29 April 2009

Danish Helmet Propaganda

A number of readers spotted this on the internet today. It's a fake viral film from our Danish Cyclists Federation. Slowing chipping away at Danish bike culture without worrying about facts and science. It's also funded by Aalborg County - who should be spending their money on better infrastructure an education instead of fearmongering - and the police, who should be spending their strained resources on clamping down on speeding motorists.
[our source 'Deep Throast' suggested that it was our car-centric Road Safety Council who was behind the viral film, but we've corrected that. Same family of fear-centrics, though]

It's funny and well-made. But imagine what good they could do if they used their energy to promote cycling instead of making cycling appear dangerous here in the world's safest bicycle nation. Instead, they are quite keen on selling cars.

As many readers pointed out, there is no fitting of the helmet, no instructions on how to wear it properly, no size evaluation. Looking around Copenhagen, 3/4 of the cyclists who wear helmets don't even wear them properly. It's kind of like tying a water wing around people's ankles and pushing them into the pool.

The Road Safety Council is also adept at producing viral films. This fake tv news piece, below, was popular a while back. Using humour and viral films on IMPORTANT issues.

How I yearn for the Dutch approach to selling cycling to be reimported into this Danish Culture of Fear.

28 April 2009


Here's a quaint short film from the great French director Jacques Tati, made in 1947. According to the chap who posted it on Youtube;

"L'École des Facteurs" (English: "School for Postmen") is a short film directed by Jacques Tati in 1947. Tati plays a French postman adamant to prove he can be just as fast as American postmen at delivering mail. The film includes several sight gags that involve his bicycle. He replicated most of the action here in his first major feature film, "Jour de Fête", released two years later."
Part 1 is above. Part 2 is below.

Disclaimer: Safety nannies beware! There is graphic footage of cyclists falling. Not for fragile souls.

There is some footage of female cyclists in retro Copenhagen Cycle Chic style. Typically, as seen throughout bicycle history, they are portrayed as elegant, casual creatures, while the men are hapless and corny. This was seen on bicycle brand posters and in a slough of films and art.

"Bicycle posters flatter the liberated woman and her beauty and independence compliment the product's quality. In addition, the artwork shows how easy it is for the feminine sex to handle the bicycle, just as the women pictured are a testament to the femininity that isn't lost, but rather is increased, by cycling.

"The era's modern man, in sporty outfits, also features on bike posters but he is often given the role of the unlucky cyclist with a broken chain or a puncture. More often than not he rides behind the woman, who either overtakes him or is in front of the peloton.

"At the moment the concept of the Danish Cycle Girl was created, the bike poster visualised her more convincingly than any other medium."
Lars Dybdahl in "Den danske plakat" - The Danish Poster.

27 April 2009

London Bike Share Launch

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced London's version of the Parisian Vélib' bike share programme today. Maybe they'll call it Londib'.

"I pledged to deliver a cycling revolution across the city, and there is now a growing excitement about our cycle hire scheme, which will give all Londoners the opportunity to hop on a bike and experience the joys of cycling," said Johnson.

"Much like hailing a cab, people will be able to pick up one of 6,000 bikes, and zip around town to their heart's content – not only a quick, easy, and healthy option, but one that will also make London a more liveable city."

Here's an article about it from today's Guardian.

I follow Boris on Twitter. Not that exciting, but I'll never forget this tweet: "Got told off for riding a bike inside city hall. Sorry security!"

Whatever you may think of Boris, a mayor that rides a bike - naughtily - inside city hall can't be all that bad.

And then there's this quote: "I have long held the view that a cyclised city is a civilised city, but if we are to get more Londoners on to two wheels rather than four we need to provide the facilities to help them do so," says Boris Johnson. Lord Mayor of London.

25 April 2009

Probably the Most Sensible Use of a Cargo Bike in History

Kongens Have
So. There you are. Hanging out on the grass in the King's Gardens smack dab in the centre of Copenhagen. A popular hangout for Copenhageners since the beginning of the 18th Century [although there were considerably fewer topless girls in 1709 than there are in 2009]. The sun is shining bright and you're there with your friends. The beers are A. running out and B. getting warmer. The mood is festive and the evening beckons.

What to do. What to do. At some point you need to make a move into town for A. something to eat and B. more alcohol, but it's just not yet. The mood is perfect.

You, like 95% of the nation, are equipped with a mobile phone. You write an SMS [text message] that reads:
2x1L.Frozen Mojito
You send the text to a number.
Sensible Cargo Bike Usage
At an arranged time [12:00, 15:00 and 17:00] this Bullitt from Larry vs. Harry shows up at the corner entrance to the King's Gardens. You collect your two litres of Frozen Mojitos and your 2 litres of Daiquiris, pay the man with your credit card and head back to your friends.

Ah, bicycle culture.

Caribbian is a bar in Copenhagen that also has this great Drink Away service. Nothing's more irritating than somebody having to head off for beers or wine. Let the party come to you. They have a regular service for the King's Gardens but they also deliver wherever you may be, using this Bullitt. Speed is paramount when keeping a party alive.

Despite the usage of the Comic Sans font on the box [we are actually many who wish to see this font die] the Drink Away service is perfect for the Copenhagen summer. I've learned that the bike will soon be equipped with DJ gear so after the drinks arrive, the music kicks in.

23 April 2009

Grocery Delivery By Bicycle

Thanks to a reader, Simon, for this little story. Waitrose is a supermarket chain in Britain, founded in 1904. They have about 200 stores in the UK and they have a well-developed delivery service if you buy your groceries online.

It turns out that they're starting [or rather, re-starting, since this used to be normal] delivering groceries by bicycle. Nice. They're not really shouting out about the fact on their website, but maybe it's early days.

Can our readers in Britain tell us if Waitrose are ahead of the pack regarding something like bicycle racks outside their shops? Considering the fact that cyclists make better shoppers, this might be a way forward if they're keen on CSR.

Now delivering groceries by bicycle is hardly new. Many places around the world feature this service.

Here's a news clip from Swiss tv about a service in Lausanne, featuring a Bullitt from Larry vs Harry.

It's in French, but pictures tell stories, too.

Irish Sense

A shiny new document has seen the light of day in Ireland.

A National Cycle Policy Framework for 2009-2020. The backdrop to this policy is the Government’s new transport policy for Ireland "2009 - 2020 Smarter Travel - A Sustainable Transport Future".

It seems to be quite a progressive policy. Interestingly, they used many photos from what appears to be the Netherlands. Surely trying to emulate what is possible for Ireland.

I particularly love the passage on page 32:

"There must be a clear message that cycling is a readily accessible form of transport, not requiring unnecessary encumbrances such as specialised cycling attire."

The document admits cycling has an image problem in Ireland and it's great they included a sentence like this. Normalising cycling as a transport option is the goal.

Some of the main points include:
- Move 160,000 people a day to work by bike; an increase of 125,000 people.
- Increase cycling’s share of the total travel market, from 2% to 10%.
- Investment of €3 million in refurbishment of key cycle routes in Dublin City.
- Improved maintenance of road surfaces used by cyclists.
- Allowing bicycles on city trains and trams, and trial US-like buses racks.
- Provision of municipally-run public bike schemes in cities over 100,000 population"
- Support for provision of secure parking for bikes in appropriate locations, including public spaces, public transport stations etc.
- A new approach to the design of urban roads to better recognise the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

You can download the .pdf right here, right now.

Well done, Emerald Isle. Well done. Now do it.

Thanks to Cian and Shane, et al. for the heads up.

22 April 2009

Svajerløb 2009 - Danish Cargo Bike Championships

What a lovely day. The first 'svajer' race in almost 50 years took place last Saturday - April 18th - in Copenhagen.

'Svajere' - as we blogged about previously - were the bike messengers that ruled the streets of Copenhagen for decades in the first half of the 20th century, riding their huge box bikes and livening up the streets with singing, whistling and banter.
Svajerløb 2009: Longjohn
This year, the Svajer race was revived - aka The Danish Cargo Bike Championships.

It was a fantastic day out on Israels plads. In the video above, my son [aged 7] shot the shaky video and I supplied the stills. The first song is a 1930's tribute to these 'svajere' - asphalt cowboys, they were called - and the second song is from the 1970's where Povl Kjeller sings about how happy he is about his bike.

'I like my bike / it takes me far and wide / easy and fast / and it doesn't pollute like those other oil bastards [cars]'

Anyway, the Danish Cargo Bike Championships was a festive affair in bright spring sunshine. I don't think I've ever seen so many cargo bikes gathered in one place. The course was set up around the square with a fine mix of smooth straights and cobblestoned corners.
Svajerløb 2009: Belinky
There was a race for three-wheelers, with Leif Harup on a Kangaroo taking the gold medal and the three-wheeled glory. Then there was several heats for two-wheelers and Thorsten Rentel beat Hans Fogh by a spoke in the final. In both disciplines the riders rode first without cargo and then had to put three tyres on the bikes to finish.
Svajerløb 2009: Harry
There were many Bullitts from Larry vs. Harry, a good number of Dutch Bakfiets and quite a few Belinkys. Add to that Christiania Bikes, Longjohns, Short Johns and the aforementioned Kangaroo. Baisikeli was present with one of their ambulance bikes from their African workshops.
Svajerløb 2009: Victory for Africa
The relay race was a treat, with teams of four sharing a bike first without and then with a tyre on board. Here it wasn't just speed demons taking part. Girls in skirts, friends, collegues, you name it. All enjoying the race. It was Team Bullitt from Larry vs. Harry that took gold, however.
Svajerløb 2009: Cycle Chic Racing Style
The newly formed Copenhagen Bicycle Police Unit were supposed to show up and race against bike messengers on fixies but they backed out at the last minute. Chicken shits. I'm figuring that they were afraid of losing so soon after their debut on the streets. And they would have lost as the fixie boys were bloody fast. They beat an All-Star team on Bullitts in the final race.
Svajerløb 2009: Cornering Svajerløb 2009: No Pain No Gain

The course was quite cool. The faster bikes easily hit 40 km/h on the stretches without cargo and the tight cobblestone corners would do Paris-Roubaix proud. In the breaks between races Copenhageners on cargo bikes tried out the course with their kids.
Svajerløb 2009: Families
Not only did the Police let the race down, but the Danish Cyclists Federation [DCF] didn't fancy participating either. Unbelievable. The finish line was almost right outside their offices and shop but they didn't want to be involved with the race and I heard that they declined even writing about the race in their membership magazine. "We did a piece on recumbents a while back, so no thanks." Recumbents are not cargo bikes, as far as I'm aware. And these 'svajer' races are a historical event. The people who arranged the race were quite shocked that the DCF didn't want to know.

But then again, who needs a dusty old cyclist federation living in the past and married to the car-centric Road Safety Council when you have.... Copenhageners. Regular citizens showing up to race or to watch and to see the revival of these historic races. Not to mention passionate people arranging the whole day, including Firmacyklen.dk, Larry vs. Harry and a cycling club Amagerringen who manned the barbeque and helped out big time and the City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Office.
Svajerløb 2009: Relay Race Start
The date is set for 2010 - April 10th. Mark it in your calendar. It's going to be bigger and better.

Addendum: Danes don't have a patent on these historical races. Here's a great website highlight the history in other countries of cargo bike races. Great reading.
Svajerløb 2009: The Final
You can see all my photos from the day over in this set on Flickr.

21 April 2009

Break a Car, Borrow a Bicycle

Bikes on Loan
A harmonious little traffic marriage. A car dealership in Helsingør - a town north of Copenhagen - offers its customers a bicycle when their car is in the shop for repairs, instead of the usual borrowed car.


18 April 2009

City of Cyclists

At long last. The music video I made for the City of Copenhagen is now finished. It's a promotional video aimed at highlighting how the bicycle is an integrated part of this city's urban fabric and the many ways that the citizens use the bicycle.

I filmed throughout August 2009 and a few times during the winter, when it snowed.

It's a great thrill to finally get it online. I showed the film at a bicycle conference hosted by the Danish Embassy in Riga a couple of days ago - the world premiere as it were - but here is the video, finally online.


14 April 2009

Putting a Price on Bicycle Helmet Laws (You Can't Afford It)

One of our readers here at Copenhagenize is Piet de Jong, Professor of Actuarial Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney.

He dropped me a line last month when he published a mathematical health benefit model that puts a price on helmet laws and we're pleased to include it here. Evaluating the Health Benefit of Bicycle Helmet Laws.

His work suggests that Australia's all-ages bicycle helmet laws incur a health cost to the nation of more than a half a billion dollars [AUD] every year. In other words, there is now evidence that bicycle helmet laws have a direct, negative impact on Australian health costs. They amount to $301 million a year and a total cost of $519 million when combined with the non-health costs of the law.

The model's mathematical formula uses various inputs, including the exercise benefits of cycling, head injury percentages and reductions in cycling popularity due to helmet laws.

Professor de Jong has a spreadsheet with which his formula can be calculated using inputs from other regions. It's available online and if you know the stats for your country, you can do your own calculations.

He has further calculated that if America adopted nationwide helmet laws like those in Australia, the USA would suffer a health cost of $4.75 billion every year.

In Great Britain, nationwide all-age helmet laws would result in a health cost of $400 million per year and the Netherlands would be incredibly hard hit and suffer a $1.9 billion annual loss.

Here's the abstract for the paper:

A model is developed which permits the quantitative evaluation of the benefit of bicycle helmet laws. The efficacy of the law is evaluated in terms of the percentage drop in bicycling, the percentage increase in the cost of an accident when not wearing a helmet, and a quantity here called the "bicycling beta." The approach balances the health benefits of increased safety against the health costs due to decreased cycling.

Using estimates suggested in the literature of the health benefits of cycling, accident rates and reductions in cycling, suggest helmets laws are counterproductive in terms of net health. The model serves to focus the bicycle helmet law debate on overall health as function of key parameters: cycle use, accident rates, helmet protection rates, exercise and environmental benefits.

Empirical estimates using US data suggests the strictly health impact of a US wide helmet law would cost around \$5 billion per annum. In the UK and The Netherlands the net health costs are estimated to be \$0.4 and \$1.9 billion, respectively.

Here's the link to the paper.

Let's hope certain Danish politicians are listening.

Via: Prof. Piet de Jong and also www.cycle-helmets.com in Australia.

12 April 2009

Complication and Simplicity

Overcomplicating a simple issue.
William sent us this the other day. The Science and Fear of Repairing a Tube.
"Thought this would amuse you. Lord help anyone trying to mend a puncture from these instructions, from a Blackspur puncture repair kit."

William added this piece from an article, asking the question: "Haven't they heard of bicycles?!"

General Motors Corp. is teaming with Segway Inc., maker of the upright, self-balancing scooters, to build a new type of two-wheeled vehicle designed to move easily through congested urban streets. The machine, which GM says it aims to develop by 2012, would run on batteries and use wireless technology to avoid traffic backups and navigate cities.

Funny... I've been moving easily through congested urban streets for years, in cities all around the world, on a bicycle. And by the looks of that machine, I'll stick to my bicycle. Although fat, lazy people will probably love it.

Simplicity. The cover of a Danish childrens book from 1968. Lars Peter's Bicycle.

"On his 6th birthday, Lars Peter gets a new bicycle. On the very same day he meets different people who tell him about the history of the bicycle - and he also learns to ride his own."

Wonderful. The fearmongerers begone.

08 April 2009

Copenhagenize at Velocity 2009 in Brussels

Copenhagenize.com is pleased to be attending the 15th Velo-City Conference in Brussels this year. If any of our readers are attending, do let me know.

You'll be able to find me at the City of Copenhagen stand at the conference where we'll be 'sharing space'.

So if you're up for a chat with an independent Danish bicycle advocacy org with a focus on promoting cycling positively [it's a lonely job, but someone has to do it in Denmark] then come on by.

The conference runs from May 12-15, 2009.

From the Velo-city website:
Velo-city is the world's largest conference devoted to cycling. Cycling is a good, healthy, quick and environmentally-friendly means of transport and the meetings being held during the Velo-city conference will promote cycling as both a fun and functional means of getting around.

It's hosted by the European Cyclists Federation [ECF]. Copenhagen will host a Velo-city Global Conference in 2010.

Promoting Cycling Positively in Holland

Let it be no secret that the Dutch are world class promoters of cycling. Not only the Fietsersbond - the Dutch cycling federation - but also cities and towns are constantly promoting cycling as a way of life and a feasible, acceptable form of transport.

They do so even though the country enjoys a massive number of daily cyclists. They still produce campaigns that encourage people to cycle. It's much like producing campaigns showing the benefits of snow and ice for the Inuit populations in Canada and Greenland.

I never cease to be amazed at how the Dutch do it or the fact that they keep on doing it. And all without fear-mongering, overcomplicating a simple issue or finger-wagging.

Here in Denmark, our car-centric Road Safety Council dominates the fear market. In Holland they are selling public health, societal values and everything good about cycling.

The national Fietsberaad, or Bicycle Council, has produced a pdf document about the variety of pro-cycling campaigns in the country. It's in Dutch, but copy-pasting text into Google Translate enlightens us. There are links in the document to the various websites in question, too.

The goal of the document is highlighted in the foreward:

How can the tools of commercial marketing translate to cycling? That question is central to the project MET cycling that Fietsberaad launched in 2008. Although marketing is about much more than just advertising - communication and promotion play an important role.

The experience with communication and promotional campaigns in the Netherlands cycling is limited. Usually these are modest campaigns with limited resources. Yet these experiences can also inspire new ideas. Moreover, we need to keep reinventing the wheel to find out. Therefore, the Fietsberaad to XTNT Experts in Traffic and Transport commissioned to make a survey of bicycle campaigns in the recent past. The result is this publication.

Modest campaigns. Limited resources. Sounds like issues in most urban centres. And yet the results are positive and the message is clear. Inspiration for any town or city.

Read the document here.

06 April 2009

Parliamentary, My Dear Watson

Parliamentary, My Dear Watson
We've been discussing how the Danish press at large has completely and utterly let down the Danish national tradition of cycling by engaging in a bloodthirsty orgy of violence and danger over the past year.

That doesn't mean that cycling doesn't get mentioned in other contexts. For example, the editor of the debate section of one of our national newspapers, Politiken, used over 600 words in a rant about the new bicycle racks outside of the national parliament.

Which is cool. It shows that cycling hasn't disappeared from the public consciousness. The chap described how he was riding past the entrance of the Parliament - Christiansborg - and he was forced to stop up at the sight of the new bike racks.

He doesn't like them and he compared them to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. He was really quite irate in an amusing way.

He thinks that these concrete blocks are ridiculous and don't fit in with the architecture of the Parliament. He would prefer to see the old copper bike racks back in place. Over 600 words about bicycle racks. Oh so Copenhagen.

I hadn't passed by the Parliament for a while so I popped in to see what he was on about. I met a woman parking her bike there and I engaged in her a chat about the bike racks. She seemed to like them. The most important thing for her was that there had been parking congestion outside the Parliament and it seemed to be fixed now, with these new racks.

Many MPs ride their bicycles to work. I often overtake the leader of one of the political parties on her Christiania cargo bike in the mornings, on her way to drop her kids off at kindergarten or school.

I don't seem to think that the new bike racks are an eyesore. Mixing old architecture with new is always tricky, but many examples in Copenhagen seem to work. These bike racks are solid and trustworthy and functional, much like our democracy.

Nevermind that half the bikes were just supported on their kickstands and not even occupying a slot in the stone.

05 April 2009

Strangely Positive Article on Cycling in Denmark

Now I've been keeping an eye on the Danish press over the past year or so. I always make a mental note of any article about cycling and several friends are good enough to send me or mail me articles on the subject.

It was strange to read this article from Søndagsavisen - a free, national newspaper that everyone gets through their letterbox whether they like it or not. It was strange because I had to read it twice to realise that it was completely positive. No fear-mongering, no 'oooh it's dangerous', no helmet rhetoric. Just a positive article about cycling. I'll buy the journalist a beer if I ever meet them.

The Danish media has engaged in one big blood orgy over the past year or more, focusing on anything and everything negative. For example, this post earlier this week. This article above is a ray of sunshine.

It's about Bech-Bruun, Denmark's largest law firm. I translated it roughly and briefly.

Barristers on Iron Horses [Danish slang for the bicycle]
The employees at Bech-Bruun are crazy about cycling to work. The number of sick days has plummeted and morale is soaring.

Many companies fight a daily battle to reduce the number of sick days. The employees at Bech-Bruun, Denmark's largest law film have literally sprinted away from illness.

[...] For example the company signed up many teams for the national We Cycle to Work campaign and different teams within the company compete, which is perfect for the kind of work we do, says Merete Honoré, head of HR and Communications.

The number of sick days has plummeted and morale is high. Cycling to work has created a strong sense of solidarity in the company and it rubs off on our passion for our work.

The company's barristers work at both the City Courts and the Supreme Court but don't expect to see suits flying away to important cases on racer bicycles. It's a bit impractial to ride with ten thick binders but we have also bought bikes our employees can borrow so they can easily go to meetings on a bike, says Merete Honoré.

The company's effort for better health and morale flows strong throughout the company. There is a new fitness room, healthy food on the menu in the cafeteria and the company offers voluntary fitness checks. The newest addition is a bike workshop.

We constantly work at keeping the whole show on the road, says Merete Honoré.

Via: Søndagsavisen.

Send lawyers, bikes and money
Okay, it is actually possible to ride to and from the courts with SOME documents, as these two barristers are doing.
Lawyer's Bike
Here's a company bike from another Copenhagen law firm, parked outside the city courts.

Let's hope that the Danish press will wake up and smell the bicycle culture and start promoting cycling for what it is: safe, healthy, convenient, quick and enjoyable.

04 April 2009

Scaring the 'Skit' Out of the Swedes

A Swedish reader of Copenhagenize.com sent in this photo of a billboard in Stockholm. It is paid for by a non-governmental organisation called Nationalförenigen för trafiksäkerhetens Främjande [NTF] or The National Society for Road Safety.

There is no mandatory helmet law in Sweden for adults but these NTF seem to think there should be one. The billboard reads:
"A helmet law protects in more ways than one"

Notice the bird shit on the helmet. You know you don't have a solid scientific case when bird shit is your best Unique Selling Point.

Anyway, our reader doesn't fancy seeing fewer Swedes cycling - which is one of the primary consequences of a helmet law. A drop of 20-40% in the number of cyclists, which has been the decrease in all the regions with mandatory helmet laws, would be a catastrophe for Sweden.

Our reader took the liberty to inform people of the dangers of a helmet law. The grafitti underneath the message "A helmet law protects in more ways than one..." is his work and it reads, quite simply:

"Fewer choose the bicycle."

Wonderful when grafitti is married to rationality and common sense. A little bit of activism is more than welcome.

Our reader asked me if I could come up with other slogans to add to the billboards. He's spraypainted "Fewer Choose the Bicycle" on all the billboards in his area but is keen to finetune the message.

Any great ideas out there among our helmet sceptical readers?

Regarding this NTF organisation, their website is textbook fear-mongering. They link to two pro-helmet websites but not to any of the many helmet-sceptic websites out there.

The Swedish people, like any people, deserve to be presented with both sides of the case if they are to make up their own minds. Refusing to highlight the many scientific studies that feature helmet-sceptic research is just wrong.

Why is it so difficult to at the very least show both sides of the coin instead of insulting your citizens' intelligence by trying to make up their minds for them? When you only show one side of the issue and pretend the other side doesn't exist, it is propaganda. Nothing more, nothing less.

While people like the NTF are doing what they can to promote helmets and reduce Swedish cycling levels, there are, fortunately, many orgs in Europe that are doing what they can to promote cycling positively. Thankfully.

I couldn't find any reference on the NTF website to promotion of helmets for pedestrians or motorists. Must be a mistake.

Here's an idea a friend of mine came up with. 'In many countries there are Advertising Standards groups that promote decent, honest and truthful advertising.
There must be a Swedish equivalent.'

'It would be interesting if a Swede challenged this campaign on the grounds that the helmet is being presented as a road safety aid. It would be good to see how they defend the idea that cycle helmets, designed for simple falls, might be effective in road collisions.'

Interesting indeed.

03 April 2009

Copenhagen Police Bicycle Unit

As strange as it may sound, Copenhagen just got a police bicycle unit last week. Why we haven't had one before is beyond me. There was a media frenzy about it and the 8 officers paraded about town in the sunshine, showing themselves off.

Many other cities in Europe have had bike units for ages and ages, so it it about time that we joined the crowd.

My mate Theis saw them and snapped these photos. The cyclist above ran a red light. Boy, did he pick a bad day to do that. Two of the cops, including the blonde, set out after him and pulled him over.

They didn't give him a ticket - you can't hand out tickets on your first day for heaven's sake, that's just not cricket - but instead let him off with a smile.

The photo reminds me of a passage in a travel writing book by Bill Bryson called Neither Here Nor There, where he travels through Europe. He loved Copenhagen, and was convinced that we send our elderly and ugly people away during the summer. On the City Hall Square he saw some rowdy, drunk teens get apprehended by the police, including a sweet, blonde officer. He went over and asked the cop what would happen to the kids.

She said they'd take them to the station and call their parents, who would take care of it. "We were all young once", she added with a smile. That left an impression on Bill Bryson.

It'll be cool to see the bicycle cops - cykelstrisser - on the streets this summer. At time of going to press, there was no word on whether the beat cops and those driving in cars would ALSO be required to wear helmets, but that would be logical considering the risk of head injury for pedestrians and motorists.

Of course, of course, in Holland, where common sense prevails, the police on bicycles look a bit different. Thanks to Marc from Amsterdamize.

The bicycle cops here in Copenhagen will patrol in the city centre and the Vesterbro neighbourhood for a year, after which there will be a review to decide if they will continue.

Copenhagenizing .citycycling

City Cycling in Style
Met up with Anthony from .citycycling last weekend. He was visiting Copenhagen with his one true love, Mel. We three had a few beers and a long, passionate chat about Copenhagenizing and promoting cycling positively.

Anthony and Mel are from Edinburgh. The similarities between Scotland and Denmark are interesting. We've both got about 5 million people. We're roughly the same size [I'm not including Greenland here... don't want to make the Scots insecure...], we have basically the same crappy winter weather and a sub-standard football league dominated by two incredibly overrated clubs.

The difference is that we have 18% of our citizens riding each day. Scotland is at about 1%. Denmark can be a real source of inspiration for Scotland because of the similarities.

Anyway, have a look at this month's edition of .citycycling, which Anthony publishes online. There is a great article called Copenhagen Cycle Chat.

Last year me and Copenhagenize.com met up with over 100 visitors from all over the world here in Copenhagen. From Japan to Portland, from Melbourne to Chicago. More often than not, we went for a bike ride around the city to see the highlights of our bicycle culture.

It's great to hook up with likeminded individuals. Let me know if you're coming and, if you know of a delegation heading my way, I'll take good care of them. A bike ride, a lecture about what we've done and where we going with our bicycle culture.

02 April 2009

You're Safer Than Ever in Danish Traffic

Copenhagen Cyclists
I was sent a link to a paper from the Technical University of Denmark's Dept of Transport. The paper was published in November 2008 and I was surprised I didn't see it. I was less surprised to realise that this paper was not covered in the press here in Denmark.

The media, egged on by various organisations, has revelled in an orgy of violence over the past year. The main headlines on the news have been a constant stream of horror and destruction. It isn't suprising that a headline like this - Safety in Traffic Continues to Improve - doesn't fit in well with the bloodthirsty angle the Danish media has promoted of late.

The paper from DTU Transport [available here in Danish as a pdf]shows that the risk rate in traffic fell between 2000-2007 for all users except for scooter riders. And this fall is a continuation of the fall measured between 1992-1999.

Improving risk rates for cyclists between the ages of 16-74 between 2000-2007.

Good news. Great news. Did it get into the headlines so citizens could be reassured? Nope. Positive messages don't sell, apparently.

What an irritating paper if you're one of the organisations who aim to market helmets, too. Since the 1960's there has been a constant, reassuring improvement in cycling safety and, as the paper suggests, it continues to get getter. Getting this message out will encourage more people to cycle. Period.

I've spoken to the parents of my son's classmates and many of them express an opinion that cycling has gotten more dangerous since they were children. One woman even asked if any other parents 'dared' ride with their kids to school.

That question amazed me. We almost all live within walking distance of the school and she hesitates to cycle with her kid. And demographically speaking, these are all highly-educated people with good jobs.

All of these parents are, as a rule, quite stunned to hear me tell them that it has never been safer to cycle in Denmark. That the chances of getting in an accident are vastly slimmer than when we were young. Especially with a fantastic network of bike lanes that take you anywhere you want to go.

They are amazed to hear this simple fact because of a negative tendency in Denmark to focus on the danger, even when there isn't any. The organisations that promote this fear-mongering are picking away at our bicycle culture. They are succeeding to a great degree when you hear parents express such fears.

Who is there in Denmark to promote cycling as something positive? Something healthy, safe and good for society? Where are these organisations? Do we have to get the Dutch Fietsersbond or the British CTC or the German/French/Belgian cyclists orgs to set up offices here and do the work for us?

As mentioned previously, we had a similar period of fearmongering back in the early 1990's and the result was that parents stopped cycling with their kids to school, driving them instead. We bucked the trend here in Copenhagen, but now we're starting all over again.

We need focus on how safe cycling is, how healthy it is and we need to reinstate a sense of pride among the citizens of this country about how we are a world-leader with regards to cycling.

Addendum: I posted back in February about how the Bicycle is Booming - Just Not in Denmark. I mentioned that the bicycle retailers' organisation estimated that bike sales would be down 5% for 2007. The number ended up being 7% down. Thanks, Road Safety Council! Have a nice drive to work!

01 April 2009

Subconscious Democracy and Desire

Subconscious Democracy and Desire
ADDENDUM: This Desire Line has now been made permanent!

What we have here is a Desire Line. I walked around the corner last week and saw it freshly painted on the sidewalk. Right at the intersection between the nation's busiest bike street, Nørrebrogade, and the street along The Lakes.

Most cyclists will head straight on here, towards the city centre, but many others ride up onto the sidewalk to get to the next street over. They always have. Now, technically, this "sidewalkin'" is illegal but when you have a few thousand people doing it each day you have two options. You can stand there and issue fines until you're blue in the face or you can do what the City of Copenhagen does: respect the peoples' Desire Line - as decided by subconscious democratic consensus - and turn it into a bike lane.

The phrase Desire Line, or Desire Path, was coined by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his book The Poetics of Space, from 1958. It describes the human tendency of carving a path between two points. You see them everywhere. Urban planners in, say, a park construct pathways and then a trodden-down path is formed through the grass. This is the route that the users subconsciously desire to walk. It is almost impossible to plan pathways. The people will ulimately decide. I've read that urban planners in some cities visit their parks after it snows, in order to see clearly where people desire to walk.

M Bachelard gave it a lovely name, but the streets of most old cities follow the ancient desire lines beaten by people and livestock.

I think it lovely that the City of Copenhagen respects these human desires and adjusts the infrastructure to follow our desires.

Minor Adjustment
This Desire Line heads from the corner, as above, and along the sidewalk, past that pedestrian interrupting my infrastructure photo, and over to the next street.

A Slow Bicycle Race - Copenhagenize vs Amsterdamize

Slow Bicycle Race - Copenhagenize vs Amsterdamize from Colville Andersen on Vimeo.

My mate Marc, from Amsterdamize.com, visited Copenhagen late last year and apart from riding about and seeing the city, I challenged him to the World's First Copenhagen Invitational Slow Bicycle Race at the Slowodrome on the Harbour.

We have a good laugh.

Slow Bicycle races are nothing new. They've been around since the bicycle was invented and featured prominently at country fairs around Denmark and Europe. Europe includes Britain, by the way.

Anyway, 1-0 to CPH. Here's Marc's post about the same legendary event.

And remember, there's still room for more in the Slow Bicycle Movement Facebook group.