19 January 2012

Vintage Enlightenment and Despair

Vintage Copenhagen - HC Andersens Blvd 1904
What a lovely shot. Copenhagen. 1907. Vestre Boulevard. Dug up by our very own Lars Barfred.

The sign on the right reads "Bicycle Lane". Sweet. At first glance it's a nice vintage photograph - coloured for effect - of a street in Copenhagen. And then, as a Copenhagener, you realise... hey... I KNOW that street. That's City Hall on the left and Tivoli Gardens on the right. Vestre Boulevard is now named Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard.

My goodness! Look at how lovely that street is! So liveable. Like a wide street in the heart of a city should be. Look at all that space!

Then you get depressed because you remember what it's like now.

(Thanks to Jason for the link to What Was There and this image)
My Town
The 1907 photo was taken from right about where that black car is, in the middle of the intersection. H.C. Andersen's Boulevard is the most congested street in Denmark apart from the motorways. 55,000 cars a day. It carves a grey scar through the heart of the Danish capital. 250,000 pedestrians cross City Hall Square (bottom right) on a summer's day, at the mercy of the parasites. Over 20,000 bicycle users ride up and down this street each day, as well. Indeed, three of the intersections on this stretch are the most dangerous in the nation for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Dutch National Cycling Council - Fietsberaad - were amazed that a city like Copenhagen wasn't tackling this blatant problem in this report.

There was talk of burying the boulevard and reclaiming the surface space for people a few years back, but that idea disappeared. Just some mumbling about noise reduction asphalt has been heard from city hall.
Surveying Her Kingdom
Here's the boulevard from above, in the same direction as the first vintage photo.
City Hall Facing South, Copenhagen
Same area. Amazing to see what this street used to be like and could be like again if there were any political vision coming out of the city hall, above.
As it is now, six lanes of cars roar through the heart of our city. At speed limits far too high for such a densely-populated area.

The vintage photo is, at once, enlightening and depressing.


Dave Feucht said...

Thankfully Portland hasn't done that with their normal city streets as much, there are none larger than 3 lanes that I can think of going through the center of the city, and none larger than 4 lanes (sometimes with a 5th turn lane) going through the close-in east side of the city. Some of those streets have quite high speed limits though, and there is one in particular, Burnside ST, which I sometimes have to wait several minutes to cross, because there is so much traffic, and there are only traffic signals about every 8-10 blocks.

However, we did build several freeways that cut through those parts of the city, effectively cutting off whole areas of the city, because now you have to go on specific streets to cross the freeway which are spaced far apart, and in one case, you have to go miles around to get to the other side. They act as physical and mental barriers, and of course, wiped out entire neighborhoods that were there before (without giving the residents at the time any choice in the matter).

Kim said...

It is such a shame modern cities don't leave space for people, just push them aside to make way for machines... where is the humanity?

Jason Tinkey said...



Slow Factory said...

Mikael, I know we don't agree on everything but I will endorse your declaration of war on this thing.

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

fantastic toy, jason! just added it to the blogpost. thanks.

Erik Griswold said...

I think the Google Steetview needs to be backed up a step or two. The Tivoli castle is still there and it should be appearing in the Streetview frame too.

tedsfiles said...

Sadly this story is repeated in cities all over the world! Charming old thoroughfares become mechanised hellholes. Here in Nice, the prime industry is tourism. Where is there 6 - 8 lanes of smog and noise? Right next to the beach!! When there's a break in the traffic you can hear the birds..

Kevin C said...

Sheesh - you're getting more & more dogmatic by the day. The whole central plaza in front of City Hall didn't exist in 1907 either, so there's been improvements since 1907 too

See this pic from 1912, where tram traffic used up most of the space of what is now Radhuspladsen.


Tallycyclist said...

@Kevin C I think Mikael is talking more about the road itself, and not the plaza space. I was definitely taken away by HC Andersen during my recent visit. It's an incredibly wide road yet very little space is allocated to cyclist. No wonder there are estimated 50-60,000 cars vs. only 20,000 cyclist. Some stretches of that boulevard don't even have a cycle track-cyclists have to merge into a "service road" and then merge back to a painted lane going towards city hall. Hopefully that will change, I don't know. But even if cycle track is built the entire stretch, there's still too many cars for it to be a pleasant commute.

The trams did occupy some of the plaza space. But there weren't 60,000 of them going at speeds the cars can go on HC Andersen. And unless something goes very wrong, trams typically stay in the rails. In your THEN link, there's still plenty of space for pedestrians to walk around or gather in-stay away from the rails and you shouldn't get run over by a tram! Cars are the problem.

Amanda Silver said...

cars... everywhere so many cars (not only in Copenhagen)... this is how a huge change appeared and the streets are completely transformed an room for people and nature any more... there are days when I have the feeling that I can't breath

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

indeed, the city hall square is much better now than then. i question the wisdom of having 6+ lanes of traffic carving the heart of the city in two and with speeds of 50 km/h.

Amanda said...

I love your posts! So amazing to see the cyclist path sign in the vintage picture in this post.

Adding you to the http://annielondonderry.wordpress.com/ blogroll.

Unknown said...

It's always sad to see wide streets that were meant to be great public spaces treated as right-of-way available for road construction. In New York, the city often shifted curbs outward without giving notice or asking residents' opinions.

Here in Philadelphia, we had several parkways built at the beginning of the Twentieth Century with fairly generous 60 foot through roads set in the center of a 300 foot right-of-way otherwise given over to local access for the homes built along it and two 56-foot-wide linear parks. Today, 144 feet of the 300 foot right of way are for through lanes, and there are also shoulders, turning lanes, and crossover ramps. The medians today are attractive but are unusable for recreation. This map shows cross sections before and after the first phase of removing the park from one of these parkways.


Today the the bicycle coalition would like to rebuild the street to make it bike friendly. I dream of restoring one of these to its original appearance; the original promenades would be a gorgeous cycle track. My grandmother remembers when people promenaded there on Sunday afternoons some 80 years ago. That's wishful thinking though; it would halve the number of through lanes. Maybe someday people will value the Southern Boulevard Parkway for what it could be. Copenhagen will undoubtedly have it before Philadelphia.