05 December 2009

Copenhagen Bicycle History Exhibition at City Museum

Copenhagen Bicycle Traffic in Rush Hour
Postcard from 1950's entitled "Bicycle Traffic in Rush Hour"

About a year ago I proposed to Copenhagen's City Museum that they whip together an exhibition about Copenhagen's bicycle culture history. What with all the international activity in the city this year and the global focus on the bicycle. At first they replied that they had a host of other exhibitions planned. Needless to say, I was thrilled when they got back to me that an exhibition was, in fact, scheduled and that we could collaborate.

Copenhagen by Bicycle / På cykel i København is the name of the exhibition and it opened a couple of weeks ago. To my dismay I was stricken with 'that' influenza and couldn't make it to the opening. I had so been looking forward to it, not least because I have many photos in the exhibition, but also because it is brilliant that the history of the bicycle in Copenhagen is now placed on a proud, historical pedestal. Where it rightly belongs.

Copenhagen - Dronning Louises Bridge 1930s
Copenhagen Rush Hour on Dronning Louise's Bridge - 1930's
The City Museum is a cosy affair and I have a sentimental attachment to the place. I've been there countless times and return often with my son so it's perfect that this museum is hosting the exhibition.

There's a little something for everyone. From a rare and original Dursley Pedersen made of wood to a Mad Max bike wars bicycle and everything inbetween.

I have a number of photos of my social documentary series about Copenhagen's bicycle culture but one of the interesting gigs was being given a number of historical photos and then going out to find the same location and the same framing and taking a photo of the location as it looks today. A real nerdy photographer gig. Loved it.

Cyclist Demonstration on City Hall Square 1970s - Copenhagen
Here's a photo from a cyclist demonstration on City Hall Square in the 1970's. Demonstrating for separated infrastructure and more focus on bicycles in the traffic equation. The 1970's were a turning point for everyday cycling in Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular. The oil crisis helped spawn a real grassroots movement that returned the bicycle to the urban landscape after a decade or so of intense decline.

These demonstrations featured thousands and thousands of citizens on bicycles. They were peaceful but noisy. It was regular citizens demonstrating, not sub-cultures, so the effect was enormous and far-reaching. Just look at our streets today. Critical Mass can learn a lot from the Copenhagen experience in the 1970's.

Copenhagen Vintage Traffic

The exhibition at the Copenhagen City Museum / Københavns Bymuseum runs from now until June 27, 2010, in order to coincide with the Velo-City Global Bicycle Conference.

The Museum is located at Vesterbrogade 59, a short walk from the Central Station.
Entry costs 20 kroner.
There's loads to see apart from the bicycle exhibition.
Opening Hours
Daily 10:00 - 16:00
Wednesday 10:00 - 21:00
Find the museum on Google Maps.


Green Idea Factory said...

At the beginning of those 1970s protests, what percentage of Copenhagen commuters or students used bikes(if in non-ideal conditions)?

Mikael said...

There are no reliable stats from the 70's. we know that number of km ridden by bike has increased, in copenhagen, by 50% between 1990 and 2008.

the city didn't really record stats until the 90's.

i'll guess that in the early seventies, before the oil crisis, we were in single digits.

Green Idea Factory said...

Hmm... okay, well in that photo from the 1970's it seems that there are lots of cyclists... PLUS there was a history of high bike modal share in the city.

What I am getting at is that it seems to me that the starting point for Copenhagen then and many cities, e.g. San Francisco, in the 1990's or Prague in the 2000's, is different, and the cultures are different and so to say that Critical Mass is a bad tactic (e.g. because of it being full of "sub-cultures" - to use your words)is not really relevant.

Many of the people in CM rides in S.F. ARE totally normal looking and dressed normally, and the same goes for Prague, but in most places for similar and different reasons you will be called a lycra nazi even if you have never touched the stuff or a wingnut for bringing your kid along.

Waking up an old activity - dusting off an old city bike - is different than getting your first bike since childhood and since you got your driver's license. It's different than what it's like in a country 12 years after revolution.

So, Copenhagen went from the single digits to in the mid-thirties (I assume we are looking at the same group) in thirty years... at what point did the local authority come in and really start investing (when I first visited in 1986 there seemed to be a lot more cycling that happens now in S.F.)

It seems that sometimes you veer too much into Copenhagen being a model, rather than an inspiration.

Sigrid said...

I am really happy for you that you got this idea off the ground and only wish I could be there to see it. Well done! Love the old pictures, and love the new ones too. ☺ Now that your health has returned, maybe you can have a 'closing' party so you can celebrate in the midst of Summer.

Mikael said...

That was a demonstration, not a bunch of cylists on their way home from work... :-)

Regarding Copenhagen as a model or an inspiration, interesting point.

What I hear when guests to the city visits and we go for bike rides to see our infrastructure is that when they're in Copenhagen they can see their own city reflected in ours. The layout is much similar to North American, et al, cites. A city centre surrouned by broad boulevards and Europe's 3rd largest urban sprawl.

That's what makes Copenhagen a model as well as an inspiration. How we got here may be different, but where we're all going is the same. Different gears, same destination.