24 March 2009

Visions of the Past and the Future

This is where we are headed. This is what we're all about.
This film from Barcelona in 1908 shows the bicycle as an integrated, acceptable form of transport in a major city.

It is pure sustainable mobility and it's scenes like this that we bang on about here on Copenhagenize.com. This is why we coined the phrase Bicycle Culture 2.0.

The bicycle is not some newfangled invention, as we all know. Nor is the concept of the bicycle featuring prominently in cities around the world. The bicycle has been an integral part of urban life for decades. Regular people on regular bicycles in regular clothes.

Archive footage like the Barcelona film above is proof of what is possible. It is a filmic testament to where we are headed. It has happened by and large in Copenhagen and many other European and Japanese cities. It can happen anywhere.

Sure, there are detractors. Doubters. But the historical proof is hard to deny.

The Topography Whiners:
We often hear people in hilly places say that, "yes, but we live in a hilly place". As though this is a living testament to the fact that cycling is difficult. Sorry, but that argument is quite ridiculous. In your hilly place people were riding bicycles long before you were born in your hilly place. On heavy, black bicycles with few or no gears. Get over it.

When you consider the fact that so many hilly cities in Europe have a high level of bicycle usage, this particular whine gets boring.

The Adverse Weather Whiners:
"We have adverse weather", is another classic remark. Sorry, but the people who lived in your city back in the day had adverse weather, too. They managed without whining. On the same upright bicycles mentioned above.

Sure, there were fewer cars back then. Certainly in 1908. Car culture was in it's infancy. Sure, it's tough with all the cars in many urban centres. But like we've mentioned before, in America 50% of Americans live within 8 km of their workplace. The same stat applies to most countries. Then there's the shops or post office which are generally accessible by bicycle so if you have to drive to work, you can always use the bicycle for other errands.

While being able to use your bicycle for everything would be optimal, there are ways to start the wave until bike lanes are built and car culture is reduced.

The Urban Sprawl Whiners:
We often hear people go on about the urban sprawl and about how distances are great. Sure, even here in Copenhagen there are many people who live too far out in the suburbs to ride their bicycle. Many of them ride to the train station and head into the city by train. However, urban centres around the world still have a great deal of people living within bicycling distance of where they need to go.

Like Berlin or Paris, a focus on short trips is a great point of departure. Increasing intra-neighbourhood trips made by bicycle is a wise strategy and one that encourages potential urban cyclists to ride a bicycle on trips that they otherwise would use a car for.

Whining is counter-productive. Making excuses doesn't help cycling.

Let's try to focus on what is possible. Not least because the bicycle used to be an acceptable form of transport - proven and tested by your family members only a few generations ago - and it can become so once again.

If anyone has any archive footage of other cities, do let us know.


anna said...

Very true indeed.

yipwt said...

so true...here in Malaysia, we have very hot and humid wheather, which is why most won't cycle.

I am making my part by cycling almost everywhere.

Car culture here is 99% high.

Peter said...

the video reminds me of one shot on Market Street in San Francisco in 1905. the film director/producer apparently paid people to ride, run, and drive near/by/in front of/alongside the trolley as it made its way down the tracks.


still - i agree that that excusemaking is old. just ride your bike. :)

Anonymous said...

That video left me with a big smile on my face and a heart full of hope for what is possible. And we know it IS possible, because it has existed before – and there's no reason something similar or even better can't come into being again. All it takes is the will of enough people to make it happen! Thanks for a great post.

Anonymous said...

It definitely is possible in a lot of places, but some places actively discourage it. Take Perth, West Australia for example. Can't take your bike on the train with you during certain hours of the day. Buses don't allow bikes to get on either, meaning my old 25km commute to work over hilly terrain must be done through one's own power. Combine this with terrible bike lanes (broken glass everywhere, poorly maintained, etc) and biking down certain roads being forbidden, biking to work was not feasible in a lot of places. Good luck finding somewhere to lock your bike up to where it will still be there when you get back as well - every single one of the inverted U bar bicycle locks in the city can be lifted out of the ground by a sufficiently strong person (e.g. me).

Maybe in 20 years time it will be feasible. Fingers crossed.