16 June 2016

The Oslo Standard - Next Level Bicycle Planning and Politics

The Oslo Standard for Bicycle Planning / Oslostandarden for sykkeltilrettelegging

So there you are. A capital city in a European country wanting desperately to keep up with the cool kids. Wanting to improve city life, generally, but also focusing intensely on re-creating a bicycle-friendly city.

Oslo has grand plans. The news in October 2015 that the city council had voted to make the city centre free of private cars by 2019 - as well as many other plans - was a shot heard round the world and captured imaginations in many other cities.

The City of Oslo is gearing up for change, no doubt about it. At Copenhagenize Design Company, we’ve gone so far as to call the city “the next big thing” in bicycle urbanism. There are more people employed to make the city bicycle-friendly in Oslo than in almost any other city on the planet. Sure, they’re divided up in different, confusing departments, but they’re there. A group of vaguely focused landscape architect types in the city’s Bymiljøetaten (Agency of City Environment) and the City’s temporary Sykkelprojsektet - or Bicycle Agency - who are tasked with implementing the city’s bicycle strategy.

It is the latter who are orchestrating the show and who have a clear understanding of what is needed and how to do it. Yesterday, The Bicycle Agency released a long-awaited document clearly outlining their roadmap for bicycle infrastructure in the city. It is one of the most interesting and inspiring documents we’ve seen coming out of a municipality anywhere in the world.

The Oslo Standard. Remember that name.

All good, right? Off they go, you might think. Political will, money, loads of people ready to work. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s not that easy. Which is exactly why The Oslo Standard for Bicycle Planning now exists. It is available in a public hearing version, in Norwegian, but an English version will be out later in the year.

Like many places, Oslo and other cities in Norway are under the thumb of a Road Directorate and the nature of such organisations is to be slow to change, keep a firm grip on outdated traffic engineering principles and generally be a pain in the ass of people who see a better vision for our cities.

Like many places, Norway has road design standards dictated by said road directorate. Traffic engineers would have you believe they are carved in stone and are second only to the Ten Commandments in their worth. Oslo, however, has fired up their jackhammer.

The Norwegian road design standards are, quite simply, the biggest hurdle to The Bicycle Agency implementing the City’s bicycle strategy. They are hopelessly outdated and include little in the way of modern, Best Practice bicycle infrastructure design.

It’s not a new story. In 2012, the National Transport Ministry was tired of getting the same old, same old answers from the Road Directorate and chose instead to ask someone new. Together with Civitas, Copenhagenize Design Company produced a huge feasibility study to help boost cycling in Norwegian cities. The report basically recommended Best Practice infrastructure across the board.

Oslo's First Cycle Track
Norway and Oslo are no stranger to Best Practice. Aftenposten newspaper, in 1941, wrote about “Oslo’s First Bike Lane”, which was clearly inspired by Copenhagen. Indeed, a separated cycle track is called in professional circles a “dansk sykkelsti” - Danish Bike Lane.
Trondheim Bicycle Infrastructure
You can see examples in the country’s best city for urban cycling, Trondheim, put in in the 90s. A bit narrow, but hey. Best Practice, at least. Ironically, bizarrely and sadly, the Road Directorate removed these designs from their standards.

This is where The Oslo Standard comes in. It is Oslo’s own standard for bicycle infrastructure design and it includes Best Practice solutions that are not included in the national road standards. The “dansk sykkelsti” is called “raised bicycle area”, in order to establish it in a new context.

This is Oslo saying, “If you won’t modernise, we’ll do it on our own”.

And they are. They have presented a clear vision for bicycle infrastructure design with their Oslo Standard and they are fine with stepping on the toes of the national road directorate. It is a planning document, but it is also a shot fired across the bow signalling a sea change in how Oslo wants to plan its streets for transport in the future. It has clear political signals, as well. Shoving is the new nudging. Shoving the road directorate into the new century.

Here is the introduction to the document:

The Oslo Standard for Bicycle Planning is one of the main initiatives in the City’s bicycle strategy. It translates the city’s goals for bicycle modal share, sense of safety, accessibility and traffic safety for cyclists into practical solutions for building bicycle infrastructure. Norway’s national bicycle strategy 2014-2023 includes a goal that 8% of all trips must be done by bike. This would mean that the modal share for bicycles in cities must be between 10-20%. The Bicycle Strategy for Oslo 2015-2025 has a declared goal that 16% of all weekday trips will be by bike before 2025. In 2013, the modal share was measured to be 8%.

In a comprehensive study in 2013, a majority of Oslo’s citizens say they don’t feel safe cycling in the city and that much of the bicycle infrastructure that is in place doesn’t satisfy the citizens’ needs or wishes. As the country’s capital, Oslo must lead by prioritising pedestrians and cyclists and use solutions that make it possible to reach both national and municipal cycling goals.


Clear, defined and with a “we’re going it alone” attitude. Refreshing.

Compared with similar, strategic documents, The Oslo Standard wholeheartedly embraces Best Practice. The American NACTO guide, for example, has some good stuff but it also includes leftovers of designs that were chucked out of Danish Best Practice two decades ago and it has an awkward, American engineering feel to it, even though it hopes to be a counterweight to the ASHTO guide. The Oslo Standard, however, nails it. They have done their research.

The Oslo Standard for Bicycle Planning / Oslostandarden for sykkeltilrettelegging
Here you can see a selection of screen grabs of the infrastructure designs. Reading through the document we were pleased to see that bidirectional infrastructure is reserved for off-street areas and stretches without many intersections to avoid conflicts. Here is why THAT is important.

The Oslo Standard for Bicycle Planning / Oslostandarden for sykkeltilrettelegging
All manner of designs are included, featuring every street typology possible in the city of Oslo and, indeed, in most cities on the planet. Lots of inspiration from Danish Best Practice and some from Holland. Oslo is clear on their focus. No sub-standard solutions. Certainly no center-running lanes, that's for sure.

The Oslo Standard for Bicycle Planning / Oslostandarden for sykkeltilrettelegging
While cycle tracks are the default, there are still plans for painted lanes - causing shivers down the spine of any professional bicycle planner worth their salt - but as long as we know that they GET IT and want to do the proper design where possible, we can let it slide just a little. They know that bike lanes should be along the sidewalk and NOT inbetween the door zone in a single-occupant vehicle society and moving traffic. So that helps us sleep at night.

While Oslo can muscle on and plans their streets with modern designs in the Oslo Standard, the road directorate still dictates signage. Which proves to be rather comical.


This isn't Norway in the photo but it's a pretty close to what the situation looks like when the road directorate are in charge.

So that is something that needs to be worked on. Then there is the bizarre bureaucracy inherent in the Oslo municipality.

But a foundation has been laid in Oslo. A vision is ready to be made into a reality. The Oslo Standard is the new darling for bicycle urbanism.

Let's hope that they can translate their vision into asphalt and boost transport in Oslo into the 21st century

10 June 2016

Fools and roads. Arrogance of Space in Moscow

Arrogance of Space Moscow 001

Fools & Roads - The Arrogance of Space in Moscow
By James Thoem / Copenhagenize Design Co.

After an unreal week of ribbon cuttings, bike parades and Russian saunas in our client city of Almetyevsk, Tatarstan, the Copenhagenize Design Co. team retreated to Moscow to see what Europe’s second largest city has to offer. Sure enough, there was no shortage of awesome sights, fantastic parties and delicious food.

But what hit us right away was the sheer scale of the city. Stalinist era administrative and residential building blocks taking cues from Viennese facades and neoclassical styles were blown out of proportion. Any one of Stalin’s gigantic ‘Seven Sisters’ skyscrapers always seemed to loom on the horizon. Most oppressive of all, however, were the roads. The roads! We’re talking about a network of roads 8 to 14 lanes wide stretching through the entire city. Uptown, downtown, suburbs and all. And of course, traffic never ceased to fill the city (Check out Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger for a more thorough account of Moscow transport). If you need any further proof of induced demand, visit Moscow.

While sitting for drinks on the O2 rooftop bar at the Ritz Carlton hotel, we couldn’t help but gawk at the size of the roads. Tverskaya lay below us in all it’s arrogance. Mockingly starting back up at us. And it wasn’t long before we started talking, as we do, about the arrogance of space. The outdated transport engineering concepts of last century live on in Moscow.

Back in our Copenhagen office, we turned to our Arrogance of Space methodology. Here it’s quite obvious that the city has been handed over to the automobile. An ocean of red (no pun intended) is wildly apparent. Pedestrians wishing to cross the street must walk to the nearest dingy pedestrian tunnel before continuing on their way. If stairs aren’t easy for you, good luck. There are even a few cars parked on the sidewalk, because hey, why would you park on the road? The road is for driving (facepalm).

Arrogance of Space Moscow 002
Removing the underlying photo gives an even better idea of the blatant arrogance of the city's pornographic obsession with the automobile.

Arrogance of Space Moscow 003
Then look at the space the cars are actually occupying. Plenty of opportunity.

Arrogance of Space Moscow 005
And, finally, in the interest of equal representation here, we show the individuals using the space. A shocking amount of space used by so few individuals. Where is the rationality here?

Arrogance of Space Moscow 004

There’s a old Russian proverb we learned during our stay: "There are only two problems in Russia: fools and roads". In the case of the modern Moscow, it’s quite obvious that it’s the fools who are planning the roads. Ignoring the Bull in society's china shop. It’s time to change the question, stop asking how many cars we can squeeze down the road, but how many people.

Graphics by Mark Werner/Copenhagenize Design Co.

08 June 2016

Oslo - The Next Big Bicycle Thing?

This is a translated version of an interview with Mikael published in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet on 29 April 2016 by journalist Marius Lien. The photo used in the article is by Christian Belgaux.

The Great Road Choice
by Marius Lien for Morgenbladet - 29.04-05.05 2016

Oslo - one of Europe’s best bicycle cities? It sounds like a joke. But according to the Danish urban designer, Mikael Colville-Andersen, everything is in place for Oslo becoming the next great bicycle city.

“No city in the world is as exciting as Oslo right now”, says Colville-Andersen

He should know what he is talking about. As head of the Danish consulting company Copenhagenize Design Co., he has travelled over the past nine years from one global city to the next to share his knowledge with urban planners and politicians. Recently, he has spent a lot of time in Norway since he got a Norwegian girlfriend, and he tosses around anecdotes and bicycle urbanism experiments from every corner of the planet.

“Few, if any, cities in the world have so many people working with cycling as Oslo does”, he says, and focuses primarily on Sykkelprojsektet (The Bicycle Agency) and the City Environment Department (Bymiljøetaten).

“There are more here than in Copenhagen. You have a vision for a car-free city centre and that news travelled around the world. The rest of the plans from the city council are great, too”, says Colville-Andersen.

To go from 0% to 5% modal share for bikes is, according to Colville-Andersen, the most difficult challenge. To go from 5% to 15% - something he believes is within reach for Oslo - is a piece of cake.

“With the resources that are available there now, I can’t be anything but optimistic. I tell people around the world that Oslo will become the next big bicycle city. Boom”, he says.

Breaking the Rules
The problem is that the plans the city council have proposed have also be proposed before. Without result. Will anything happen this time?

“The main problem here in Norway is the engineers at the National Road Directorate (Statens Vegvesen), who have learned 1950s, American traffic engineering and who aren’t capable of thinking differently. When a city wants to become bike friendly, the politicians and transport department have to make it happen. But it also has to happen through a liberal traffic engineering environment”, says Colville-Andersen.

“I know the heads of most city bicycle offices in Norway. They share the same frustrations and they point their finger in the same direction. The primary problem is that they are never allowed to try anything new because of the Road Directorate’s guidebooks. If you want to make a new cycle track in Bergen, the answer is: ‘Nope, it’s not in our guidebooks. The engineers are the spanners in the works”, says Colville-Andersen.

These guidebooks contain all the rules for traffic planning in Norway. They highlight the road standards that politicians and others working with traffic must adhere to and they are unmovable. The main reason for Colville-Andersen’s Oslo optimism is the so-called Oslo Standard. A plan developed by the Bicycle Agency, which will be launched in May.

“I have seen the plan and it completely ignores the old-fashioned standards and rules upheld by the Road Directorate. They say: ‘We’d rather make our own standard’”, says Colville-Andersen.

It was exactly the same in the Netherlands in the 1970s, as described in Morgenbladet last summer. The country managed to stop the growth of private car ownership and become the most advanced bicycle nation in the world. A position they still maintain.

“More and more people are thinking: What if we ask someone else? Instead of the engineers? It’s often individuals who have been on holiday and seen something interesting, or who have read an article and want to try something out. Norway is the USA of Europe when it comes to traffic engineering. Not even Germany comes close. You have the most restrictive guidelines for roads in all of Western Europe”, says Colville-Andersen.

“Trondheim broke the rules in the 1990s and is now Norway’s best bicycle city”, he says.

Width
Rune Gjøs is the head of the Bicycle Agency (Sykkelprojsektet). What does he say about Colville-Andersen’s description of the rule breaking?

“It may be a stretch. We focus on work that is heavily anchored in the Bicycle Strategy that the city council has passed. The development of bicycle infrastructure adapted to Oslo is one of the most important parts. It is a higher standard than is normal in the rest of Norway”.

What do you mean? A higher standard for what?

“For everything, really. In the current road standards the maximum width for a bike lane is 1.8 metres. They can’t be wider. We have established a width of 2.2 metres. This goes against the standards but it’s not illegal. The national standards are adapted to an average. They don’t take into consideration that Oslo is the country’s largest city, with different conditions and more cyclists. A lot of our work is finding out where in the established guide we can put a higher standard in”.

Do you have more examples of how you work against the road standards?

“Intersections. We don’t think that the current solution with the bike lane on the same level as the car lane is good. We want a raised cycle track or a physical separation with a curb. That’s what you find in Denmark and it is mainstream in parts of the world that are banking on bicycles”, says Gjøs.

Scratch
He knows the story from the Netherlands.

“I have seen photos from Amsterdam in the 1970s and it is full of cars. It is inspiring that they were once in the same situation as we are now. We’re starting from scratch, like they did. It means it isn’t unattainable”, says Gjøs.

How would you describe the traffic engineers in the Road Directorate as partners?

“I worked in the Road Directorate for 16 years and I’m educated as a traffic engineer. So I’m throwing rocks in a glass house, haha. You can give them the blame and say that they created car-centric cities. But now the external assignment has changed. Now society wants to build cities that are good to live in. It has to be easier to walk or cycle. When I started in the Road Directorate in 1992, the pressure was on to build roads for cars”, says Gjøs, who nevertheless understands the criticism.

“It is a precise description of how it was and how it still is in many places. On a professional level, it is a culture that wasn’t used to being challenged by other professions. The criticism hurt a little. Now there is a willingness to listen to other professions. It’s easier to adapt to new trends”.

In Development
Marit Espeland, national bicycle coordinator in the Road Directorate, responds to Colville-Andersen’s criticism:

“Our solutions are based on research. We constantly look for documentation and then further develop our standards for safe traffic designs for cycling”.

Has the Road Directorate historically played a constructive role when bicycle offices and politicians want to improve the conditions for cyclists?

“Infrastructure for bicycles has developed in Norway. We are currently revising our road standards, which include bicycle infrastructure. We have also started a pilot project for bikes, where we have invited cities to provide ideas we can test. We are, I suppose, in development”.


14 April 2016

Berlin Decides its Future

Ride
This article is written by Copenhagenize Design Company's urban planner, Leon Legeland. Originally from the least- bicycle friendly city in Germany, Wiesbaden, he has lived, studied and worked in Vienna, Malmö and currently Copenhagen. He has a master in Sustainable Urban Management and is currently finishing his second master in Sustainable Cities here in Copenhagen. He has been working with us for eight months and is motivated to support and plan the needed paradigm shift in mobility in Germany and particularly in Berlin.

Mikael will be speaking at this year's VivaVelo congress next week in Berlin, on April 18, 2016, so we thought we’d take a closer look at the status quo and current buzz about urban cycling in the German capital.

In the 2015 Copenhagenize Index, we saw the city slip from 5th in 2011 to 12th in 2015. Still, Berlin is in the Top 20, but where is the city headed in the next few years? Things are happening in the city. Both things that make us optimistic and excited and things that make us want to throw up a little bit in our mouth.

If we look at the baseline, progress is slow and soooo last century.

There appears to be a total disconnect between the declared municipal strategy and what is actual happening (or not happening). The Senate in Berlin, on some level, understands that urban cycling improves the quality of life and that it has to be promoted and supported. The official bicycle strategy is full of promising initiatives and visions - more than many cities.

The city has a goal of hitting 20% modal share by 2025 and wants to invest in bicycle infrastructure and parking and to improve the overall bikeability of the city. The Senate initiated a collaborative online platform that identified and discussed fifty dangerous intersections that get will be prioritised for a bicycle friendly redesign. It was a clever move to get local insights about needs and problems with added subjective expertise. This all sounds fine and good, but the reality is far-removed.


Out of fifty intersections, only three intersections have been redesigned in the past three years. Safety in intersections is key. Since 2000, almost 200 people have been killed on their bicycles in Berlin. Tragic. No doubt about that. Instead, however, of accelerating the redesign of dangerous intersections and building Best Practice infrastructure along roads, the city decided instead to merely advertise their own lack of desire for change with large digital signs aimed at motorists (above - spotted on this Facebook group).

Texts included:

“In 2015, 15 cyclists were killed by passing cars. Minimum 1.5m distance”
“Every two hours a bicycle accident happens, keep 1.5m distance”.

We suppose the idea - however primitive - is good. Creating awareness among motorists that cyclists are present in the city. It is also a bold advertisment branding cycling as dangerous. There is little messaging that would encourage motorists - who cause many of the ills that cities suffer - to consider a shift in transport mode. Finally, it shows in no uncertain terms how outdated, flawed and incompetent the current traffic planning and road design is.

The solution is simple: build adequate, protected bicycle lanes and redesign your intersections. You won’t need warnings, you’ll avoid branding cycling as dangerous and you will save vast amounts of money on public health.

Since the city has already invested in the digital signs, why not use them for positive messaging? Off the top of our heads:

“Berliners spend 100 hours per year in traffic jams, take your bike!”
“Berlin is one of the most polluted cities in Germany, stop driving!”
“500,000 apartments in Berlin suffer from noise pollution from cars, take the train and bike!”

It’s one thing wasting money on digital signs, but what’s worse is that Berlin is not even spending its annual budget for bike infrastructure. The Senate failed to use €4.6 million that was available to it. The City spends €3.80 per person on bicycle infrastructure. Embarrassing considering that in Copenhagen, that number is €25. In Oslo, it’s as high as €35. But even cities like Paris, London and Madrid spend more than €12 per person.

Berlin is not even spending what they have, let alone finding more money to modernise their transport and keep up to speed with global trends. A recent investigation by Berliner Morgenpost newspaper mapped all the roads in Berlin in regards to their bicycle infrastructure. They found that 55% of all main roads in Berlin have bicycle “infrastructure”. That sounds nice, but it includes narrow painted lanes and bus lanes that can be used by bikes. The painted lanes are generally only 80 cm wide - far from the 2.5 meters dicated by Best Practice - and are often clogged with parked cars.

Berlin_1
The study found that 338 of Berlin’s main roads do not have any bicycle infrastructure at all. Cycling in Berlin is not at all intuitive. It’s confusing and irritating. There is no uniform design or cohesive, comprehensive network.

In a nutshell, the municipality talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk. Progress is painfully slow and there is little Best Practice design. Politicians blame the tricky administrative division between the Senate and the districts, as well as the lack of professional staff to get projects pushed through to completion. Basically, the money is there but there are no planners to use it.


Don’t think stuff doesn’t get done in Berlin. The largest infrastructure project in the city - currently under construction - is the extension of the Autobahn 100 from Neukölln to Treptow. Yep. A highway! In 2016. Bizarre.

Do you know what the city will get for the €480,000,000 price tag? A whopping (not) 3.2 km long, six-lane highway labelled “Piece of Berlin”. They say the same thing as people have been saying for 60 years - that this highway will magically improve the city’s traffic environment, increase quality of life, economic growth and reduce automobilie traffic and congestion. Seriously. Despite the fact that no highway has done this anywhere in the past 100 years.

The only thing we’ve learned over the past century is this: If you make more space for cars, more cars will come. Traffic in Berlin will stay the same - and probably become worse. A six-lane highway cannot improve quality of life. Other cities are tearing out their last-century monuments to failure, not building new ones.

The extension of the A100 requires the demolition of a couple of apartment buildings, the felling of hundreds of trees, the relocation of an old landfill and is a extremely complicated construction due to high groundwater level, noise protection, and so on. This is a madman’s playground for German Autobahn engineering, not a “Piece of Berlin”.

Even more sad is the fact that a further extension of the A100 - adding on another 4.1 km - is currently being discussed and is expected to be approved in the next two years. According to some preliminary calculations, the cost may hit €1 billion, due to a tunnel under the Spree River. There will be the usual demolishing of buildings, the eviction of clubs and cultural institutions and more chopped trees. Let’s hope the people of Berlin can mobilise and stop this madness.

Wild, isn’t it? The municipal departments are able to plan, approve, finance and construct a complicated, monster highway for a total of €1.4 billion but they can’t seem to find money to move far more people through the streets of Berlin with a network of uniform, Best Practice bicycle infrastructure based on designs and experience over 100 years old.

Berlin - more than many cities in the world - is all about the citizens. They seem to get it. In the inner city, the modal share is 18% for bicycles. Car traffic is at 17%. Urban cycling is mainstream and is ready for massive growth. Cycling is growing by 5% every year - even though only 3% of all traffic space is dedicated to bikes. All Berliners need is a group of politicians currently residing in this century.


Citizens are also doing it for themselves. There is an ambitious group of activists, planners and regular citizens who happen to use bikes to get around and they are fed up with the inactivity of the Senate. The Berlin chapter of the national cycling NGO - called ADFC - were notorious for their displeasure with infrastructure. A hangover from this school of thought. Luckily, they are now supporting the referendum.

The Volksentscheid - Fahrrad is behind a cycling referendum that is currently shaking the Senate out of its drowsiness and insisting that more has to be done to make Berlin a bicycle friendly city. The group have established ten goals that are incorporated in the first German bicycle law. The goals include the transformation of 325 km of roads into bicycle streets, safe bicycle infrastructure on every main road, a safer redesign of 75 intersections per year, quick maintenance and fixes along bike lanes, 200,000 bike parking spots, fifty stretches with a green wave for bikes, 100 km of bicycle highways, police on bikes that ensure the bikeability, more bicycle planning staff in council positions and communications campaign that prepare Berlin to become a bicycle friendly city.

Here is a link to their 10 demands in English.

All goals are bound to a timeplan. There are great activists out there in the world, but this group has taken it to the next level.

This might seem a bit optimistic. But consider this. The ambitious goals of the Cycling Referendum will cost about the same as just one kilometre of the A100 extension. That’s it. Add to that the fact that one kilometer of cycle track is paid off in under five years and the referendum plans will be making money for the city in no time. The A100 never will.

Car traffic is the minority group in the transport paradigm and yet the City is spending obscene amounts of money to increase car traffic in Berlin.

The Cycling Referendum has jumpstarted a modern and much-needed discussion and put political pressure on the municipal officials. Instead of the usual, ineffective critical mass events, the group around the Cycling Referendum use a clever way to show their dissatisfaction - by offering best practice alternatives. This year, Berlin is electing a new Senate, and cycling is becoming a hot issue on the political agenda. The Cycling Referendum and its objectives get a lot of media coverage, which further fuels the political debate.

Berlin_21
We at Copenhagenize Design Co. fully support the goals and plans of the Cycling Referendum (Volksentscheid Fahrrad). Berlin can do so much more and it is time to stop the backward-directed traffic politics. It is time for a paradigm shift away from a last-century, car-centric planning approach and towards a modern and inclusive one.

01 April 2016

Stylish Public Transport Wear from Transit Republic

In this age of rapidly shifting mobility patterns, the race is on to attract commuters to alternative transport forms. Public transport like busses, metros and trams suffer from negative perception and branding, not least in America. Busses, for example, have been labelled as "loser cruisers".

Enter a new start-up fashion firm - Transit Republic. After studying the alternative transport market, they realised that nobody was creating products that would encourage people to take public transport, as well as understanding the needs of the modern citydweller.


It's a Swedish duo, Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt who are behind the new company, and their main focus is the American market. "North America is a growth market for public transit. We heard they started a tram or something in Dallas and we realised that North Americans need to be lured with tech solutions before they do anything. We want to address their needs with style in order to boost transit usage".

After their now defunct Office Helmet project, where they tried to improve safety in the office environment, Alstin and Haupt realised that the world needed something important.

"Public transit is a great alternative", says Haupt. "I sometimes take the train in Stockholm when my car is in the shop and while I love being with my fellow citizens, I also need my own space. That's what Transit Republic is all about. Style and space in busy cities."

As an avid cyclist on the weekends, Alstin was inspired by the technology afforded cyclists by a plethora of intelligent accessories. "You can't just ride a bike. Gear is incredibly important, as well. Everyone knows that. The same should apply to public transit."


Creating your own space whilst enjoying the benefits of public transit is the key element in Transit Republic.



The idea is taking hold. Transit Republic is now working on collaborating with Levis and Volvo, which will provide them with some exciting, visionary partners.

Taras Grescoe, author of the definitive book on public transport, Straphanger, sees the new company as a breath of fresh air. "Finally, someone is taking the task of encouraging public transport usage seriously. It's hard to get people to take busses and trains and I firmly believe that Transit Republic are creating the products necessary to boost transit use", he said in an email from Montreal.

15 March 2016

Bicycle Infrastructure Fail(s)

Bizarre Bicycle Infrastructure
By and large, we are optimists here at Copenhagenize Design Company. In our extensive travels around the world to our client cities and to give keynotes, we are privileged to see so many cities changing for the better and working to reestablish the bicycle as transport on the urban landscape. We get to work with great cities to help them make it happen. I've ridden bicycles in over 70 cities around the world with my work and while often the infrastruture is sensible, once in a while I am presented with weird stuff. Like the photo, above, taken in Washington, DC by our colleague Ole Kassow of Cycling Without Age. Initially, our team of planners and urban designers here at our Copenhagen office had a good laugh but then it sinks in. This is actually a thing. Someone was tasked with putting in bicycle infrastructure and THIS is what a city ended up with. Center-running lanes.

Here's the rub. Best Practice in bicycle infrastructure is basically a century old. Dedicated bike paths date from 1892 when an equestrian path was turned over to bikes on Esplanade in Copenhagen. In 1915, the first on-street, curb-separated cycle track was installed on Strandboulevarden. From there, protected bike infrastructure spread out around the world.

Over 100 years, the infrastructure has been tested by easily hundreds of millions of daily cyclists. Planners have tweaked and experimented, made mistakes and fixed them and ended up with a Best Practice that is simple, effective, safe and cost-efficient. Generations of planners and engineers have done an amazing job and just handed us everything we need on a silver platter. There are only four types of infrastructure in Danish Best Practice. One of the designs fits any street in the nation and any street in any city in the world. Copy-paste, baby.

Why, then, do we see crap like in the photo, above, showing up on city streets? Who, in their right mind, would ACTUALLY choose to put cyclists in the middle of a street with speeding cars on either side? Certainly not anyone with an understanding of the bicycle's role in urban life as transport or a sincere desire to encourage cycling and keep people safe. As I suggested on Twitter, find the person who is responsible and fire them. A flippant remark - but still a serious one.

The primary problem is that traffic engineering, in certain countries, still has influence on planning and urban design. In America, where this infrastructure was put in, bicycles are placed in the same category as motorized vehicles. In countries that GET the bicycle's role in cities, they are regarded as fast-moving pedestrians and we've been planning for them for a century.

We work with planners and engineers all over the world so we realise the challenges in changing the old-fashioned, car-centric mentality. It is, however, 2016. Planning for bicycles is child's play. Or should be.

Copenhagen Rush Hour_3
Cycle tracks run parallel to the sidewalk. Separated from the motorized traffic. Period. It's not rocket science.

Looking at the photo from Washington, DC, my first thought is, "how am I supposed to get to a destination in mid-block"? Do I go up to the next intersection and walk my bike back? Why would I want to cycle with my kids or my grandparents on a barren wasteland as cars fly past?

No humans were considered in the development of this solution. There is no respect for access, safety and no broader idea of an intelligent, cohesive network.

"Oh, but it works!" You hear muttered from the wings of urbanism. What works, exactly? Cycling down this stretch is possible, yes. We are, however, planning our cities for the next century of transport. It is important to plan properly, using solutions that are tried and tested. Using cyclists as guinea pigs in solutions whipped together by lazy, car-centric engineers is ridiculous when we know the best way to approach it. Don't even get me started on the folly of on-street bi-directional lanes on stretches with cross streets.

I wonder if the people who mutter, "oh, but it works!" have homes filled with chairs sporting only two and a half legs. Technically, they work. You can take a load off. Rest your tired limbs. But they are not exactly Best Practice. We figured out as far back as the Neolithic period that four legs or a solid base is the best way to design a chair.

This is the chair at the moment in too many cities. Bits and pieces that don't connect up in a network, loads of sharp edges but technically - they tell us - it works. None of us have four of these in our living rooms.

If we design cities for humans, with respect for the human experience, safety, logic and ease-of-use, you wouldn't see stuff like a bike lane in the middle of a street, or sharrows, in any city. Engineers stare at computer screens and geek out on mathematical models. Designers think about the human on the other end of the design process. It's a human to human process. Let's design our streets like we did for 7000 years before we invented the automobile.

The proponents of this center-running lark call it "context sensitive design". Just using the word "design" is an insult to generations of bicycle planners who worked so hard to establish best practice. The DC solution is engineering. By people who don't understand human-centric design.

I'm so inspired by Washington DC. They put bike lanes in the middle of the street. So here is center-running cafes! Awesome!
But for those who insist on putting humans in the wasteland, what about just going all in? I tested the theory at my local wine bar the other evening.

Barcelona Infrastructure
"Oh, but they have them in Barcelona!" Yes. And in Nantes. And in Sao Paulo. Does that mean it's a good idea? No. It just means that these cities have allowed themselves to listen to engineers instead of designers. I have ridden on the ones in Barcelona several times, on holidays with my kids and while working. No access to destinations in mid-block. Wide, arrogant intersections that force you to speed across them. The City is currently revisiting these designs, realising that they are not "all that".

The one in Nantes is shouldered by low-speed car and tram lanes that allow easy access back and forth across the street. The one in Sao Paulo is an even bigger brain fart than the one in DC.

Barcelona Cycle Chic_4
One difference about Barcelona is that most of the city is a 30 km/h (20 mph) zone. The City is focused on slowing the whole place down in order to save lives, reduce injuries and create a more life-sized city. The center cycle tracks lead to roundabouts, which make at least a bit more sense than throwing you into a car-centric intersection. The infrastruture in DC is focused on the fit and the brave, not the 99%. Hardly an intelligent way to grow cycling as transport.

One rule of thumb to consider is a simple one. If you don't see an infrastructure design in the Netherlands or Denmark, it's probably a stupid infrastructure design. If you wouldn't put pedestrians in a center-lane between moving traffic, why the hell would you put cyclists there.

It's all been invented. It's all right there, ready to use. Not using established Best Practice is three steps forward, two steps back and this is the time that we need to step boldly forward with confident, intelligently-placed strides.

Don't worry. The engineers and planners we need to fire will probably get another job. There's other engineery stuff to do. When it comes to our streets, let's use designs and ideas that make sense.

10 March 2016

Ski Urbanism in Oslo

Oslo Ski Urbanism - Metro
The current and growing focus on creating life-sized cities involves all manner of tools and areas of interest. A healthy, intelligent transport form like cycling is obviously a primary focus for Copenhagenize Design Company but the picture is always bigger. Providing city dwellers with a myriad of activities within striking distance of the city is important, be it football pitches, tennis courts, running tracks, you name it. As is providing them with the opportunity to take a bike or public transport to these activities.

I have just returned from Oslo, where I spent the weekend sampling some "ski urbanism". Going downhill skiing on Friday and cross-country on Saturday and using only public transport to get to and from. Many cities are lucky to have such winter activities in a close proximity. That is not unusual.

What sets Oslo apart, however, is the totality of their public transport connectivity to winter sports and recreation. It is exceptional and enviable. It also makes it clear why a tiny country like Norway dominates the medal podium at the Winter Olympics. Skiing - especially cross-country - is the most normal of activities for Norwegians. Indeed, as John Oliver suggests, "...the only reason we have Winter Olympics is so that you freakish snow people can pick up your stupid cross-country ski medals".

Let's have a look at my intermodal ski bonanza weekend in Oslo.

Downhill Skiing (or Ski Jumping if you like)
Oslo Ski Urbanism 01
Off we went on Friday, heading from Torshov to Oslo Winter Park. First by bus to Majorstuen and then the T-bane (metro) up the hill. We weren't alone, that's for sure. The Metro was packed with people carrying cross-country skiis, downhill skiis and snowboards. It was a Friday, but it was the winter break so there were many families out enjoying the sun and a temperature hovering around 0C. I discovered right off the bat that the accordian section of the bendy-bus was a perfect holder for our skiis. At Majorstuen station, we grabbed a coffee and waited 10 minutes for the train to take us up the hill.

The ski crowd - as well as commuters and the tourists heading to Holmenkollen - got company at Midtstuen station. A horde of passengers all carrying different kinds of sleds/toboggans stormed onto the train. If you didn't know what was happening - you would be as surprised as the French family I saw.

But hey! It's the Korketrekkeren! Basically "corkscrew" in English, This is an epic facility and quite unrivalled in the world.
Oslo Ski Urbanism 02
Photo at far right by Magnus Knutsen Bjørke

Here's the rub: It's a sledding/tobogganing run dating from the turn of the last century. At the top you can rent sleds - or bring your own - and slide down for...get this... TWO KILOMETRES. With a vertical drop of 255 metres. It takes roughly 8-10 minutes to slide all the way down without stopping.

Don't worry about schlepping back up the hill. Just hop on the Metro and use it to get to the top again, which takes 13 minutes to get to Frognerseteren station. As many times as you like within opening hours. Tobogganing and public transport. Together at last. OMG this exists.

It was a cracking day on the slopes of Oslo Winter Park. The X-Games were in town and there was a half-pipe built in the area and, down in the city, a massive slope was constructed for some urban x-game action.

After a smooth bus-metro-bus connection to the alpine world, the next day it was time to try out that most Norwegian of all activities - cross-country skiing.

Oslo Ski Urbanism - Train
The weather was just as sunny and fantastic when we woke up, so off we went. Down to the tram stop to head towards Marka - the generic name for the wildnerness around Oslo. There was time enough on board the tram to remove some old wax from the skiis and rub on some new before switching to a local NSB train. On that station platform there were scores of people waiting. Individuals, couples, families with kids of all ages and a whole bunch of family dogs. It was most Norwegian thing I've ever experienced. If you exclude eating all their goofy food.

Oslo Ski Urbanism 03
Like cycling, in order to ski - and to encourage people to ski - you need infrastructure. Sure, there are probably Vehicular Skiers who reject infrastructure, manipulate data to present a fake perception about the safety of it and who prefer to ski with the snowmobiles, but providing the citizens with ski tracks is a key element in the success of getting people to ski.

The City of Oslo prepares and marks out 400 km of cross-country ski tracks within the city region and the Norwegian Ski Union (Skiforeningen) does the same for a further 2200 km of ski tracks. Yes. A total of 2600 km (that's 1625 miles for those of you in Burma, Liberia or the USA). Either way, it's a lot of ski infrastructure within easy striking distance of every citizen of the city. It's worth noted that a few hundred of the kilometres are also lighted so you can get ski-busy in the dark, Nordic winter.

It requires, like bicycle infrastructure, some equipment. The machines that prep the tracks are considerably more badass than cycle tracks cleaners. But hey.

It's a modest investment to make when you are doing epic things for the public health and the urban experience. Like cycling.

Oslo Ski Urbanism - Bike
In its's current state, urban cycling in Oslo lags behind many other European cities, with an estimated modal share of 8%, despite having a history of urban cycling like everywhere else in the world. Nevertheless, we can't wrap up without mentioning the fact that getting to a cross-country track from the city is very doable. As this gentleman will attest.

Liv Jorun Andenes from the City of Oslo's Bicycle Project, snapped this photo of this man heading home after skiing. Strapping his skiis and poles to his bike and heading off down the hill. When she asked why he chose to ride, he said, "It's slippery in the winter when I'm walking, so it's easier on the bike".

Exactly.

Copenhagen Winter Activity Urbanism
While there is no possible way to steal Oslo's thunder in the matter of ski urbanism, there are times in Copenhagen when such winter activities can be enjoyed. Climate change has slapped mild winters on us lately, but we have our moments. 1.5 hours from Copenhagen, in Sweden, you can hit some alpine slopes and, when the snow comes in the winter, you see all manner of winter activities combined with bicycles.

Oslo, however, is the world-beater. A life-sized city year round.


17 February 2016

380 Intelligent Traffic Signals for Copenhagen


Copenhagen is going to the be the first large city in Scandinavia to install intelligent traffic lights at all intersections. The old lights and system are 35 years old so it is high time to modernise. The primary focus is on getting bicycle traffic and public transport to flow better, but the system will also benefit last century technology like cars.

The City of Copenhagen has invested in 380 new, intelligent traffic signals. It is estimated that bus passengers will save between 5 and 20% on their travel time. Cyclists can look forward to a 10% improvement in theirs. The traffic signals will be online and allow for better green waves and a general improvement in controlling the traffic in Copenhagen. The signals are a part of a 47 millioner kroner (€6.2 million) package aimed at making Copenhagen's traffic system more digital and intelligent.

All the main arteries leading to the city centre have green waves for bicycles - ride 20 km/h and you don't have to put your foot down the whole ride to the city center and home again in the afternoon. There have already been pilot projects to improve this technology, with sensors "reading" how many cyclists are approaching an intersection. If five or more are bunched together, the light will stay green to allow them to roll through.

Bicycle traffic signals in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen


The Mayor for the Traffic and Environmental Administration, Morten Kabell, says, "In short, these systems will ensure traffic that flows better so that as many people as possible can saave time in the greenest possible way. It means that Copenhageners won't waste time on their way to and from work and that is good business. Copenhagen will be a laboratory where we develop new solutions."

The City of Copenhagen is also working hard on reversing one of the oldest paradigms in traffic - one that has dominated cities for many decades. Whenever a suggestion is made to light signals or infrastructure, the baseline question has been "how will that affect travel times for motorists?" If the answer was a negative one, the idea risked getting killed off.

The City now wants to make the baseline question "how will it affect the travel times for bicycles?" If it has a negative effect on bicycle traffic and travel times, the idea will be viewed as less positive. Car traffic will be sent farther down the hierarchy in this new paradigm. Where it belongs. It requires a great deal of work to redesign the entire paradigm, but if and when Copenhagen pulls it off, we can look forward to a sea change in urban planning and traffic management.

22 January 2016

Field Report: Cycling Toronto's Rocket

Toronto Bravo
The latest article by Copenhagenize Design Company's resident Torontonian, urban planner James Thoem.

It’s been two and a half years since I’ve returned to Toronto. Some things have changed. Others haven’t. Since ditching the mayor who actively removed bike lanes at a huge costs, the City has introduced a couple kilometres of half decent separated bicycle lanes along with more woeful sharrows (as if they’re still fooling anyone ). The public transit agency, The Toronto Transit Commision (TTC), has since rolled out a sleek new bike-friendly rolling stock, and introduced some of those well-meaning, though silly repair bike repair stations.

Now there’s an old saying among Toronto’s transport cynics that TTC, in fact, stands for ‘Take The Car’. While this approach is sure to trigger eye rolling among any urbanist, it does at least bring up a concept we can work with, the multi-modal city. At Copenhagenize Design Co. we’ve long championed the strengths of a multi-modal city coupled with a sensible transport hierarchy that values active transportation over motororised, and public over private. Cars are inevitable, but a city that prioritizes people must make cycling, transit and walking equally legitimate. As the Copenhagenize Traffic Planning Guide illustrates:

Copenhagenize Traffic Planning Guide

With overcrowded and delayed trains an all too common issue on the TTC, it’s no wonder Torontonians joke about ditching ‘the rocket’ for their commute. But opting for a private car only makes everything worse for everybody. Hopping on your bike is a quick and easy solution to free up seats and streets all while avoiding overcrowded train cars and mind numbing rush-hour traffic. We’ve made this little play on the TTC subway map to remind Torontonians of how accessible switching from rocket to bike actually is.



Often it seems as if the number one priority for subway riders is to completely tune out from their surroundings. While in this little world, we tend to forget that each and every stop is it’s own neighbourhood complete with it’s own stories, daily rituals, familiar faces and hidden gems. And often, regardless of whether you’re in Scarborough, Bloor West or Etobicoke, it’s the spaces between the stations stops where you get a real taste for the area.

Back in Copenhagen, we’ve conducted experiments, pitching bike commutes against actual subway travel times, with the former often coming out on top . So is this the case in Toronto? We expect so. But just one thing stands in the way: safe, functional infrastructure. But that’s an issue for a whole other post.

12 January 2016

The Ultimate Indicator of a Bicycle-Friendly City

Copenhagen Yawn
There are numerous ways to measure how citizen cyclists feel about cycling in a city. We know that there is no chicken or egg - there is only Best Practice infrastructure. Keeping cyclists safe but also giving them the all-important sense of safety.

I have cycled in over 60 cities around the world. In safe cities like those in Denmark and the Netherlands and cities that struggle to emerge as bicycle-friendly cities. In the latter I am rolling through a lion's den, often forced subliminally to speed up because of the pace of the motorised traffic. In these old-fashioned cities that have failed to provide safe infrastructure for cycling, I am quite sure I have never yawned. Too much intensity, too much adrenaline.

If we look at revealed preferences, as opposed to declared preferences (asking people in surveys), the urban cycling yawn has to be the ultimate indicator of the state of a city's progress towards being bicycle-friendly.

If you don't see people yawning regularly whilst riding their bicycle through a city, it is safe to say that you are doing something wrong.
Autumnal Yawn

Yellow Wall 18

Red Bicycles and a Yawn

Yawn and Scratch

Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably

Yawn