Kan Chen 陈侃 from Copenhagenize Design Company.

Copenhagenize Slopes 003

Welcome to Copenhagen Slopes.

Three iconic buildings providing 507 apartments of 50 m2, three sections of green space below the structures, over 500 m of public space on the green roofs and slapping some seriously topography in the heart of the Danish capital.

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Aerial view from the south-west.

This stretch of HC Andersen's Boulevard is rather lifeless and uninspiring from an urban planning and architectural point of view. Drab and uninviting. The Slopes will add life and dynamics and remove four car lanes - improving air quality and contributing to improving the public space.

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View from the south, with City Hall in the foreground.

We ran the idea past an unsuspecting Copenhagen Mayor Morten Kabell, from the Technical & Environmental Dept..

“It’s a wild and creative idea! The small apartments are cool - we need them. We have to find out how to get rid of the many cars that currently use H.C. Andersen’s Boulevard. Tramways across the whole city would provide a necessary alternative for motorists - and it would be brilliant to get rid of the car lanes, like you suggest. The idea of getting up high and combining it with green areas is cool. I like that.”

Copenhagenize Slopes 006 Copenhagenize Slopes 005
Pedestrian and bike parking access at all six entry points to the three buildings. Ample bike parking - for cargo bikes, too.

This being Copenhagen, with a car ownership rate of only 22% - and this being 2016 - the building won't have any car parking spots - much like the Bicycle House in Malmø, Sweden. It will, however, have ample bike parking and access for all residents and guests - including cargo bikes. This is a city with 40,000 cargo bike, so that is a no-brainer.

Copenhagenize Slopes 007
The roofs of the three buildings are designated as public space. Challenging stairs to get the thighs burning - inspired by this Dutch bridge. With terraces/viewing platforms at peak locations on each building. We thought that a restaurant or two could be housed on the top floor, with outdoor seating.

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Balconies are a must. Duh.

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View from the north-west, with the city centre in the background.

Let's do this.

Previous projects in the same vein from Copenhagenize Design Company:

21 October 2016

Copenhagenizing the City of Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
A freshly paved cycle track in Almetyevsk along the city's main street, Lenina.

What a difference a year makes. In October 2015, Copenhagenize Design Company was hired by the City of Almetyevsk, in Tatarstan, Russia. We were no stranger to the task - developing bicycle strategies is one of our primary jobs. We didn’t realise at the time what kind of visionary client had hired us. In this earlier article we called it the Transformation of Almetyevsk. One year on, that title seems like an understatement.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk
The status quo in many Russian cities. No infrastructure. No protection for cyclists.

We were - and are - quite familiar with the state of cycling infrastructure in Russian cities. On a global scale, Russia has struggled to reestablish the bicycle as transport in its cities. What most often lacks is real political will in recognizing the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transportation. In Almetyevsk, however, that would prove to be the guiding strength.

Ayrat Khayrullin is the young, ambitious mayor who acknowledged the importance of a holistic bicycle strategy that values world-class facilities, constructive communication strategies and above all, dedicated cycle tracks. From the get-go, Khayrullin expressed one clear goal: to transform Almetyevsk into the most bicycle friendly city in Russia, one where he would feel confident sending his young year-old son off to school by bike.
Copenhagenizing Almetyevsk
From left: Almetyevsk Mayor Ayrat Khayrullin, Copenhagenize Design Co. CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen, Rosa our translator, James Thoem, Senior Planner with Copenhagenize. First site visit in 2015.

In our preliminary meetings with the city, we quickly agreed on the process and the goals. 200 km of bicycle infrastructure in a cohesive network of Best Practice infrastructure. Nothing less. Khayrullin had done his homework. He knew, for example, that on-street, bi-directional cycle tracks were a sub-standard solution. He understood the importance of a complete network and prioritizing cycling as a transport form. He was well-versed in the health benefits of having a cycling population. All he needed was someone to design it. To create the gold standard bicycle city in Russia.

The entire Copenhagenize Design Co. team went to work - not only our staff in our main office in Copenhagen, but with help from our offices in Brussels and Montreal, as well. Time was short. At our meetings in the city in Fall 2015, we were told that they wanted to get to work in Spring 2016. We divided up our work on the bicycle strategy into stages, in order to give the City a chance to plan and prepare their engineering department for the work. Their challenge was to figure out how to best use the roadworks season - from April to September - to create the first 50 km of hard infrastructure. The core network along the city’s main streets.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
Selected photos of the new infrastructure and bicycle network in Almetyevsk. Best Practice design. One-way on both sides of the street. Complete with the bling of cyclist garbage cans, footrests and handrails and bicycle counters.


Yes, Almetyevsk. Let’s create some context for this place. It’s a city of 152,580 people located smack-dab in the middle of Tatarstan - a semi-independent republic in the Russian Federation. Our colleagues in Russia inform us, grudgingly, that Tatarstan is a place where things just get done in an urban development context. The capital city, Kazan, is the only Russian city to have built a subway system since the collapse of the Soviet Union, although they have done very little for bicycles as transport. As Almetyevsk is projected to grow by 30,000 new residents (many of them young workers and families) by 2030, the administration is looking to improve overall livability and attractiveness. Mayor Ayrat Khayrullin is keen to attract new residents with a life-sized city, as well as improve the quality of life of those who live there already.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
Map of the street network of Almetyevsk.

The city’s built form is characterised by an arterial ring road framing the residential, cultural, and commercial centre along a grid-like street network, with Soviet-era roads so wide they make Salt Lake City's streets look like a back alley in Amsterdam. The city centre measures eight kilometres from east-to-west, four kilometres from north-to-south. In other words, the city’s relatively small footprint with dense network of medium and high-rise residential coupled with wide roads presents plenty of opportunity to accommodate the bicycle as a mode of transport.

When we first arrived in the city we were amazed at how many pedestrians there were - something you don’t often see in Russian cities. In addition, a thriving trolleybus system is a main transport form. As we know, these two elements are low-hanging fruits when designing for bikes. All the great bicycle cities in the world have excellent public transport and a strong pedestrian culture.

The financing of this €3.6 million phase of the project was a unique public-private partnership. Tatarstan’s national oil company TatNeft bought into the idea early on and their enthusiastic backing - both moral and financial - was key to the success. Their headquarters are in Almetyevsk, as well.

It only makes the storytelling better. A city in the heart of the Russian oilfields, with hard winters, decides to copenhagenize in two short years and the sixth largest oil company in Russia helps finance the visionary project.

Like many Russian cities, Almetyevsk had dabbled in bike infrastructure but, as is often the case, half steps and compromises have only led to conflicts. The city was quite open in admitting the shortcomings of their existing infrastructure. The shared pedestrian/bike spaces often resulted in confusion and conflicts, while the cycle tracks contained within a new development district didn’t connect to the greater city network. In fact, conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists in 2014 heightened the public discussion around the role of cyclists in Almetyevsk, prompting the mayor and his colleagues to look outwards for experienced help, rather than crack down on cyclist behaviour.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
Pre-existing bicycle infrastructure in Almetyevsk. Bits and pieces and sub-standard bi-directional lanes.

After multiple site visits for consultation, documentation, and data collection, we returned to Copenhagen to begin analysis. Taking a detailed look at the city, with tried and true methodologies, we built up a thorough understanding of the city, developing an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the development of a connected network of bicycle infrastructure. We analysed the connectivity of the network, the destinations and origins, intermodal linkages, road typologies, and beyond, gradually building up an understanding of how best practice bicycle infrastructure could fit into the city streets of Almetyevsk.

Perhaps one of the more transformative events of the whole process was welcoming the mayor and a small team to Copenhagen for a private Master Class . Through workshops, talks, guest speakers, and bicycle tours, we opened their eyes to how best practice infrastructure functions. Nothing beats watching as wide-eyed traffic engineers and planners wake up to the potential of the bicycle.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk

With a strong baseline understanding of Almetyevsk and a freshly inspired project team in Almetyevsk, we developed a vision for a not-so-distant future Almetyevsk: “A place where the young and old, rich and poor, can cycle alongside one another on a safe and connected network of best practice bicycle infrastructure.” Some more quantifiable goals will help in guiding this vision forward into the future.

- There will be 50 kilometres of protected bicycle network built within the first year
- Almetyevsk’s bicycle modal share will reach 10% within the next five years
- 20% of school children will be cycling to school within five years
- Cycling will be just as popular among women as men
- Cycling in Almetyevsk will be safer than ever before
- Winter maintenance will be prioritised

Working off our baseline insights study and a guiding vision, we worked alongside a project team in Almetyevsk to develop the city’s first Bicycle Strategy, one that guided the city forward in laying out 50 kilometres of bicycle infrastructure in 2016. Laying out an appropriate first phase network and addressing smaller design details appropriate for each identified street typology. Details such as bus stop treatments, major and minor intersection treatments, and appropriate bicycle parking solutions were explained. Complementing the physical infrastructure our strategy also laid out soft infrastructure strategies, turning towards communication campaigns to encourage cycling, school and workplace programming, public events, and future engagement campaigns aiming to get people on their bikes for the first time, a critical step in expanding ridership.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
The network map by Copenhagenize Design Co. for the City of Almetyevsk. The first 50 km built in 2016.

Construction on the project began in late May, 2016, coinciding with Russia’s annual bicycle parade day and a ribbon cutting ceremony. Upon our arrival in the city on that visit, we did numerous site visits and saw how the foundations were already laid for several kilometres of bicycle infrastructure. It was an amazing sight.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
On May 29, 2016, the Bicycle Network was launched. 

The next day, however, was unforgettable. Over 1000 residents on bikes came out for a bicycle parade through the city. We stopped at a location on the main Lenina Street where an asphalt machine was waiting. Copenhagenize Design Co, Mikael Colville-Andersen, together with Mayor Ayrat Khayrullin and former heavyweight boxing world champion - and current member of the national Duma - Nikolai Valuev, shovelled cement into the foundation for the first bicycle sign, spread asphalt on the first stretch of cycle track and watched as young activists pressed a large, red button to start the paving machines.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
The City launched a massive communication campaign about the coming bicycle network.

Billboard campaigns for the city’s vision even hung above where the infrastructure would soon be rolled out - a part of the City's comprehensive communication campaign.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск

Implementing bicycle infrastructure and facilities in Russia had its challenges. There is nothing in Russian road standards about Best Practice bike infrastructure (there will be now), as the city engineers kept mentioning at the beginning before political leadership took the reins once and for all. The quality asphalt required for cycle tracks existed, but the city did nonetheless a series of outdoor tests to make sure they had selected the right one (they had). Along a piloting stretch of road, the Director of Transportation in Almetyevsk showed us the different materials, surface treatments, and signage they were trying out. They hadn’t had any luck finding a supplier of bicycle traffic signals in Russia. So what did they do? They made their own using vinyl stickers and traditional signals. They made bicycle railings and footrests and tilted garbage cans for cyclists as well. Taking their lessons from the Copenhagen Master Class, the director and his staff had begun experimenting and, as a result, pushing the boundaries of the status quo on Russian roads.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk
Selected renderings from Copenhagenize Design Company's Bicycle Strategy for the City of Almetyevsk. By Chris Noir.

There were hurdles to overcome along the way. While political leadership was key, traffic engineers still needed convincing. In order to perform studies about density, connectivity, space syntax analyses, etc, Copenhagenize Design Company needed local data, but Russian cities do not have the same data gathering culture as, for example, Scandinavian cities. In addition, a lot of the existing data was classified as secret - echoes of the Cold War persist. Nevertheless, the challenges were overcome.

At the end of the day, the City of Almetyevsk turned out to be the most amazing client. We would receive emails from the street, where asphalt machines were rumbling along, to double-check about how to proceed - followed by photos the next day showing what had been done. That kind of client relationship is like nothing we’ve ever dreamed of. Every night since May we knew that when we woke up in the morning, more metres of fresh asphalt in the form of Best Practice cycle track would be cooling off in the dry, Almetyevsk air and the quality of life in the city had improved.

Almetyevsk Urban Development / Альме́тьевск
Shamsinur - an urban park designed by Kazan design agency Evolution.

Mayor Ayrat Khayrullin hasn’t restricted himself to bicycle infrastructure either. In 2015, together with Kazan design agency Evolution, he created Shamsinur - an urban park that has become an amazing destination for the citizens. In 2016, a massive water park opened in the city as well. You can see photos of the other urban design projects in this gallery on Flickr.

By establishing themselves as first movers within Russia (and beyond), Almetyevsk has gathered attention from policy makers that may be weary of looking outside the federation for best practice. By seriously investing in a network of dedicated bicycle infrastructure, Almetyevsk has positioned themselves firmly as the gold standard of a bicycle friendly city in Russia, simply by learning from over 100 years of best practice infrastructure in Denmark. Knowledge transfer at its finest. And it doesn’t stop here, the city looks forward to building a total of more than 200 kilometres of infrastructure that will connect all neighbourhoods and beyond.

Copenhagenize Almetyevsk / Альме́тьевск
Completed infrastructure.

There is a centuries old saying in Russian that everyone knows. “There are only two problems in Russia: fools and roads”.

Copenhagenize Design Company and the City of Almetyevsk just might have finally solved the latter. It is a wild ride that continues into 2017 and beyond. Quite possibly the most exciting urban design project in the world at the moment.

13 October 2016

Bike Homes Spoil London Cyclists

From the outlandish SkyCycle, to the more sensible bike share system Santander Bikes, bicycle infrastructure in London repeatedly manages to grab international headlines while attempting to make for a more life-sized city. But with all these headlines, all the hype around unconventional solutions to a very simple problem, designers often lose site of the end user, the bicycle rider. Rather than aiming for a headline, how can good design recognise the end user? Even better, how can design appreciatively spoil the everyday cyclists of London?

Here in Copenhagen, the city has a long tradition of spoiling everyday cyclists. From the red light footrests, to bicycle butlers, people travelling by bike are reminded that they’re appreciated, that they’re an important component of a life-sized city. Now Copenhagenize Design Company and White Arkitekter are taking this mindset to the London Borough of Southwark with the pop-up pilot project, ‘Bike Homes’. Together we saw an opportunity to work parallel to the existing programs that are under development across London by focusing on establishing more inhabitable bike infrastructure.

As a first mover within London, the borough of Southwark provides ample onstreet bicycle parking facilities. But in many cases the designated spaces lie in barren expanses of pavement, along inhospitable highways, beside trash bins, or in dark corners. We see bikes as more than just a tool, more than a vehicle, and certainly not a hinderance to life in the city. It's time we treat bikes the way they deserve to be; it's time to give them homes.

The ’Bike Home’ installation is a pop-up pilot project for bikes among the existing bicycle facilities. Creating brighter and friendlier areas, where the bicycle is celebrated and where people feel comfortable in public spaces that were previously neglected. Artistic “carpets” painted by local designers and artists in the local area will be put into place under the bike racks. As the program expands, lighting made out of bike components will add brightness, a feeling of safety and highlight how much people appreciate their bicycles. Street furniture will provide a space for resting and socialising and flora will contribute to softening and freshening up the public space.

“All too often, architects have a habit of neglecting the public space around their buildings, so working with White Architects on a bicycle-oriented project in the public space like this, is very rewarding”, says Copenhagenize Design Co. CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen

When working with the Borough of Southwark with our Master Class in 2015, it was interesting to hear the borough’s desire to create a bicycle-friendly environment for all the citizens. They even lamented the fact that they are a through-road for the fast and furious cyclists roaring past to get across the river. They expressed a wish for their borough to be calmed with not only 20mph zones but also criss-crossed by best practice infrastructure to allow citizens to make their short trips, as well as commutes, safely and comfortably. Bike Homes represent another step in this direction.

The pilot project was launched at the Transforming London Streets Conference on September 22 at Southwark Cathedral. Eventually, we expect to establish a chain of unique and permanent Bike Homes that spoil the cyclists while connecting with local artists. Stay tuned as Bike Homes continue to pop up throughout Southwark.

06 October 2016

Electric Cars: Where Will the Energy Come From?

Copenhagenize Design Company Guest Author, Jason Henderson, is Professor of Geography & Environment at San Francisco State University, visiting Copenhagen this Fall on a research sabbatical examining how culture, politics, and economics shapes transportation in Copenhagen. Jason is author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco (2013), and co-author of Low Car (bon) Communities: Inspiring Car-Free and Car Lite Urban Futures. He has published articles in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Antipode, Urban Geography, the Journal of Transport Geography and several book chapters in academic books on sustainable transportation and the politics of the automobile. He is a Master Class by Copenhagenize alumni, as well.

Electric Cars: Where Will the Energy Come From?
by Jason Henderson

Electric cars are often touted as a promising response to climate change, reducing air pollution, and bringing energy security. So it’s not surprising that the world’s climate policy leaders and largest car markets, like California, Germany, and China, are promoting public policbatteries subsidizing mass electric motorization. Even the world’s greenest transport nations, like bikey Denmark and rail-rich Switzerland are joining the bandwagon, while the Netherlands seeks to nudge electric cars by banning the sale of conventional gasoline cars by 2025.

The allure of electric cars is that they’ll run entirely on renewable energy like solar and wind – if not now, then at some point in the future. This is where proclamations like “green cars,” “carbon neutral” and “zero emissions” comes from. But when deconstructing the energy situation as we know it, no one shows how this assumption adds-up. For example, if we scan the renewable energy horizon, there are existing legitimate claims on this renewable energy for greener homes and public transit. No one, and especially the electric car enthusiasts, seem to be accounting for these competing claims.

Before the world invests trillions of dollars and Euros, and unfathomable amounts of natural resources into transitioning to mass electric motorization, we need to ask more pointedly and critically: Where will the energy come from? And what will that look like?

Let’s start with the existing claims on renewable electricity. All over the world, from
California to Europe to China, it is hoped that homes will be running on renewable energy, and this is considered key to a more sustainable climate future. In Denmark, arguably coming the closest to this goal (but with only 5 ½ million people), wind turbines can light most homes on certain days.

This is really impressive, and on windy days Denmark has more electricity than it knows what to do with. But in the winter, coal, gas, and household garbage are burned for heat, and Denmark’s boastful wind program is not scaled for running cars. Some dismiss this concern by saying batteries (yet to be built) can store wind-generated electricity as backup for days when winds are down.

Yet shouldn’t this “stored wind” go to the homes and offices that don’t get the wind power when winds are calm? How is this battery scheme going to provide the same scale of car-mobility existing in Denmark (which is low compared to other motorized nations like Germany and the US)? And what about the electricity needed for fully electrifying Denmark’s railways and Copenhagen’s metro? Shouldn’t the wind go towards rail first?

In California, where air conditioned Mc Mansions sprawl across deserts, the newest utility-scale solar installation can power 140,000 homes on an optimal day. It cost over $2 billion with an 80% Federal subsidy. Now (doing back-of- the envelope math) build 87 more of those to supply existing 12-13 million homes in California, and an additional 40-50 or so for the 20 million additional Californians in 2050.

That’s a massive industrial outlay. We might decide it is necessary to sacrifice deserts, but let’s make sure to recognize this only accounts for California’s homes, not exports to less sunny regions of the US, nor California industry and offices – and certainly not a mass electric car fleet (today California has 24 million cars).

Now consider that California’s high speed rail program, currently under construction, claims 100 percent renewables in the future, and that Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento plan to expand electric rail in the next few decades –all purportedly carbon neutral.

Add this into the energy mix: California has a declining snowpack for hydropower, which now provides less than 7 percent of the state’s electricity (can you say drought?). Wind, which has expanded rapidly in the past 15 years, and provides 5 percent of California electricity when it is windy, might be reaching build-out. The windy coast range passes are covered in turbines, except in places like affluent, and notoriously NIMBY Marin County or Big Sur.

There’s offshore, but the real estate and tourism industry might balk at the view. The mighty Sierras could offer up some valleys if the locals and environmentalists agree. All of this is to say that California is possibly close to peak utility-scale wind, at least in the current land use politics regime.

Then there are the renewables themselves. As electric car enthusiasts envision it, both electric cars and the renewables propelling them are carbon neutral and fossil fuel-free. Not so. The batteries, both for the cars and for the extensive storage of wind and solar power, are manufactured from mined materials, like lithium, with many toxins and disposal problems. The battery factories, whether in China or Nevada, will not run on wind or solar (unless you divert wind and solar from households at a massive scale). The factories now, and in the future, will run on coal, gas, and oil.

The nanomaterials take massive amounts of energy to produce, and will emit greenhouse gases far more intensive than carbon. There are magnets and rare earth metals. There will be steel, produced from iron. Denmark might produce a “green” electricity surplus on certain days in windy Jutland, but the true carbon footprint is displaced to China, Germany, and other global steel, batter, and car manufacturing centers.
Electric cars are still fat, still take up an arrogant amount of space in cities and motorists still kill people. Reality check, please.

Electric cars will continue to have rubber tires – that is, petroleum – as well as plastics, lead, aluminum, and all kinds of chemicals that contribute to more intensive GHGS than carbon. There will be vehicle maintenance including replacement tires and electrical gadgets, and then disposal or recycling. All taking massive amounts of energy and resources – none of which show up in California or Denmark’s GHG budgets.

Solar, whether on the roof or in a desert array, also requires mining, conducted by fossil-fuel
equipment. Copper. Glass. Plastics. More aluminum. More intensive GHGs from plasma production equipment, more toxic waste, silicon wafers, various hydroxides, arsenic, lead, chromium, and more. Ditto for wind turbines – mining, fabrication, transporting, installation, land clearance, and carbon-intensive concrete to anchor and steady the towering turbines.

To truly scale-up to a global mass electric car system, entire deserts, sweeping plains, all of our shallow seas, and all of our mountain passes will need to be completely covered in silicon, steel, and plastic. An escalation of energy consumption of tremendous proportions.

Then there’s escalating mobility of the electric car. The driver will drive more thinking the car is green. Electric car/solar enthusiasts will resolve to cover their homes in panels to recharge home and car, straight out of the Whole Earth Catalogue, but this requires single-detached homes for optimal solarization– the formula for sprawl and more driving.

The electric car, as a thing in itself, might not be such a bad thing in isolation. But the dream of mass electric motorization replacing our existing system of automobility might be a nightmare. Maybe we should save our fossil fuels and GHG emissions for constructing high speed rail and electrification of mass transit, look to human-powered bicycles and compact, walkable cities, all the while using the wind and solar arrays for our more-efficient homes.

So here’s a challenge to the electric car industry and to anyone dreaming of an electric car future. Show us the numbers. Where will the energy come from, and what does that look like really?

27 September 2016

PARK(ing) Day Tackles Bike Infrastructure

Dozens of bicycles replace a former single car parking space, a common sight on Copenhagen streets.

Co-written by Sylvia Green and Copenhagenize Design Co.

The transition from summer to autumn brings life back to our cities, filling schools, offices, busses, cycle tracks, roads, and of course, parking spaces. While it’s exciting to feel the energy brought with this transition, it’s hard not to miss the elephant in the room, the bull in the china shop, the private automobile. One annual autumn event, PARK(ing) Day, has done an incredible job at questioning the dominance of the car in our urban spaces. On the third Friday of each September, PARK(ing) Day has everyday citizens transform street parking into public space of their own design.

PARK(ing) day began in San Francisco in 2005, when Rebar Design decided to convert a metered parking spot into a public park for a period of two hours. Since then, a movement has expanded globally, and now includes installations redefining local spaces to suit political, commercial, playful or aesthetic intentions.

In cities worldwide, car parking takes up a tremendous amount of space, is often heavily subsidized, and, despite the general strategic embrace away from high energy and heavily polluting transportation (ie cars), car parking is still seen to be a right in the eyes of planning officials. Even in bicycle-friendly Copenhagen, despite the low vehicular modal share of 22 percent within the city, there is over 3 square km dedicated to parking vehicles. Much of this is unmetered, all is heavily subsidized.

PARK(ing) day allows everyday people to re-imagine what the tremendous amount of public space could contain if cars were not the dominant force they are, and put their imagination into action. The day is also a part of the broader movement to reclaim space in densely populated city spaces. Many of the installations at this year’s PARK(ing) day event contained bicycle-related components. Here are a few of our favourites, to inspire you for next year’s event.

Berlin, Germany.

In Berlin, two installations nicely brought utilitarian cycling issues to the table. The bicycle advocacy group Volksentscheid Fahrrad redesigned a mobile trailer as a small park for hanging out and discussing the referendum movement, which switched spots regularly. One organizer, Maximillian Nawrath, explained, “I think it will raise awareness amongst citizens about how much space parked cars occupy and what we could use in their place. Additionally, I want to promote the referendum group Volksentscheid Fahrrad, because it's state election time in Berlin and we have to be in the minds of the people on election day! We invited lots of press and will be very present in local media, which is super important!”.

The second, Netzwerk Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln, set up an installation along Hermannplatz, an arterial characterised by heavy car traffic and very little bicycle infrastructure. There, temporary bicycle parking was created and bicycles were painted on the street to visualize the need for a protected bike lane instead of free parking space for cars. A representative from Netzwerk Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln explained, “[PARK(ing) Day] has relevance generally as many cities are growing and a battle has started over the public space. Cities need to re-think how to use it in the most sustainable and efficient way. Berlin is fast-growing and there is an increase of traffic and parking. Yet, cities and are for people and not for cars. A liveable city focusses on enough recreation zones, and space for traffic participants who do not emit fumes, CO2 and noise.”

Cambridge, USA

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Cambridge Bike Committee replaced car parking with a protected bike lane for PARK(ing) day. Megan, from the committee, explained the concept, “I suggested that instead of 1 spot to TALK about biking, that we take over a whole block to SHOW what biking should feel like and even better if it was a high profile street like Mass Ave in front of the busiest coffee shop, Flour, and employer, Novartis. Ms. Anne Marie jumped on the idea and gave it life within the committee. The amazing Cara Seiderman and Jennifer Lawrence scoped out the blocks on Mass Ave and determined that we could install a popup protected bikeways on BOTH sides of a very busy block! To create the barrier of protection, I suggested that kids paint a wall mural, which they loved. I talked to Katie who runs the summer camp program with Annika's school to see if the kids would be interested and if we could use the paint and she was excited to help make it happen.”

Megan hopes that this bike lane will help to change attitudes towards cycling infrastructure in Cambridge. “When you hear people say that ‘we don't have space’ for biking like The Netherlands, remember this picture and let them know that we do have space, but it's used for storing a car driven by typically 1 person. The Dutch didn't do it overnight - it took protesting moms and an oil crisis to jump start the movement in the 70s. We'll get there, too, but it takes a cocktail of passion, time, behavior change and political will."

Montreal, Canada

Turning to Montreal, our local Copenhagenize office made an installation to show the difference between existing painted lanes in Montreal and physically protected one-way cycle tracks. As Michael Wexler explains, “It is one thing to post articles online and look at maps and plans, but for the average person, whether or not they are used to riding a bicycle, seeing is believing.” Michael believes that pop-up bike lanes can dispel myths surrounding cycle tracks, show their versatility and allow users to understand how it feels to have protected infrastructure. “The event allowed us to put something on the ground and engage with people on and off bikes about how their city's streets should and could be better designed. It also didn't hurt that traffic was jammed up on the street while bikes used our cycle track and totally circumvented the gridlock. PARK(ing) day is a great event to show what is possible with so much of our city space that we allocate to storing giant metal boxes”. Michael believes that PARK(ing) day should be used to push the conversation forward in formal planning spaces, “There is so much potential for good design in a city like Montreal - where there is arguably the strongest urban cycling culture in North America.”

As a fun and engaging annual event, PARK(ing) Day does an excellent job of having everyday citizens draw to light the potential of the inefficient use of these highly valuable spaces. In some cases, such as San Francisco’s Parklet program, the movement has successfully inspired more formal and permanent installations expanding the public realm. Rather than subsidizing valuable urban land to accommodate big metal boxes it’s time for cities to wake up to the misconception of parking as an necessity and economic generator. Here’s to seeing PARK(ing) Day continue to question the status quo of our urban parking spaces.

For more information on organising your own PARK(ing) Day, click here.

23 September 2016

When a Public Space Doesn't Want You - Kvæsthusmolen

The Bicycle Chef on Kvæsthus Pier
A late-summer evening in Copenhagen. Copenhagenize Design Company arranged for The Bicycle Chef - Cykelkokken to serve up a delicious snack for our guests from the City of Bordeaux, including Mayors from surrounding municipalities, who were visiting our city to learn about bicycle urbanism and public space.

Ole Kassow from Cycling Without Age was invited to spread his good word about his amazing project. Being urban designers, we thought it highly appropriate to exploit the potential of Copenhagen's newest public space - Kvæsthusmolen - a redevelopment of a quay in the heart of the Danish capital.

Summer is lingering this year, but the space was rather empty at 18:30, with only a few people enjoying the evening. We arranged for the Bicycle Chef to meet us at the "Kissing Steps" and set up for serving our guests from his converted Bullitt cargo bike.

It was going to be a classic Copenhagen arrangement. Or so we thought.

In all the material about the new, public urban space, grand descriptions are employed. "A space for cosy and quiet moments", they tell us. "A good urban space also invites people to linger". Indeed. The spot we chose - the Kissing Steps - is "a perfect place to share a moment in the sun." Not a dry eye in the house.

There is nothing in those descriptions to indicate that using the space would result in an angry employee from the Scandic Front hotel nearby storming out to us in the middle of the urban space and informing us in no uncertain terms - read: rude - that we had to move. That the space upon which we stood was private property and that we had to leave it immediately.

When we questioned this bizarre statement with comments about public space, we were informed by this man that it WASN'T public space - it was owned by The Royal Danish Theatre - also located nearby - and that the Scandic Front hotel pays "a lot of money" to rent it. Therefore we, as Copenhageners with international guests, were not allowed to have a private picnic.

Damn. There we were. Ready to experience a place for everything, a place for excitement and a place for US.

We were ready for a vibrant urban space and nine steps for kissing! As RealDania, the philanthropic fund who financed it says on the project website, the goal with the space was:

• creating an urban space which communicates the transition between Frederiksstaden and Holmen through a wide architectural “embrace” that extends the classical understanding of space in Frederiksstaden, staged through a sensual mixture of materials and a “fairy-tale” composition of lighting, which in itself makes the square enticing; both day and night

• to soften the transition between land and sea, e.g. with a stairway, and to enable a broad spectrum of recreational activities on and by the water

RealDania's declared mission is "To improve quality of life for the common good through the built environment".

What an amazing array of glossy, marketing texts about this new destination.

We were the only people in the space at that moment. The outdoor seating for the hotel was packed up for the evening - and probably the rest of the year. While Angry Hotel Man didn't seem very certain about his claims, we had distinguished guests arriving so we chose to avoid educating him in public space and, instead, roll over to the other area on Kvæsthusmolen, along the harbour, to begin our evening.

The Lulu and Cykelkokken Ole Kassow
The World's Youngest Urbanist, The Lulu, helped Morten out preparing for our guests. Ole Kassow did his magic and all went well.

Kvæsthusmolen was designed by Danish architects Lundberg & Tranberg.

The question remains. Can you boldy proclaim "public space" and then try to kick people off of it? And in a city that prides itself on public space like few others? The lines between private and public are blurred here on Kvæsthusmolen. The Royal Danish Theatre even tries to brand the space as Ofelia Plads / Ofelia Square, complete with a website. Even though the official name is Kvæsthusmolen.

Screengrab from The Royal Danish Theatre's website. Just because it's weird.

As Mayor Morten Kabell has said, "There is nothing called Ofelia Plads - except in the imagination of The Royal Theatre".

Mayor Morten Kabell, on Facebook, has looked into this. He writes:

The stairs and Kvæsthusmolen is owned by the Ministry of Culture and administered by ofeliaplads.dk. They have leased a part of the place to Scandic Hotel for restaurant purposes, but far from it all. On the hotel's area you cannot make a private event or picnic.

But at the rest of Kvæsthusmolen, you can sit and enjoy yourselves, have a picnic and so on. When it amounts to a bigger event, you have to apply for permission from ofeliaplads.dk just like you'd have to if the area was owned by the city.

We weren't in the (closed) cafe space near the hotel. We were in the middle of the area. It would be interesting to see a plan showing the exact lease area. The whole area was deserted. You would think that creating some life in the space would be regarded as beneficial to everyone, including the businesses.

But hey. So maybe it's a free-for-all in this new urban space. Organisations can make up names for it. Hotels can kick you out of it - and, what's worse, hotels that only have a dismal 3.5 rating on Trip Advisor.

This may be routine in other cities in the world. This is not, however, fitting in the Copenhagen in which I choose to live and work.