31 October 2012

Goodbye Bycyklen

Taking Bike Sharing Literally
Goodbye, Bycyklen. After 17 years, Copenhagen's renowned bike share system is being pulled off the streets of the city for the winter - and it ain't coming back.

As we all know, La Rochelle, France was the first city to establish a permanent bike share system back in the mid 1970s. Sure, there were some hippie attempts in the 1960s) but Copenhagen's Bycyklen was the first system in a large city that involved a deposit system.

With a 10 or 20 kroner coin you could unlock a bike and ride off.

Nostalgia strikes quickly. The goofiest bicycles in history have only been gone for a few hours but I already miss them. I miss being late for a meeting or just wanting to get home and having to trail behind a wobbly Italian family of four happily enjoying the cycle tracks. The entire width of them. Until we reached an intersection or a wider stretch and I - together with 150 other Copenhageners - could overtake them.

I miss seeing them in the far reaches of the city - far from the zone in which you were allowed to ride them - the coin slot pried open with a crowbar and the map peeled off.

I miss thinking of how they were repaired and cared for by prisoners at the bike workshop at a local prison (at least in the early days) and how that was such a wonderful idea.

But hey. The big picture story is good. These crappy bikes inspired the concept. They led to over 450 cities implementing bike share systems in various forms and transforming the urban landscape for the better.
14:10 - 19 Copenhagen Minutes
The plan was that Copenhagen would innovate and create Generation 3.0 of bike share systems. A plan that would show the world that we are ahead of the curve. A design competition was launched. 127 entries were recieved. A tender was put out later. Companies bid. Three were shortlisted.

And then City Hall pulled the plug. Just a month ago. The new, world-beating bike share system in The City of Cyclists scheduled to be launched in 2013 simply died.

Money could be better spent on other bicycle initatives, they said. All the vision and drive was flushed down the toilet. Every modern city worth their salt in this age has a bike share system. It's like water or electricity.

Sure, everyone owns a bicycle in Copenhagen, but our politicians are helpless to reduce car traffic and, in many ways, are encouraging more of it. A bike share system - in a design that would make all others look as goofy as the original Bycyklen - would have kept us at the forefront of innovation and visionary future planning. As well as providing a necessary, modern service for the citizens and visitors to the city.

But hey. Welcome to the New Copenhagen.

Sankt Peterburg - Colville-Andersen
I never actually rode one in Copenhagen. I don't know many people who have. The first time I tried one was actually in Saint Petersburg, back in 2009, where I was giving a talk arranged by the Danish Consulate - above. They were goofy to ride.

But now they're gone. Here are some photos I've taken of them over the years. Tourists and Copenhageners alike. Sigh. We get sentimental about the weirdest things, don't we. Like the days we had goofy shopping trolley bicycles and... visionary political leadership.

Tourist Bikes

Copenhagen City Bike

City Bike

City Bike and City Girl

14:11 - 19 Copenhagen Minutes

Tourist Test Drive

Free City Bike

The Kickstand Sessions Need Your Help!

Our Kickstand Sessions are heading back to North America next week. These masterclasses for planners, engineers and other professionals will provide insight into bicycle policy and planning from both a Dutch and Danish perspective - geared towards local solutions.

The Kickstand Sessions are a collaboration with Copenhagenize Consulting and Mobycon, from the Netherlands.


We're hoping to get some help from our readers and friends of readers regarding specific cities.

In each Session in a city we focus on specific areas of the city in our work in the masterclasses. We use maps of the whole city but we zoom in to local areas for more detailed focus.

While we know the general layout and situation in each city we work with, we would love to hear from those of you in the specific cities regarding what local areas we should focus on.

We'd love to hear your feedback about the following cities. Many more cities across North America will follow in the new year, but these cities are scheduled for Sessions this autumn and early next year.

Here's what we'd like to hear about...

- Residential areas with schools.
- Shopping districts.
- Parts of the city centre.

We'll be working with maps that are 1:2500 for the bigger picture and maps that are 1:500 for the specific areas so, for the latter, we obviously can't have a massive chuck of the city. Otherwise we'd need a football field to lay out the maps.

Here are the cities we need some help from you with:

Ottawa, Ontario

Waterloo or Kitchener, Ontario

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Victoria, BC

San Francisco, California

Please add your ideas in the comments or, even better, in the Kickstand Sessions Facebook group where we all can discuss and, if necessary, ask questions more easily.

Thanks in advance for your help!

30 October 2012

Danish 180% Tax on Cars is Rather Irrelevant

bike carries car
Much is said and reblogged/tweeted about the famous 180% on cars in Denmark. Back when rationality was fashionable, this series of taxes was put into place to try and discourage people from driving but also to try and win some money back for society for the destructive nature of automobiles.

We know, for example, that for every kilometre ridden by bike, the Danish coffers recieve 23 cents.

For every kilometre driven by car, the Danish state pays out 16 cents.

Those numbers are from the "Socio-economic analyses of bicycle initiatives - methods and cases", produced by COWI in 2009.

For a more local feel, if you ride in Copenhagen from Øster Allé to Nørreport during rush hour here's the societal benefit and loss:

Bicycle: 63 cents net profit for society. (3.65 DKK)
Car: $1.15 net loss to society. (6.59 DKK)

Another way of calculating it is that every time someone rides a bike 1 km, society earns 23 cents. Drive a car 1 km and we pay out 91 cents. So you can see that it has previously been important to reclaim some of the money that we've been throwing into a big, bottomless hole by subsidising car culture. It's basic economics. Even with that tax, we still cannot get our money back.

Worth noting that these numbers reflect the aforementioned taxes on cars in Denmark. I think I'd throw up a little bit in my mouth if someone could calculate the net loss in countries without such taxes.

So. What ARE these taxes of which we speak? First let's look at what cars cost, based on the Danish cost of living.

In Denmark a basic compact car will cost you about 100,000 DKK. ($17,400).
A new Honda, depending on model, will cost between 200,000 DKK ($34,700 USD) and 500,000 DKK ($86,900). A new BMW, again depending on model, will set you back between 400,000 DKK ($69,500 USD) and 2.5 million DKK ($434,360 USD).

That probably looks nasty pricey to many out there, but the cost of living here in Denmark is high. Wages are high. Things are expensive to visitors.

For example, minimum wage - if you work as a bartender at the age of 20 or something like that - is around $20.00 USD per hour.

On top of the list price of the car, here are the taxes that make up the 180%. But please consider the disclaimers that follow.

The 180% on top of a basic car price
Sales and registration: 106,960 DKK ($18,583 USD)
Ownership tax: 44,562 DKK ($7742 USD)
Insurance tax: 8412 DKK ($1461 USD)
Fuel tax at 15,000 km/year of 15 km/liter: 50,989 DKK ($8,857 USD)

Total taxes over 12 years: 210,922 DKK ($36,643 USD)

So all that looks like a dreamy scenario for those who are working towards the Paradigm Shift of replacing the deadly cars in our cities with intelligent transport forms. Wonderful that Denmark taxes motorists for the destruction they cause in our cities and in the country in general

We still hear misconceptions out there about these taxes. Things like , "they only ride bikes in Denmark because they can't afford a car". Nah. Nice try.

In Copenhagen, car ownership is at 29.1%. It's even lower in certain neighbourhoods; Nørrebro (14%) and Vesterbro (17%). But people don't own cars because they don't need to. There are a host of other transport options, including the bicycle.

Out in the distant provinces, when a young person - usually a young man - turns 18 the first thing he does is pay the $2000 fee for a driving licence course and then, upon successful completion, buys a car. So cars are not inaccessbile to Danes when 18 year olds can afford them.

And this brings us to the current reality.

Since the 180% taxes came into effect, the Danish wages have increased dramatically. So they are no longer as prohibitive as originally planned. In other words, they are rather irrelevant.

Car ownership has been rising consistently over the past 15 years at least. Even the gas prices here - currently at about $2.17 per liter (roughly $8.70 per gallon) are lower than they were in the 1970s, at the height of the two energy crises.

What's more, I heard today that the fuel tax, which as I understand it carries a certain environmental aspect, is also increasingly redundant. Simply because cars are more fuel efficient and "environmentally-friendly" than when the taxes were implemented.

The money earned by the Danish state on these taxes has fallen from 24 billion DKK ($4.1 billion USD) to just 14 billion DKK ($2.4 billion USD).

While these famous 180% taxes were meant well back in the day, they are rather comical now. The automobile burden on our society is greater than at any point in the last 40 years.

All the more reason to raise the taxes - through simple rationality and economics - and to invest in better public transport, car share programmes and bicycle infrastructure.

29 October 2012

The Danish Police's Abuse of Power & Influence

Mogens Knudsen, Operativ leder i færdelspolitiet ved Københavns Politi

There's a man in Copenhagen named Mogens. Mogens Knudsen. What's interesting about this man is that virtually every single day he goes to work he hurts and, in many situations, kills people. Indirectly, of course.

What's more, Mogens actually gets paid to do so. He is a civil servant with a badge. A policeman. The head of the Traffic Dept in Copenhagen Police.

Mogens is not particularly fond of those fellow citizens of his who ride bicycles in Copenhagen. He has for many years and has always been vocal about it.

If Mogens seems scary, it gets worse. Mogens has colleagues who feel the same way and who also get paid to dish out injury and, in worst cases, death. Mogens and his colleagues make the Danish Road Safety Council's crusade against Danish bicycle culture look like piecemeal.

Welcome to the Danish Police. Welcome to The New Copenhagen.

By all accounts, Mogens and police seem to be orchestrating a counter-offensive after the articles here on the blog and in The Copenhagen Post. Using their press mailing list to get their last century opinions out.

What makes Mogens scary is that he and the Danish police have power - and they abuse it - as we highlighted in Part 2 of our State of Copenhagen Congestion series. The police refuse to make our streets safer and they veto all initiatives aimed at doing so. Which keeps people getting injured and killed.

In an article in The Copenhagen Post entitled " In 'City of Cyclists', cops accused of putting cars first, spawned by our above article about the blood on the hands of the police, Harry Lahrmann - associate professor at the department of development & planning at Aalborg University - was quoted as saying; "The police do not have to approve of any changes [and] do not have to give any reasons.”

“It’s strange that you have elected politicians who don’t have the power to make traffic plans they want to make,” Lahrmann said. “Over the past 20 or 30 years, I have been saying that we should remove some of the decision-making from the police. It’s problematic that the council has the responsibility for how the city works, but does not have all the tools it needs.”

“Copenhagen City Council has wanted to reduce the speed limit to 40 km/h for many years, but the police don’t want to give their permission. From a traffic safety perspective, it’s a good idea to lower the speed limit, but the police simply don’t want to enforce it.

If that isn't abuse of power then I don't know what is. And it's all based on little else than the personal perception of Mogens and some of his colleagues. He admitted to me a couple of years ago that the police never go on study trips or keep up to speed on traffic safety developments. Basically, they adhere to a point of view with its roots in the late 1950s.

In addition to the power they abuse, they have influence. This week, Mogens and his colleagues have whipped up a veritable media frenzy, broadcasting their dislike of bicycle users to the Danish nation. Amazingly, the press has happily hopped onto the bandwagon. It's Hate the Bicycle Users week in Denmark. Seriously.

In the Danish newspaper, Politiken - which so desperately tries to emulate The Guardian and the New York Times but falls so desperately short - lapped up the Mogens rant, giving him the run of their online version. Never before has an entire article featured such a monologue from such a grumpy old man allowed to spout nothing more than his own personal perception.

"Cyclists are the cuckoos of the traffic" he was quoted as saying
. The rest of the article, copy-pasted over a Baresso coffee by the journalist Line Prasz, was built around Mogens' rant.

The only voice to be heard protesting in the article was the normally sleepy Danish Cyclists Federation. Amazingly, they reacted strongly to the Mogensese diatribe and used phrasology plucked right out of Copenhagenize. We're flattered, of course. But we're mostly pleased that the DCF were woken out of their slumber:

"It's a strongly notable comment (Ed: about the cuckoo) which could just as well be focused on motorists - who often cause deaths," said Frits Bredal, Head of Press for the Federation.

Yeah, okay, that was a lame, grandfatherly start to their response, but bear with me:

"He (Ed: Mogens) simply hasn't moved into the new millenium. He lives in a car culture where he thinks Copenhagen is Los Angeles and that all traffic systems are constructed for automobiles. Then there's a kind of an 'add-on', which are cyclists, and they irritate him," said Frits Bredal.

It's about time the DCF slipped out of their woolen socks and sandals, mussed up their neatly-trimmed beards and stepped into some ass-kicking Doc Martens.

In another chapter of the current witchhunt, the television channel TV2 - our sadly inadequate Fox News wannabe - enlisted the help of another cop, Michael Bjørkman. They stood on the corner of the busiest bicycle street in the world and watched Armageddon unfold. You can't embed their content, but here's the link to their "How rotten Copenhagen's cyclists ride" clip. Here are the highlights:

0:49 to about 1:00 - Citizen Cyclists rolling casually across a crosswalk at a pedestrian pace. Snore. It had BETTER get more exciting than THIS.

1:20 - Ooh! Drama! A bicycle user rolls past the red light. The cop's voice goes up a pitch in excitement. He can hardly contain his thrill - uh - professional displeasure. Yes, illegal, but my goodness, it all happened at 12 km/h and nobody seemed bothered by it. What's more, it's incredibly rare.

2:18 - A bicycle user rolls casually around the corner on the sidewalk. No pedestrians were around, as the man says himself. I have often watched bicycle user behaviour at this spot. When there are pedestrians, hardly any bicycle users use the wide sidewalk to turn right. But some do when the coast is clear. Like we've said before, the City should move into these spots and improve the infrastructure, listening to peoples' Desire Lines.

Goodness me. If this is all they can uncover on a busy day on the cycle tracks, they are well and truly on thin ice with their claims. We're looking forward to publishing our Desire Line study - The Choreography of an Urban Intersection - as it will only serve to make Mogens and his cronies look rather ridiculous and show that this "bad behaviour" is largely in the minds of the police, who are hell bent on preserving the Remains of the Automobile Day and a last century mentality about the role of cars in our cities. Although even last century - in 1934 to be exact - famous Danish satirist Storm P. (Robert Storm Petersen) had a go at the Mogens' of the day in this ironic piece.

Cyclists in Copenhagen are the best behaved that I've seen anywhere in the world. 125 years of unchanged behaviour is probably a sign that whining about it won't work.

Cyclists are forced to ride in a traffic culture and abide by traffic laws that were invented to serve the automobile. A completely different form of transport. Change the rules to accommodate cyclists. Reclaim space from deadly automobiles. You know, if you're serious about traffic safety, liveable cities and promoting cycling.

This entire witchhunt we've seen over the past three or so years is peaking now. All of it based on perception and all of it regurgitated by the press.

Mogens and his colleagues are nothing more than humourless, conservative pimps whoring out our cities to a long line of faceless automobiles Johns.

(yes, I've used that metaphor twice this week, but by golly I like it.)

The Danish Police. Abuse of power. Abuse of media. And completely unaccountable for it. Blood on their hands.


Here are some of the other articles in our series about the Danish and Copenhagen police:

The State of Copenhagen Congestion Part 2

In 'City of Cyclists', Cops accused of putting cars first. Featuring interview with Lars.

Danish Police Ignorance

Hunting Cyclists for Fun & Profit

Copenhagen Cyclist Harrassment

Police Tickets - No New is Big News

The Facebook group for 30 km/h Zones in Copenhagen.
The Cykelrazzia Facebook group.

The Arrogance of Space - Frederiksberg


Frederiksberg. The city is an municipal island surrounded by Copenhagen and with its 90,000 residents, it is Denmark's most densely-populated city.

Generally, the city is good at providing for cycling and around 35% of the residents cycle to work or school. This is the city in which I live and where Copenhagenize Design Co. has it's offices.

There are, however, problems that need solving and there is no solutions on the way. One of them is highlighted here in this article. Even though only 35% of the population of the city own cars (the number is 29% for Copenhagen), the main arteries are clogged with cars and trucks all through the day. Over 26,000 drive past my windows each day. Almost all of them are "parasites", as Italian traffic planners call them.

When I looked out the window at the intersection between Nordre Fasanvej and Godthåbsvej (above) I was pleased to see that work was underway on resurfacing the street. I don't give a toss if the car lanes are resurfaced or not, but I was sure that some intelligent, new century retrofitting would be a part of the work.

If you look at the photo, above, you see a wide street with cycle tracks on either side. You also see wide car lanes. The resurfacing work was the prime opportunity to make the street better for cyclists and pedestrians. Much better.

Unfortunately, as work progressed, I could see that nothing was being done for cyclists or pedestrians. At all.

The stop line for cars is still pushed right up against the crosswalk. Hardly making crossing the street a pleasant experience for the many, many pedestrians on this corner.

Nor was the stop line wasn't pushed back 5 metres, which is now the standard in Copenhagen, along with continuing the cycle track right up to the crosswalk. Unbelievable.

If you ask the engineers responsible for this I'm quite sure they'll rattle off all manner of stats and computer model results about how many cars have to get through the intersection and how that five metres will affect this car flow... blah blah blah. They won't mention the human aspect in this intersection - one with great numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, including many children at nearby schools and kindergartens.

Cars rule. 

Frederiksberg Bus Stop
I was also frightfully disappointed to see that, despite the wide street, the cycle tracks or sidewalks on the northern side weren't widened. Look at the above photo. That's a bus stop on the sidewalk. There is hardly any space for pedestrians to get past the bus stop sign and the building.

Believe me, I know. I walk past every day heading home from the supermarket 50 metres further on. More often than not I have to walk out into the cycle track to get past. Walking a bike or a pram, especially laden with groceries, is a challenge at this unnecessarily inhuman bottleneck. Not fair to any pedestrian.
Frederiksberg Fail
Here's another view of the busstop. Even without the bicycles there, it's a tight squeeze when people are waiting there and others try to get past.

It would have been an easy task to use the resurfacing work to widen the sidewalk and cycle track. There is more than enough room. Again, however, I'm sure the answer would be something like, "Oh, the resurfacing work has nothing to do with widening sidewalks. That's a different department and they're located on a different floor of the city hall." Or "That's a different budget... you can't mix the two different jobs or budget. That would be logical and cost-efficient".
Frederiksberg Fail
But perhaps Frederiksberg, a notoriously Conservative enclave, is going for gold. It looks like the resurfacing work has created a winning candidate for  Denmark's Widest Urban Car Lane. And no... it's not 1952. It's 2012.
Frederiksberg Fail
Parasites involuntarily "parked" on my street. They don't live in my city, they just drive through. And the City of Frederiksberg doesn't seem to worried about that.

The city is currently prostituting itself in the sleazy whorehouse of automobile culture, servicing the whims of an endless line of faceless motorized Johns.

Ohh, here's an idea....What about a goal of making Frederiksberg Denmark's Greenest City? What about creating 30 km/h zones in the entire municipality? What about traffic calming these streets to send the cars back to the main arteries where they belong?

That would be soooo 2012.

UPDATE - 13 MAY 2013
Frederiksberg Fail
Just saw this sticker on the sidewalk today. "Cross at the intersections". Right there across the street from the neighbourhood supermarket. With arrows pointing to intersections 200 metres to the left and 100 metres to the right. Unbelievable. Totally and completely Ignoring the Bull and getting away with it.

16 October 2012

Love Handles and Blogging the City

So, slapped up a Copenhagenize Love Handle in Amsterdam last week, when I was speaking at the brilliant Blogging the City conference. As I promised the audience. Maybe it's still there. Maybe it's not.

Let us know if you see it.

More on the Love Handles can be read here.

The Blogging the City conference, organised by Jeroen Beekmans & Joop de Boer of The Pop-Up City, featured a great line-up of speakers.

- Brilliant talk by Charlie Hilton of Urban Times.
- Zef Hemel head of the urban planning department of the City of Amsterdam, and blogger at Vrijstaat Amsterdam.
- Stefan Höffken from Urbanophil talked about his work and inspiration.
- Wouter Boon talked about his successful Amsterdam Ad Blog.
- Antonia Märzhäuser on the always brilliant and fascinating Freunde von Freunden site.
- Régine Debatty highlighted the story of her inspiration for her blog we-make-money-not-art

- Luc Harings from IloveNoord.nl about placemaking and civic pride.
- Loads of cool urban shit from Rudolf Klöckner of Urban Shit.
- Filip Visnjic of Creative Applications, a blog that reports innovation and catalogues projects, tools and platforms at the intersection of art, media and technology.
- Martijn de Waal from The Mobile City investigates the influence of digital media technologies on urban life, and the implications for urban design.
- Ernst-Jan Pfauth from Pfauth.com gave an impassioned plea for more Amsterdam blogs.

08 October 2012

If it only saves one life...

Great video. Rationality is the new black.