15 May 2012

The Choreography of an Urban Intersection

Urban Intersection Choreography
We are in the midst of an interesting little project here at Copenhagenize Consulting. Something we've been planning for a while but only recently got started with. Like everywhere else, the ever-growing urban cycling boom is causing a backlash in Copenhagen. There's a lot of negative press about bicycle users and little happening to reverse that. When the police go out on their Viking raids for a week at a time, ticketing cyclists for trivialities, the press regurgitate all manner of hype about the 'lawlessness' that will surely cause imminent societal decay. Always forgetting to highlight the fact that The 99% ride by the book and have done for 125 years.

So. We thought we'd look at an intersection - an average one - to observe behaviour and chart patterns and numbers. The Choreography of an Urban Intersection.

We chose the intersection outside of our office window. Not only convenient, but also a unique intersection in that it is primarily a transport hub that connects a north-south road with the main east-west ring. On the four corners of the intersection there is only one shop. The other three corners are vacant. This is an intersection that people travel through. There's a supermarket 100 metres farther along, a hospital 50 metres away and the intersection is in one of the most densely-populated neighbourhoods in the country.

We filmed for 12 hours out of the window. From 07:00 to 19:00. In order to digest and observe we have enlisted the help of an anthropologists - Agnete Suhr. She is well into the material and busy marking desire lines, patterns and counting the traffic users.

Choreography of an Urban Intersection
Agnete's notebook. We're quite sure we'll understand what this all means when she is done.

Without revealing any hard facts or observations at this early stage, it is fitting that the very first traffic user to appear when I turned on the camera at 06:54 was a car roaring through a red light at easily 80 km/h. I believe Agnete is about 5 hours into the day at the moment and already the myths of lawless cyclists have been dispelled. It's really quite dull the way that Citizen Cyclists roll in all directions. It's a ballet more than urban jungle warfare.

There are 18.076 cars each day on the crosstown ring and 13.138 on the north-wouth road leading to and from the city centre. On the same routes there are around 8000 and 7700 bicycle uers respectively. So there is loads to observe.

There are two types of bicycle infrastructure that we're keen to chart. One is the classic cycle track that ends in the run up to the intersection, leaving bicycle users to mix with right-turning motor vehicles. The other one features a pulled-back stop line for cars (5 metres) and a stop line for bicycles up by the crosswalk. We've noticed that minor infractions like rolling through the crosswalk on the former type is more frequent than on the type with staggered stop lines. Simply because people feel safer getting ahead of the turning cars.

We'll be looking at cyclist-pedestrian conflicts as well, but there is really little to go after so far. Motorists, however, who buzz through yellow lights and worse, seem to be keen to win the statistic race.

All in all, it's fascinating so far.

Not surprisingly, we're inspired by William Whyte and his work. Not least this legendary film: