28 May 2013

Bike Share Graph Gauging Public Opinion

The Bike Share Whine-o-meter

In light of the recent launch of New York City's Citibike bike share system, Copenhagenize Design Co. has produced this highly-scientific and frightfully academic statistical graph.

Based on the 500-odd bike share systems now in place in the world we have gathered all the public perception of the systems and crunched the data - compressing it rudely but effectively into one easy graph - for use by cities who are considering implementing a bike share system.

We have also assisted some NIMBYs in New York. One of them was quoted as saying that he couldn't imagine the Mayor of Paris - the city of arts - placing a bike share rack in front of the Louvre:

25 May 2013

Kalvebod Wave and a Lost Opportunity

There's an exciting new development underway on the north side of Copenhagen harbour. A boardwalk extending out into the water, designed by JDS Architects for the City of Copenhagen. The project is called Kalvebod Waves - named after the stretch of harbourfront, Kalvebod Brygge.

When the harbour was decommissioned for commercial traffic over a decade ago, the City was keen to get development going. Unfortunately, they turned a blind eye to the projects that a number of developers proposed. The result is a stretch of waterfront that is so shockingly devoid of architectural creativity and urban spaces for humans that you'd think it was the mid-sixties all over again.

It took a few years but the City realised that they had screwed up and, when a new City Architect took over the job, there was more focus on design and architecture rather than just building in a hurry.

Harbour Architecture in Copenhagen
The only building that is actually interesting is the first one near the bridge Langebro. The Nyredit Building, from 2001, and designed by architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen. The building is in this shot and the fog in this photo conveniently hides the architectural brain farts further down the harbour.

So the Kalvebod Waves is a welcome addition to life on the harbourfront. The north side is the sunniest side - incredibly important in a Nordic city and making the City's first burst of Hurry Up Architecture look even more stupid.

It's all going to be better know. Check out the slideshow on JDS Architects site for all the cool details like integrated kayak parking/docking, etc.

But wait! Hang on. I remember seeing the early visualisations of the project from JDS Architects. I realised last week that something quite brilliant was missing. Something quite important.

Here is the original visualisation:

Do you see it? Top right. Two ramps leading up to Langebro bridge and back down again. Bicycle and pedestrian ramps to provide a much-needed A2B access for bicycle traffic crossing the harbour.

Below you can see the current situation if you are coming along the harbour and want to cross the bridge. It's the green line. Hopelessly inconvenient. The orange lines indicate steep stairways that shorten the journey, but increase the pain-in-the-ass-ness of the route.

The original plans from JDS Architects added a brilliant mobility benefit for many of the 20,000 + bicycle users who use Langebro each day. These ramps where, however, dropped by the City of Copenhagen.

So I asked around. It turns out that the ramps were dropped because they would negatively impact the architectural integrity of the bridge. Which is one of the reasons I've learned caused the exclusion of the ramps.

There has been a bridge connection here since 1690. The current bridge is from 1954. I'm sorry, but if you look at it, it's a butt-ugly bascule bridge.

Langebro 1908 Langebro 1950s Langebro 1975 Hand Horse
It was nice in 1908 but it was butt ugly in the 1950s and still butt ugly in 1975 as well as today.

The only thing of architectural interest is the bridgemaster's tower on the opposite side:
Langebro Boots

So personally I don't buy the blah blah blah architectural integrity whining. Two ramps up to the bridge would add to the aesthetics and, more importantly, it would provide a prioritised bicycle route for thousands of citizens. The bridge doesn't go up much anymore compared to when the harbour was busy. Only 3-4 times a week.

So... enthusastic applause for JDS Architects for the whole Kalvebod Wave project but a twisted nipple to the City of Copenhagen for their mobility FAIL in dropping the bicycle and pedestrian link where it is much needed.

23 May 2013

Car Industry Strikes Back - Mercedes

Another day, another installment in our Car Industry Strikes Back series wherein the automobile industry, in their own quirky way, do what they can to ridicule the competition, be it bicycles or public transport.

This Mercedes commercial is - by car industry standards - just plain goofy. Let it be a sign that they're slipping up and getting a bit desperate. Two pro drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, are cast in the roles of pro drivers who will never have careers as actors. The payoff at the end is classic Car Industry Strikes Back.

Thanks to @CantuBicicletas on Twitter for the link.

21 May 2013

Hungarian Cycling Promotion Brilliance

Oh those Hungarians. Once again, they show the world that they are leaders in the area of bicycle promotion. Here's the latest film from the Hungarian Cyclists' Club's Bike to Work campaign - or "Bringázz a munkába" if you want to get all Magyar-esque.

The cycling NGO has an ongoing relationship with global advertising firm Young & Rubicam, who have produced some of the films. Something the rest of the geeky bicycle advocacy world can learn from. Mainstream marketing is the key. Taking this product called "urban cycling" and selling it to the 99%. Selling the simplicty of urban cycling instead of overcomplicating it.

The good people at the Hungarian Cyclists Club know that sub-cultural marketing is not an effective way to sell a mainstream product. Unlike many other NGOs around the world who are seemingly intent on merely trying recruit new members to their clique, the Hungarians see the big picture and go after it year after year after year.

Add to that the activists in Budapest who, unlike many elsewhere, embrace the concept of mainstreaming urban cycling and who work together with the other stakeholders to reach the goal. After many years with the world's biggest and most impressive crictical mass rides the organisers last year handed over the reins to the Hungarian Cyclists Club and to Cycle Chic - saying that the city needed to move to the next level now.

There are, rest assured, other cities who "get it", as you can see in this article.

The work the Hungarians produce remains, however, the benchmark for bicycle advocacy in the world. Nothing less will do.

19 May 2013

Wayfinding in a Liveable City

Social Mobility Moment
"Hi... excuse me... can you help me find this address?"

An oft-used phrase for visitors in a foreign city. A few months ago I met up with Andy Cutler from Providence, RI, who was in Denmark to explore opportunities for Providence and Copenhagen to hook up on a creative and business level.

He did a cool little experiement. He was here for two weeks and only got around by asking people on the street for directions, instead of using tech-gadgets. He wrote about it here, on the Better World by Design blog.

He told me about it at Bang & Jensen café in Copenhagen one evening and I thought it to be cool.

One of his observations is that Copenhageners - besides being helpful - never really gave him complete and specific directions. They sent him in the right direction and then suggested he ask someone else for further details once he got closer. I found that interesting.

I've spent a awful lot of time thinking about it since then. Making mental notes of my own experiences. Asking friends about their wayfinding habits. In addition, I've been using a valuable resource at my disposal - all the guests who stay with me in my flat, my Airbnb room.

The baseline of my observations it that Copenhageners aren't very good with street addresses. They'll rarely be able to tell you what house number a certain establishment is at on a certain street. Street names, too, are not something that roll right off the tongue when describing how to get somewhere.

We live in densely-populated neighbourhoods with pretty much everything we need in close proximity to us. There are fixed points on our personal maps, sure. Supermarkets, cafés, banks (although less so these days with online banking), busstops, train stations, parks. When something new appears on our map, people have to start telling each other how to get there. A new café or restaurant, for example.

"I was at this cool, new restaurant last night. It was great."
"I've read about it, heard good things about it. Where is it?"

At this point a street name will, most likely, come into the conversation but rarely a house number. The description of the restaurant location will involve describing the new place's proximity to other established points on our urban map.

"It's just up from XXX supermarket. You know... near XXX café."
"Okay. Which side of the street? Heading towards the city or away from it?"

You'll never get a specific location. You'll end up riding your bike to the new restaurant and, as you approach, you'll narrow down your wayfinding using the locations of the known establishments and finally spotting the sign for the new restaurant.

I've played around with friends and colleagues, asking them if they know a certain place and how to get there. In fifty or so attempts, this is the overwhelmingly the pattern.

I also discovered that I didn't know the exact street address of my regular haunts. Cafés, resturants, etc.. I often send visitors to the aforementioned Bang & Jensen café - a place I've been frequenting for over a decade. I seem to recall that the house number was over 100 and, when describing the location I'll mention some cross streets but I'll mostly mention shop names nearby by. Little pins on a mental map that will help the person find the place. If neccessary I will say "the house number is over 100", in order to help them more specifically.

I just googled it and found out it's at Istedgade 130. I'm sure I'll forget that by the end of the day.

I've also been asking my Airbnb guests if they asked anyone for directions while out in the city. If yes, I've asked what kind of response they got. Again, the same pattern emerged. Copenhageners were helpful but described things around the desired destination. Visual and textual clues to help them narrow the wayfinding journey. I also catch myself telling them how to get to places using visual references.

"It's just after a green building. There's a supermarket with a big sign reading FØTEX. It's just after that. Heading towards the city, not away from it." And so on.

So what's up with this? Here's what I think.

Copenhageners are't shockingly bad at finding their way. Of course not. We're Vikings... we discovered America and sailed at will around the known world, as though we designed it ourselves. We invented the first compass - the Viking Sunstone. :-)

Nah... here's the thing. Copenhagen is a city of densely-populated neighbourhoods. It's a city where 71% of the population do not own a car and they transport themselves around their urban landscape on bicycles. In their local neighbourhoods there's a lot of walking. We spend great amounts of time not sitting in boxes of steel and glass with restricted vision but on the cycle tracks and sidewalks - or even on busses staring out of the window.

Our wayfinding is visual. Shop signs, building colours, proximity to fixed points on the map like train station or parks. With so much time spent looking at our city from the seats of our bicycles, the need for specifics like street names and house numbers dwindles. In communicating wayfinding to others, we describe the visual images imprinted on our inner map in our head.

Mistakes may occur. "You said past the green building... that's not green, that's blue..." Or you discover that the café across the street from the desired destination closed down and is now a flower shop, throwing us off our wayfinding.

Not to worry. Just stop somebody on the street and get some more visual clues. You'll get there eventually. And your journey will be a human one, worthy of a truly liveable city.

I've noticed the same patterns in other cities like Amsterdam. Few street names are mentioned, just visual directions involving establishments, certain bridges, etc.

Bicycle-friendly cities allow a closer contact with the city for those living in it - or visiting it. They are cities that are imprinted more indelibly on the retina of our inner cartographer.

I like that. It's human.

Stop and Chat

Then there is the whole human aspect of how being closer to your city on bicycles drastically increases your chances of spotting friends - and stopping to say hello. You see it all the time. Someone on a bicycle chatting with a friend on the sidwalk. Or two bicycle users who ran into each other and are having a chat on the sidewalk.

A bizarre coincedence just yesterday... I was heading to the beach with the kids and, at a roundabout, a man in a pedicab hailed me down. He - and the pedicab rider - wanted to know where the Bicycle Innovation Lab was. They decided to ask the first person they spotted. That was me.

Bizarre, because I was involved in starting the Bicycle Innovation Lab - the first cultural centre for cycling - and the Bicycle Library. Even more bizarre because the man in the pedicab was my friend Karta from London. He runs, among other things, The Bicycle Library in London.

It was a wild, unfathomable coincedence. He is in town for 24 hours, having flown in from Hong Kong. And boom... I'm the guy he spots on the cycle track to ask about the whereabouts of the Bicycle Innovation Lab.

Even more bizarre, as we're standing there talking on the cycle track, my two German guests in my flat from Airbnb roll up behind us. Little Lulu, sitting on the Bullitt, said, "Look, Daddy... it's our guests." They were heading to the beach, too.

There's no way I'm playing the lottery. I've used up my wild odds on a roundabout in Copenhagen.

16 May 2013

Bicycle Racks on Taxis in Denmark

Bike Culture Taxi
There are many ways to combine transport forms. One of the unsung modes is combining the bicycle with a taxi. In Denmark, every taxi is equipped with bike racks to accommodate two bicycles. All taxi companies weld them on themselves, there is no one solution as it is simple enough to make. No bells and whistles. No Kickstarter campaign. No nonsense.

The racks themselves are in the trunk of the taxi and if you have a bicycle, the driver hops out and sticks them in the slots and attaches your bike(s) with a bungy cord.
Bike Culture Taxis
There is an additional fee of about 10 or 15 kroner ($2-3) if you need to get your bicycle home with a taxi. For whatever reason. A flat tire or other defect, you're in a hurry, it's raining and you forgot your waterproof mascara or if the guy/girl you met at that bar and are heading home with doesn't have a bike - and you want to get home in a hurry...
Taxi Bike Culture
All a part of a truly integrated bicycle culture.

I was suprised to learn in this travel film about Copenhagen from Pan Am in 1962 that all taxis had this option even back then. Click here to hop into the Youtube film and see what I mean.

14 May 2013

I Vacuum Copenhagen

Vacuum Cleaner Culture
Vacuum cleaner transporting a ... vacuum cleaner.

I've been saying for years that we don't have bicycle culture in Copenhagen. We just have vacuum cleaner culture. We all have one, we all have learned to use it, we use it. End of story.
We don't have bicycle culture in #copenhagen. We have vacuum cleaner culture
Another vacuum cleaner transporting a vacuum cleaner.

We don't buy vacuum cleaning clothes at a specialty store, we don't wave at other vacuum cleaning enthusiasts on the street, we don't keep 7 vacuum cleaners polished in our shed. It's not a hobby or a fetish or a sub-cultural membership card.

Our vacuums, like our bicycles, are just tools that make everyday life easier.

So I figured I needed a logo.
I Vacuum Copenhagen

13 May 2013

Car Industry Strikes Back - Smart Car

What a lovely way to start the week. Another fine example from our Car Industry Strikes Back series, wherein we observe the desperate tactics of the car industry as they try to respond to rising cycling levels and public transport in their vain attempt to keep their dominant market share in this age of de-motorization.

This time it's Smart going for gold in this Portuguese commercial. Presenting us with worst-case scenarios from public transport and then having a young, hip-looking-ish man looking out the window at a Smart car rolling past - on an empty street at night. No traffic jams, nothing. Always amusing to see how car commercials try to get around showing traffic.

The tagline is SmartforTwo Public Transport. So now they're muscling in on the phrase Public Transport. That's even goofier than former BMW designer Chris Bangle using Personal Emotional Mobility as he tries to "hook people back to the car".

Have a scroll through the long list of other examples of Car Industry Strikes Back.

Thanks to Miguel from Lisbon Cycle Chic for the link.