06 November 2017

Traffic Safety Orgs Speak for Themselves - Not the Rest of Us

Classic traffic safety organisation narrative. "Stop cycling".

By Stephanie Patterson
With Mikael Colville-Andersen

In the diverse world of traffic planning, advocacy and various movements for liveable cities, there is an odd group of outliers who broadcast conflicting messages. While “traffic safety” organisations seem like a natural part of the gallery and of the narrative, upon closer inspection they exist in a communication vacuum populated exclusively by like-minded organisations. There is little correlation with those organisations who advocate cycling, pedestrianism or safer streets. The traffic safety crowd are in a world unto themselves, with little or no accountability for the campaigns they develop or the messaging they broadcast. They are often allied with insurance companies who clearly take comfort in working with others who embrace scaring the population at large through constructed fear.

In many ways, they are a classic subculture, with strong hints of sect-like behaviour. The English sociologist Roy Wallis argues that a sect is characterized by “epistemological authoritarianism”. According to Wallis, “sects lay a claim to possess unique and privileged access to the truth or salvation and “their committed adherents typically regard all those outside the confines of the collectivity as 'in error'”.

The American sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge assert that "sects claim to be an authentic, purged, refurbished version of the faith from which they split". They further assert that sects have, in contrast to churches, a high degree of tension with the surrounding society.

We thought it appropriate to do a little communication meta-analysis of their techniques of the traffic safety subculture.


“If it is going to make any meaningful contribution to the reduction of danger on the roads, our criminal justice system needs to recalibrate away from the prejudice that motoring is innocuous and cycling dangerous and towards controlling the behaviour of those imposing greatest risk.”

Martin Porter - QC, personal injury lawyer and Author of the blog ‘The Cycling Lawyer’ made this statement in relation to a recent manslaughter charge that was issued to a cyclist in London who collided with a pedestrian, resulting in her death.

The final conviction of “wanton and furious” cycling brings up the question of how different road users are treated and perceived. Would someone driving a car receive the same level of punishment? Not likely.

Along with the legal system, traffic safety organisations are integral players in shaping how we view road users all around the world. The first thing we noticed was how all these organisations seem to ignore one of the key messages required to truly make roads safer.

Lower the number of motor vehicles on the road, and slow them down. We call it Ignoring the Bull here at Copenhagenize Design Company.

Anyone who works in traffic planning or advocacy will find the lack of focus on the obvious to be rather bizarre. As it is now, the campaign language and programs promoted by the traffic safety organisations unabashedly victimise the individual (primarily pedestrians and cyclists) rather than speak out about the dangers of motorised vehicles. They also tend to ignore the one most obvious solution to lower road fatalities – a drastic reduction in the number of motorised vehicles on the road.

Even a nine year old can figure it out that this is the only way to go:

However, the traffic safety organisations have settled upon strategies that are as uniform as they are blatant in their support of the status quo. As the following images show, these trends are not limited to countries who have high numbers of road fatalities, but in fact the same rhetoric and messages can be seen globally.

(Left) Road safety Australia, again victimising the individual and making being a pedestrian a dangerous activity. (Centre) Road Safety Campaign in Spain - 1998, a good way to turn people off walking (Right) More Australian victim-blaming without addressing the problem.

The influence of road safety organisations clearly extends to municipalities, inviting them into their echo chamber, from where they point their fingers at the non-motorist population.

Signage in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen sends people on a wild detour and instructs them to cross at the designated crossing, putting motorist convenience above that of pedestrians and cyclists. A local response (right) clarified the municipality’s intentions with the added text: “Frederiksberg loves cars more than you”

Just take a look the recent ETSC Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) Conference held in Brussels in June 2017. The speaker list only represented the views of the car industry and road safety organisations which support it. Talk about an echo chamber.

Speakers from other disciplines and with different points of view on methods of change, such as experts in user behaviour, strategies about behaviour change, and advocates of increasing alternative transport modes were absent as they always are. A diverse selection of opinions would include people who are not interested in maintaining the car-centric status quo in our cities, so why invite them?

Whilst the organisations’ messages and actions vary based on their country or region of reference, there are common threads which we can see in a number of the road safety organisations campaigns, including:

- Consistent use of the car industry’s favourite phrase, traffic accident, rather than fatality or crash. The rise of the hashtag #crashnotaccident hasn't penetrated the walls of their echo chamber.
- The use of the phrase vulnerable road users without any corresponding reference to dangerous vehicles
- Programs indirectly or directly implying that walking and cycling are dangerous and freely using classic Culture of Fear techniques to scare cyclists and pedestrians
- Anti-distraction programs
- Anti-drink driving
- Anti-speed programs

Their baseline is clear. Cars are here to stay - everyone else either get out of the way or bubble wrap yourself. What this communication subculture doesn’t talk about is rather telling. Basically anything that would brand cars as the problem - or reducing the number of cars.

We don't know how many of you are aware that the United Nations declared the grand Decade of Action on Road Safety in order to tackle traffic deaths. Actually they declared it back in 2011. Have we saved millions of lives together, as they claimed we would? Nah. What has happened since? Lots of expensive campaigns from highly funded NGOs but absolutely no reduction in the number of traffic deaths worldwide.

We analysed the communication narrative used by a number of traffic safety organisations and present some of them here.

FIA Foundation
(Left) Series of graphics by FIA. None of them call for a reduction in the number of cars that kill. (Bottom center) FIA's helmet campaign. (Bottom right) Children with their shiny new FIA helmets. 
(Top center and right) Images from the #staybright campaign insisting that pedestrians and cyclists dress up like clowns

Meet The FIA Foundation (slogan: For the Automobile and Society). They are the advocacy arm of the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile, who run the Formula 1 races. Their foundation is an international body funded by industry but also supported by heavyweight NGOs, UNICEF, UN Environment, the World Resources Institute and Save the Children. An organisation with this level of funding and recognition behind it should be leading the way in traffic safety, including sending the most effective messages and implementing the best programs to reduce fatalities. But they don't. Their primary focus is on glossy graphics telling everyone to bubble wrap themselves.
Unfortunately there are a number of unsaid things which we believe are key in combating the issue of road fatalities, including:

- Proposing any attitude change to the existing transport norms.
- In car centric cities – saying that we need to change our urban design to de-prioritise motor vehicles and make active transport a viable transport option, not just a recreational activity.
- Warning people about the inherent danger of driving a motor vehicle. Focusing on the fact that cars and cities don't work well together and that your risk of dying and/or killing others is remarkably high. Instead of scaring people away from bikes and walking, focus on inciting fear of driving
- In all seriousness, promoting and mandating motorist helmets, as the Australian government has recommended.
- Programs which restrict car usage or make driving more difficult.
- Campaigns for alternative transport options as the norm
- Campaigning for investment in alternative transport infrastructure

It's a tough sell. These organisations like FIA are clearly not interested in behavioiur change, but rather a continued acceptance of the car-centric status quo.


Global Health Observatory statistics from 2013 showed over 200,000 traffic fatalities occurred in both India and China. Between 30,000-50,000 fatalities occurred in Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and USA. Some of the countries with the highest rates of fatalities based on population size were Thailand, Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and United Republic of Tanzania – all with fatalities between 15,000 and 25,000. We have taken a more in depth look at a few organisations across; INDIA - one of the countries with highest number of road fatalities, USA - the worst performing developed nation in terms of number of fatalities, and finally DENMARK - a country with low number of fatalities and generally good alternative transport options.

India. The country with the highest number of traffic fatalities of any nation annually.

With a fast growing economy, India has the opportunity to make wise infrastructure investments that improve its cities for its people. Lack of rules, crazy fast driving and cars being seen as indicators of social improvement, are all reasons why the road safety organisations are suggesting modifications to the existing infrastructure rather than addressing a change in attitudes to motor vehicles in India overall.

Due to the lack of diversity within the road safety authorities we see the same rhetoric over and over again. This recent #ipledge campaign wastefully uses highly influential cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar to spin the same old narrative. Pledging doesn't save lives.

#ipledge campaign by Aster saferoads based in India

Arrive Safe
This is an NGO who claim to be‘working with road safety to promote sustainable transportation India’ but it does not mention bikes at all in any of its activities and proposals to increase road safety. In its Road Safety Manual it provides instruction to road users including basic rules, how to drive safely and so on across 190 pages of the 200 page manual. The final 10 pages briefly mention the benefits of choosing another transport mode and how to look out for pedestrians, bike and rickshaw riders. Same old, same old.


A particularly gruesome example of the City of Phoenix spreading fear and victimising bike riders in one of their road safety campaigns.

Of all the developed countries in the world, the US is by far the worst performing in terms of road fatalities and injuries. Estimates from the National Safety Council recorded road deaths for 2016 at over 40,000, making it the deadliest year in nearly a decade. A study by Juha Luoma and Michael Sivak found several contributing factors to the US’ high road numbers of road fatalities. These included generally high speeds driven, low seat belt usage rates, high drunk driving rates, however the biggest reason:

Americans drive a lot and far and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

We also know that vulnerable road users are increasingly making up the numbers of the death tolls. Car users’ share of road deaths in America fell from 42% in 2006 to 36% in 2015, while fatalities outside of cars (people on bikes, pedestrians and motorcyclists) rose from a quarter of the total to a third. So what are the road safety organisations doing to address this issue? All this shows is that cars are getting safer for those inside of them - but not at all for those outside. Mandatory external air bags on cars would be wise.

Department of Transport DOT
To be fair, the nationally run road safety authority has as of 2015 implemented the Safer People, Safer Streets: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative and the Mayor's Challenge which encourage cities to improve streets for all people across seven different criteria. However, the same organisation stumbles by victimising policies such as helmet-first bike riding initiatives, ignoring reducing car usage and the danger of being behind a wheel - even if you are a safe driver.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Motoring organisations love traffic safety organisations for maintaining the status quo and placing focus on the dangers of transporting yourself in anything other than a motor vehicle. The AAA, like others around the world, focuses solely on either increased investment in road infrastructure or improved driver conditions. Research papers such as Safety Benefits of Highway Infrastructure Investments might have been a bit more valuable if it also took into account modes of transport other than cars and didn't spout off old-fashioned engineering "solutions".

The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association aims to be a leader in traffic safety education strategies. Alas - none of their strategies include choosing another transport mode when possible. Please start by educating people with some basic facts - fewer cars on the road, fewer deaths and injuries.

We’re not saying stop educational programs about safe driving - just give people a rounded education which presents all the facts.


DENMARK - The Danish Road Safety Council

So while we have looked at two countries with particularly abominable road fatality levels, we can also be critical of road safety programs in countries with better track records. Denmark's road safety organisation Rådet for Sikker Trafik (Road "Safety" Council) recently released this video as part of there “use two seconds more” campaign- a fairly violent way to scare cyclists off their bikes. At the same time they continue to promote the wearing of a helmets in Denmark - compounding the message that bike riding is dangerous. Just another example of road safety organisations using the Culture of Fear in favour of the car. Classic.

This organisation uses the same tactics as others in their private club. They have little scientific understanding of bike helmets and, instead, copy/paste info they recieve from like-minded colleagues in Sweden and pass it off as their own. They claim to be against mandatory helmet laws but this recent document would suggest that they are gearing up for helmet laws. Aligning themselves with the likes of an American, Jake Olivier, in order to continue their branding of cycling as dangerous. Broadcasting with all the arrogance they can muster that a "meta-analysis" is conclusive proof only reveals they know little about the science.

This is also an organisation who advocates cutting down roadside trees for "safety" instead of vehemently advocating for lower speed limits. Indeed, they have no mention of the European trend of establishing 30 km/h as a baseline speed in cities on their site. They are, like all the others, totally disconnected from the current trends.

(Left) ("Keep an eye on the side roads" painted on cycle tracks, without any corresponding messaging for motorists on those side roads who are obliged by law to stop. (Center) 2017 campaign urging people to "use two extra seconds" at the intersection so they don’t get killed - instead of campaigning for existing infrastructure designs to keep cyclists safe. (Right) A 2017 helmet promotion campaign aimed at college students, together with an insurance company. Classic tactics.

Three other campaigns in Denmark aimed at dressing pedestrians and cyclists up as clowns with reflective clothing instead of limiting the destruction caused by motorists. 

Campaigns for reflective clothing are also increasing in The Culture of Fear, despite a limited amount of science on the subject. No corresponding campaigns are in place for cars, even though black cars are more likely to be involved in accidents.

All the negative campaigns blaming cyclists and pedestrians for not equipping themselves with body armour and christmas tree lights would be more credible if the same effort was placed on motorists and cars. Traffic safety organisations can improve the message they are sending out to their citizens if they even the playing field and state in no uncertain terms how dangerous cars are in cities and how dangerous they are, generally. The culture of fear needs to be flipped on its head.

The Hiearchy of Hazard Control as applied to urban cycling. Bubble wrap solutions are the last resort.

While of course speed, drug and alcohol consumption, distracted driving, and badly designed roads can worsen the impacts, let’s not dance around the basic facts if cities and nations truly want to achieve Vision Zero. Providing an even distribution of alternative infrastructure options for people is clearly a key factor in making this change, but it also needs to go hand in hand with honest road safety initiatives that don’t misinform, misrepresent, or scare.

In short, as it is now, if these traffic safety organisations are only speaking to themselves, backslapping each other at closed conferences, and arrogantly exaggerating the effect of their tired, last century campaign strategies - as well as being so completely disconnected from the rest of us working to improve city life around the world - do we have to listen to them or give them any credibility?

Probably not. We can wonder, however, why they continue to recieve funding to broadcast flawed messages without any positive results and zero accountability.

Fluorescent in Traffic
Remember your reflective clothing in traffic.

15 October 2017

Arrange a Svajerløb Cargo Bike Race!

Last week in Barcelona, the inagural svajerløb cargo bike race was held on a sunny Sunday in the Poble Nou neighbourhood. It was event organised pro bono by Copenhagenize Design Co's office in Barcelona in collaboration with the Rueda International Bicycle Film Festival, where Mikael Colville-Andersen was president of the jury. Mikael and Jordi Gali from Copenhagenize whipped together a not-for-profit race and were thrilled at the turnout - both passionate particpants and curious spectactors. A 400 metre course was set up in the morning and there were particpants enough for 3 heats in the two-wheeled category, four cargo bikes in the three-wheeled and four teams in the team relay. The film, above, sums up the day nicely.

For most of the 20th century in Copenhagen, a massive armada of cargo bikes were the backbone of transport in the city. A fantastic army of men and boys from the poor neighbourhoods made the city work. Men and boys who were also invisible in the social hierarchy. They were called svajere in Danish – or swayers if you translate it directly - because of the swaying motion of the huge, flatbed bikes when heavily laden. In 1942, a priest named Kristian Skjerring decided to change things for the better. He wanted to give these svajere a pedestal on which to stand. He organised what became known as a Svajerløb in the city – a cargo bike race for these bicycle messengers. He raised money through the races to send the young men to summer camps. They were the hardest working people in Copenhagen and Skjerring thought they deserved some respect.

Svajerløb - Cargo Bike Race on Israels Plads
The races become incredibly popular in Copenhagen. Thousands came out to watch. There was prize money, but really it was about honour, and winning the right to call yourself the King of Copenhagen – at least until the next race. These Svajerløb races were held until 1960, when cars and vans started to dominate goods transport in the city. In 2009, the race was revived in Copenhagen and are now an annual event. The city has 40,000 cargo bikes in daily use, so a revival was a no-brainer. Unlike the 1940's, the cargo bike riders are now families and people with goods to transport. The Danish brand Larry vs Bullitt, who produce the Bullitt cargo bike, were behind resurrecting the races for the tradition, the fun and as an obvious platform to sell their product. While the event has developed a Red Bull feel to it - corporate marketing disguised as an event - there are race participants using many other cargo bike brands on race day.

Cargo bike races are spreading fast, in tact with the rise of the cargo bike itself in cities around the world. There is now an International Cargo Bike Festival in Nijmegen, Netherlands each year. Apart from the recent race in Barcelona, we have registered on our radar races in Vancouver, Chicago, Paris, and Berlin, among others. In the Netherlands, family-friendly cargo bike events have taken place for many years. There is a new Facebook group called Svajerløb Global - The Cargo Bike Race Community - where people can share experiences and let others know about their upcoming races and share photos after they're done.

So why not arrange a cargo bike race in your 'hood? Help raise awareness about the usefulness of cargo bikes and have a fun day doing it. Here are the basics to get you started.

Svajerløb Cargo Bike Race - Barcelona 2017

Designing the Course
- Design a circuit in a loop (as opposed to an A to B course). There is no set length, but in our experience 400 meters seems to be a decent number. There should be some challenging turns, a slalom section and a straight, home stretch. If you have the chance to incorporate a hill, all the better. This ain't no Sunday bike ride, sunshine. Although think about the potential participants when you gauge the level of difficultly. In the Copenhagen version, there are many spandexy dudes among the participants and the course is usually designed for them and for speed. If you want your event to be more inclusive and aimed to drawing the curious as well as the experienced, create a course that is well-balanced. We've seen courses with an awkward patch of sand in the middle. Mix it up, if you want. Just keep it realistic and safe.

- The stop and finish line should be the same and should be next to the loading zone, where the riders will load up their bikes - read more in The Rules, farther down. For the loading zone, you'll need some space for the riders in each heat to stop and where you can position the cargo they have to load.

- If you can, design the circular course so that the spectators are primarily gathered around the stop/finish line and loading area but also so that they see the bikes on the course as much as possible. It helps maintain a level of energy if the spectactors can keep an eye on the race.

- Depending on the width of the course you design, you can have between four and six riders in each heat or race.

- You can use various barriersr to design the course. Plastic traffic cones or bollards, chairs connected with plastic tape, fences, you name it. Whatever you can get your hands on.

The Rules
We recommend using the original rules from the historical races in Copenhagen. The organisers of the annual race in Copenhagen these days stick to the same concept in order to maintain history and tradition, but also because the original rules are pretty cool. There are other cargo bike races at, for example, the bike messenger championships, but we'll stick with the historical rules here.

- The race consists of four laps. The riders wait on their bikes at the start line. The first lap is ridden empty. They speed around the course and, upon arriving in the loading area, they load up their bikes with the cargo. This is the fun part, which is why spectators should be positioned close to the area. Then the riders head out on three laps fully laden, until they cross the finish line for the fourth time.

- Depending on the number of participants, you can divide them up into heats. For example, the top two finishers can qualify for a semi-final or the final. Or top three. You'll figure it out. It's a hard race, so try to limit the maximum number of races an individual will race to three.

- Cargo: In the traditional races in the 1940's, the cargo often consisted of car tires, newspaper bundles, empty, wooden beer crates and sandbags. Cargo bike championships held in Paris in the 1920's and 1930's measured the weight of the cargo at 50 kg, although this was raised to 65 kg. Try to aim for between 35-50 kg as a rule of thumb. The cargo should not only be designed for weight. Make sure that you have items that oddly-shaped and difficult to secure to the bike. At the Barcelona race in October 2017, we had to be creative. Each rider had to load two plastic-wrapped bundles of water in 1 litre bottles (12 bottles in each), 5 kg bags of potatoes, another 3 litre bottle of water, a 5 kg bag of potting soil and a pack of 12 toilet paper rolls. We distributed the cargo to people after the race so we didn't waste anything.

- Riders can use bungees or inner tubes to secure the cargo if they want. They can also carry an item in their hand.

- After the bike is loaded and they head out on the last three laps, the cargo has to stay on the bike. If something falls off, the rider has to stop and pick it up, getting it back onto the bike before continuing.

- Categories: traditionally speaking, there was a two-wheeler race, a three-wheeler race and a team relay. In modern versions, we've seen the addition of a women's category and a vintage bike category. In some cities, vintage cargo bike are hard to come by, so you can make the call about whether to have this category. If there are cargo bikes with an electric assist, you can create a category for them, if you like. Then there is the team relay. In this event, four riders share one bike. Each of them do one lap, four in all, just like the other races. When the first rider arrives in the loading area, the team members help to load the bike and the next rider gets on. It is permitted to help push the new rider into motion.

- Next to the start/finish line and loading area, set up a table for the organisers and have some sort of board on which you can write the names of the riders in each race. Make race numbers that the riders have to put on their bikes so you can keep track of them. Pro tip: make them put the numbers on the side of the bike that faces the table as they pass. :-)

- Spread out the races to allow for time between races. You can do all the heats for the two-wheelers, then move on to the three-wheelers and women's race and then get back to the semi-finals or finals. Traditionally, the team relay is the last race.

Family-friendly Race Ideas
In order to make the race even more family friendly, there can be side events with a parent cycling with a child in the box. You can created a separate course designed for finesse cycling and balance. The kids can be equipped with a stick and you can hang large rings up on thread. The parent cycles the bike close and the kid has to spear the ring with the stick, collecting as many rings as possible to win. Another idea is a cargo bike version of the egg race. A parent, with a kid in the box, has to cycle an obstacle course balancing an egg on a spoon. Or maybe the kid holds the spoon. Maybe both. Be creative.

The race itself need not be an expensive affair. Sponsors are always handy, if you can get them. Try to make it an inclusive affair and invite as many cargo bike brands as possible - if not to race, then to exhibit their products in the interest of growing awareness of cargo bikes as solutions for urban living. Copenhagenize Design Co was involved in the cyclelogistics.eu project for three years and our partners arranged all manner of events with numerous cargo bikes to encourage citizens to try them out and get a feel for them, in cities around Europe. It really helps broadcast the message if people get to test them out.

The more events around the world, the better!

Here are some links to cargo bike history:

- History of the svajere - cargo bike messengers - in Copenhagen

- The original cargo bike messengers

- Brazil is a cargo bike capital

29 September 2017

From Copenhagen with Love; Dispatches from a Montreal Intersection

by Lukas Stevens

One of Montreal's busiest bicycle intersections with over 10,000 bicycles daily. It features a protected two-way cycle track underpass but unfortunately makes a detour that takes bicycles off a main-street destination.

Lukas Stevens is a Planning and Data Analyst at Copenhagenize Design Company's Montreal office, where he works on cycling network plans for many of our North American clients. He is originally from Hamburg, Germany and has a Masters in Urban Planning from McGill University.

At Copenhagenize Design Co., we are both optimists and realists. We know that the bicycle revolution in our urban centres is well on its way and that best-practice bicycle infrastructure as seen in Copenhagen is the optimal solution to accommodate the hordes of people of all ages and abilities who are capable and ready to take to the world’s streets on their bikes.

Many of the arguments brought forward by skeptics disputing that Copenhagen-style bicycle infrastructure would work in their cities have proven to be untrue. Too expensive? In Denmark and other places we have seen that a high bicycle modal share actually saves society money in the long run! There’s not enough space on roads for such wide bike lanes? Not if you start looking at the amount of people a street can move rather than just the number of cars. Stores suffer when removing car parking? Actually we see bike lanes improving business. Our city will never have over 50% of citizens on bikes like in Copenhagen? Maybe not, but 40 years ago neither did Copenhagen, and why couldn’t your city get to 15% instead?

While we are happy to see more and more cities slowly jump onboard the bicycle urbanism train, we still need to ensure immediate safety for bicycle users in our cities today, especially in contexts where protected infrastructure may not be politically feasible quite yet. Here, we want to help tackle the question:

What small short-term improvements can be made in cities to improve bicycle users’ safety until there is political will to redesign our streets for people?

Intersections, for all road users, are the most critical points in a street network as a bicycle user moves through the city. Here in Montreal, for example, a 2005 study showed that 58% of all collisions involving bicycle users happened at intersections. More recent data shows a similar picture. Let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean that cycling is inherently dangerous, but while cars and pedestrians have their own traffic lights, signs and paint that guide them through the intersection, in most cities bicycle users are often left to their own devices.

In Copenhagen we see that small, low cost adjustments to intersections that can be easily implemented in essentially every context and vastly improve the safety for bicycle users. Pulled-back stop lines for cars, coloured paint through the intersection, protected corners at streets with heavy right-turn car traffic, and designated traffic lights – Copenhagen shows us that these small changes, which are cost effective and in most cases not particularly controversial have a huge positive effect for bicycle users’ safety.

The city of Montreal, home of our North American Copenhagenize office, is the perfect context to demonstrate how easily intersections can be retrofitted with Copenhagen-inspired bicycle infrastructure design. Recently, the local borough of Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie has added a number of temporary plastic posts for improved intersection protection from motor vehicles. These measures are cheap and the City is able to install several of them within a week. Montreal has a diverse collection of facility and infrastructure types built over decades of ever-changing design standards. There is no place this is more noticeable than at intersections where these different types of infrastructure sometimes clash. Sharrows meet bi-directional cycle tracks, bi-directionals on a one-way street meet bi-directionals on a two-way street, one-way streets with a contraflow lane meet other one-way streets without a contraflow lane, and so on. Often the transitions follow little conventional traffic logic:

Despite new Copenhagen-style handlebar bling, this Montreal intersection suffers from severe two-way to one-way cycle track confusion

Montreal’s mish-mash of infrastructure types and no clear standard for design is a perfect place to show how quick fixes to different intersections are transferable to almost any urban context in the world – a demonstration of the simple elegance of the Copenhagen intersection design model.


INTERSECTION 1: Saint Antoine Street & Atwater Avenue

While other parts of Montreal have a more-or-less cohesive network of bicycle facilities, the absence of infrastructure in the south-west of Montreal’s downtown is striking. There are very few safe cycling routes through this neighbourhood and a number of large highway barriers for pedestrians and bicycle users. Atwater Avenue is one of the most important north-south streets in the area and one of the few streets that connects under a major highway. Atwater was also the subject of a recent controversy when the City decided that pedestrians and bicycles could share the sidewalk through said underpass while cars speed through three vehicular lanes in each direction. The media, opposition politicians and local advocacy groups sharply criticized this arrogance of space, especially since this part of Atwater is on a steep slope and the potential for collisions increases dramatically at higher speeds. 

The City's recent attempt to ask bicycle users and pedestrians share a narrow sidewalk

Atwater Avenue should undoubtedly have protected bike lanes but even that does not address the additional danger that bicycle users currently face just beyond the underpass at the bottom of the slope - the Atwater & Saint Antoine intersection. Once bicycle users reach the bottom of the hill and the end of the underpass, they face an intersection with a large number of right-turning cars heading to a highway on-ramp, as can be seen in the picture below. The potential for collision here is high – as bicycle users share the road while only one single traffic light manages this junction with heavy, and potentially deadly machines moving downhill at high speeds.

Cars turning right (see white vehicle) pose a real danger to bicycles heading downhill

It is not only the traffic light that is problematic here. Streets are typically designed to offer the fastest turning radius to automobiles. In other words, if there are no physical barriers that force cars to slow down, they generally won’t. Since bicycles are often in motorists’ blind spots while turning, there must be visual cues that remind everyone – especially motorists – of the vulnerable road user’s presence. 

Over years of developing and revisiting best practice intersection design, the City of Copenhagen has implemented guidelines that could address the unsafe features observed at the Atwater & Saint Antoine intersection through inexpensive features like paint, lights and a protected corner. Here is an example of what these interventions might look like:

1. The first major change is the addition of bicycle infrastructure on Atwater to designate space for bicycle users, which in the case of this intersection will be a necessary adjustment to making it safer for vulnerable road users. Physical protection of bicycle users and pedestrians, each with their own space, throughout the underpass leading up to the intersection is key for safety on busy streets.

2. The second change is to pull back the stop lines for cars. In most cities cars and bicycles share a stop line at the intersection even when bicycle infrastructure is present, which means that bicycles are waiting in a car’s blind spot where they might not be seen. By placing bicycles further in front, motorists are reminded of their presence and it allows bicycle users to get a head start when the light is green.

3. Bicycle users also require a few seconds to stabilize their movement as they start cycling forward. Giving bicycles their own traffic light and a 4-5 second head start over cars ensures that bicycle users can gain momentum safely and are offered priority in their straight movements over right turning cars.

4. The green paint in the intersection, which follows the natural path cyclists take, functions similarly to the pulled back stop line in that it creates better awareness and visibility for the potential presence of cyclists. However, it also designates space to the bicycle as a valuable and legitimate mode of transport that is different from pedestrians and motorists.

5. One of the major concerns for this intersection is the potential for right turn collisions between cars and bicycles. In order to avoid this, physical protection and appropriate signage is necessary to separate bicycles and cars from each other. An effective solution in Copenhagen can inspire Montreal with designated traffic lights for all modes and refuge islands to provide vulnerable road users a space to wait for their light. Both cars and bicycle users here have two signals: One is pulled back and allows for each user to take turns crossing each other with a protected light phase. The second signal is the ‘normal’ signal further ahead that shows bicycle users and motorists when it is their time to move through the intersection.

A protected right-turn corner in Copenhagen with two sets of signals for bicycle user safety


INTERSECTION 2: Saint Urbain Street & de Maisonneuve Boulevard

In 2016, our Copenhagenize office performed a Desire Lines Analysis here in Montreal, studying how bicycle users interact with the built environment through certain intersections. The crossing of Saint Urbain Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard was chosen as one important intersection to study, in light of it being one of the most dangerous intersections for bicycle users in the city, witnessing the highest number of collisions in 2013 and 2014. In a best-case scenario, the City of Montreal would convert two-way cycle tracks like the one here on de Maisonneuve into unidirectional paths, helping to rectify many of the conflicts we observed in our study but, again, for the sake of this exercise let’s look at constructive design solutions in the immediate.

A major source of conflict today between cars and bicycles is a result of westbound cars along de Maisonneuve Boulevard making left-hand turns onto Saint Urbain street, as shown with the red arrows in the map of the improved intersection. Bicycles are left in the turning path of cars and, in the case of bicycles heading with the flow of traffic, in the blindspot: 

1. Use bicycle-specific traffic lights to separate the movements of cars and bicycles. A bike signal gives bicycle users a few second head start, and then cars are given their own brief period at the end of the light phase for left-hand turns while bicycles are told to wait. Montreal has already added these signals to a number of other intersections that sees heavy left-turning traffic.

2. Further visual cues such as pulled back stop lines and green paint through the intersection remind everyone of each other’s presence also showing where conflict between cars and vulnerable road users might occur. It is interesting to see that bicycle users generally ignore their stop line at the intersection to push themselves up ahead of idling cars naturally:

Bicycles riders often push themselves ahead of idling cars in order to be seen and safe

3. The introduction of a bus island gives pedestrians a safe space to enter and exit the bus while bicycles pass between the bus island and the sidewalk. This way bicycle users aren’t in danger of being hooked by the bus pulling over to the bus stop and pedestrians and bicycle users are physically separated. The bus island can also function as a protected corner for right-hand turns. Montreal actually has implemented a bus island further north on Saint Urbain Street already in a few locations (as can be seen below).

One of several protected bus islands in Montreal – more should be implemented across the city to protect bicycle users.

4. Again, paint (in this case crosswalks across the cycle track) highlights potential conflict zones and reminds pedestrians and bicycle users of each other’s presence and legitimizes pedestrians crossing the intersection. In the Danish context, bicycles have the right of way and pedestrians can cross when it is safe to do so.


All of these small-scale changes can have huge impact to safety at the most probabilistically collision-prone parts of the city for vulnerable road users.

25 September 2017

Space for All on the Streets of Montreal

by Charlotte Gagnon-Ferembach

A daily reality for many vulnerable road users in Montreal

// Cliquez ici pour la version française //

Charlotte Gagnon-Ferembach has a background in urban design from the University of Québec in Montréal (UQÀM). She is currently doing an internship at the Copenhagenize Design Montreal office.

A car remains parked, on average, 95% of the time, monopolizing an incredibly important portion of urban space to the chagrin of all other road users. Even in some of the world's most sustainable cities, including Copenhagen, the personal vehicle occupies a disproportionate amount of space compared to other urban transport forms, even if a minority of residents own a vehicle and fewer use them daily. The map below shows the amount of space taken up by all parking spaces combined in 2015 in the cities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg - 3.23 km2. This is an enormous amount of space that could be transformed into parks, restaurants, gardens, living space, etc. The list of possibilities is endless.

Arrogance of Space Parking in Copenhagen

Montreal is no exception to the rule when we talk about public land being occupied by a sea of car parking. Much like many of its neighbouring North American cities, the metropolis is organized along a fairly standard rectilinear street grid, which facilitates transport by many different travel modes, but has also facilitated the expansion of car-culture over the past century, leaving a mark on the urban landscape. On top of the typical issues that arise due to the dominance of cars in our cities, a major problem is the immense amount of land that we dedicate to car parking to the detriment of other activities. This imbalance is at the forefront for many urban residents world-wide and here in Montreal, causing people to take action and reappropriate space, finding solutions to fight car-culture with design that makes daily life better for all.

PARK(ing) Day, which celebrates tactical urbanism by revitalizing parking spaces for one day, is one of these action-oriented movements that is trying to make lasting change. This last Friday, the 22nd of September, Montreal participated yet again in this event, along with 161 other cities around the world. To mark the occasion, Copenhagenize Design Co. worked in collaboration with Piétons QuébecGhost Bike MontrealFriends of Gorilla ParkThe Montreal Bike Coalition and le Conseil Régional de l’Environnement de Montréal.

The intersection of Beaubien and Saint-Urbain today

The intersection of Beaubien West and Saint-Urbain streets captured the attention of our working group, as it is centrally located in the vibrant neighbourhood of Marconi-Alexandra but suffers from design negligence for all types of users.

The intersection is heavily used by all types of users and is populated with a high number of very large transport trucks. Conflict between users will be amplified as the plot of land on the north-west corner of the intersection is given back to the community as the much-needed green Gorilla Park, and as the University of Montreal opens up their new nearby science campus. The existing design of the intersection shows the areas that create significant safety concerns and increase risks of collisions, especially for the most vulnerable of road users – on foot or bicycle.

Among other issues, one can identify that there are no safe pedestrian crossings here, an abrupt end to the Des Carrières bike path sandwiched between two high-use parking lots spilling out onto a fast-moving 4-lane Beaubien street, a lack of signals or signage and traffic calming measures, and a number of potential zones where parked cars are positioned such that bicycles are almost guaranteed to get doored. A YouTube video by Simon Van Vilet demonstrates what this feels like at rush hour.

In order to demonstrate the risk that is inherent at this and many other intersections in the city to the public, the working group decided to team up with local artist and activist Roadsworth to remove five parking spots at the intersection and create temporary painted curb-extensions and show the potential for positive change.

The plan for the intersection of Beaubien and Satin-Urbain on PARK(ing) Day

Roadsworth hard at work on his street art

The project naturally peaked the curiosity of passers-by who would stop to observe the on-going painting and engage the project team in discussion about the risks and potentials at the intersection. This hot first-day of autumn was the perfect time to kick-off discussion about the revitalization of space like this between residents and workers, local advocates and professionals who aim to turn talk to action for even just a few hours. Even with non-stop vehicular traffic, it was possible to create a more comfortable meeting space for all users to imagine the future of their city, without any real tension from car drivers.

Curious passers-by and team members hard at work behind

Beyond this day-long event, the working group has issued recommendations to the City of Montreal to redesign this space and invest in permanent, high-quality infrastructure to improve the visibility, security and quality-of-life for pedestrians and bicycle users in spots that today only sees car-parking. This proposal (as can be seen below) includes the addition of uni-directional cycle tracks on each side of Beaubien Street, a safe and expanded entrance/exit to the southbound Des Carrières bike path, clear and lasting pavement markings (in green), and safer pedestrian crossings with permanent concrete curb-extensions; all while removing just a few car parking spots (which happen to be next to two large parking lots). This overall design was informed both by best practice bicycle infrastructure principles and a local understanding of mobility patterns at this intersection today, as a means of supporting and promoting sustainable modes of transport.

A proposal for an intersection that is designed for the safety and efficiency of all users

Following yet another cyclist death last week in Montreal, the ongoing debate in the city surrounding immediate change to our street design has definitely heated up and fingers have been pointed to the new Vision Zero adopted by the City in 2016. The City has been making some strides towards safer streets for bicycles with the recent launching of it's Cycling Master Plan: Safety, Efficiency, Audacity, but its Vision Zero goals will not be met unless plans and announcements quickly translate into safe, and physically separated street facilities for vulnerable users.

Furthermore, this new public campaign to reduce road deaths is predicated on the use of the word "accident" – as can be seen in this video produced by the City to discuss their desire to aim for "zero fatal accidents". Of course, not all unforeseen instances can be prevented, but many of these collisions and deaths can be attributed to inadequate street design, infrastructure and behaviour of motorists. Like we have written in past blog posts, the term "accident" is continually mis-used in circumstances even when there is indication that a pedestrian was killed due to motorists inattention and poor design. In short, the City of Montreal, like many others in the world, has an essential role in educating the population and convincing the skeptics that our streets will inevitably have to be redesigned as we move forwards.

Questioning the allocation of space to car parking can certainly play an important part in this discussion and offer solutions to create a better use of urban space. Organizations like the American foundation Better Block are helping to move this conversation forward in the U.S. – by revitalizing un- or under-used space into meeting spaces and place for vulnerable users in order to promote good urban rehabilitation practices to the 99%.

A temporary improvement to an intersection in Ohio, USA by the foundation Better Block

Other initiatives around the world can offer inspiration to any cities looking to make important steps forward – especially the story of the redevelopment of Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen. This project began as a pilot project and became permanent in 2008. A once-car-centred street has now been permanently closed to personal vehicles and sees huge numbers of citizens being transported by bike or bus every day. Even further, the City coordinated the traffic lights for bicycle users during rush hour to  allow for a green wave when travelling at 20 km/h, after studying the typical movements of bicycles. From all of these changes, only positive results were observed: an increase in bicycle traffic, a decrease in vehicle use, more punctual bus service and happier residents who supported the project.

The pilot projet on Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen, 2008

Copenhagenize Design Co. is in the business of promoting innovative ideas that can change our intersections for the better, one at a time, and working with cities to help them establish a more human-scale to their streets, creating more life-sized cities where we can all move freely and safely.