31 December 2013

Colour Me Urban

Red and Blue Again
There are a great many reasons why people choose to live in cities. The life, the culture, the job opportunities, the sense of community that you can find even in the presence of great numbers of strangers. When we travel from our home city to another, we will always have our individual observations, often details that nobody else will notice. All based on our own urban experience, our personal preferences and our lives in our home city.

You will notice tiny details that will escape me if we were travelling together and vice versa. I have lived in Copenhagen for 20 years or so. I know the city well. There are tiny details that I know and love - or hate - but that other long-term residents of the city will never notice. And, again, vice versa. It is often these details that define the inherent beauty of the urban landscape and make it personalised for every user, resident, citizen.

For the past two years I have been renting out a room in my flat through airbnb.com. It has been a wonderful experience hosting people in the city that I love and I call home. The thing that I have noticed that relates to this article is the details that these individuals pick up on. A colleague and acquaintance of mine was visiting from Antwerp with his family. They had a great many experiences that we talked about but there were two things that they really had to get off their chests.

One of them was that I desperately needed to invest in new plates. The ones I have they found to be incredibly irritating because they are so noisy when you're using your knife and fork on them. I hadn't noticed that before. The other thing was relayed to me in an incredulous tone. ”Where are the flowers?”, they asked. In Antwerp, they have a charming tradition and culture of flowers hanging outside the buildings from the windows in a great many colours. We simply don't have the same tradition here in Copenhagen and that fact amazed them. How can you not have flowers outside every window on every building?

A lot of visitors to Copenhagen, I have noticed, comment on the many colours of bicycles. It would seem that many of the colours, especially the white bicycles, are unusual in many other countries, whereas they are standard fare here.

Classic Copenhagen
All of this brings me, finally, to the point of this article: colour details on the urban landscape. Or rather, the lack thereof. Many cities have a tradition of painting their buildings in bright colours. The old harbour in Copenhagen, Nyhavn, is the ultimate, picture-perfect postcard street in the city simply because of the cheerful coloured buildings. I recall reading that this is not a modern phenomenon. Many of the buildings owned by the wealthier citizens as far back as the middle ages were painted in as bright colours as were available on the market at the time. Apparently we didn't know this until recently but archaeologists have determined this to be the case after finding remnants of pigment on the walls of ancient buildings in Copenhagen.

You can certainly understand why, in the heart of a 15th or 16th century city, colour was a necessity, what with the generally drab tones of the clothing of the citizens as well as all the other sensory challenges an overpopulated city centre bombarded you with. Just read the book Perfume, for example, to get an idea of what Paris might have been like.

Prague Approach
But here we are, at the tail end of almost 100 years of traffic engineering in our cities. We are forced to put our faith in the whims of architects and industrial paint producers to provide us with pleasing and/or interesting colours and textures on our streets. Because god knows the streets themselves are fifty shades of urban grey without any sensuality or titillating experience whatsoever.
Good Morning

For the better part of 100 years, we know too well, streets have been the sacred domain of traffic engineers and the automobiles they serve. Working in modern urban planning and bicycle urbanism, alot of our work involves thinking differently. Changing the paradigms that we have inherited from a previous century. Our work involves changing, modernising and reallocating the street space but it is not without its challenges. So many good and modern ideas stumble and fall on the doorstep to the traffic engineering department and smack their head on the slamming door.

I have now understood that asphalt is the Wailing Wall of traffic engineering. A sacred thing. Nevermind taking away space from cars to widen sidewalks or put in cycle tracks, more often than not you are simply not allowed to mess with the dull and dreary fifty shades of grey.

Think about how much urban space is occupied by asphalt. Great arrogant swathes of grey dominating our daily life and visual aesthetics in cities. Cobblestones, at the very least, came in different shades, however, subtle, and they have the added benefit of texture. Perhaps not pleasant to ride a bicycle on but the uneven surface can, in many ways, add to the visual landscape.

Since I started noticing this all-dominating greyness in our cities, I've been looking for asphalt versions of the Antwerp flower boxes. Examples in my city as well as others of colour being added to the dismal asphalt equation.

Unfortunately, there are not many examples out there to inspire us - from anywhere in the world. In many places, not least in Denmark, there are strict and unquestionable rules and regulations in place regarding markings and colour on the asphalt. I have no doubt that these rules and regulations were put into place in order to maintain some semblance of order in the traffic. I also know, however, that most of these rules and regulations were engineered to serve the automobile. With little regard for aesthetics, the urban experience or the people who inhabit our cities.

Before these thoughts occurred to me, I remember back in 2008, when one of the more interesting urban experiments in recent Copenhagen history was launched, being amazed at the almost playful red dots and blue and green stripes along Nørrebrogade Street. It was a pilot project, which allowed for much greater freedom in experimenting with the urban landscape.

The big red dots signified bus zones. The green and blue stripes signified so-called Flex zones outside shops. Loading zones were set up on side streets and wonderful typography was employed to mark the spot. I just remember thinking that it was so damn cool. I had never seen anything like it anywhere in the world.

The asphalt of our cities is one of the greatest unpainted canvases in human history. Blank spaces that are begging to be personalised. I have seen examples on quiet neighbourhood streets in various cities around the world of citizens adding art and colour to the street space but if you think about how much opportunity there is for brightening our cities, it makes you want to invest in the stock of a major paint producer.

So let's look at some of the examples that I've seen around the world. Believe me, I haven't seen them all so feel free to add your own examples in the comments with links to images. I'm mostly looking for examples from cities, as opposed to residential streets.

Bike Lane
Apart from the aforementioned experimental street markings in Copenhagen, the blue colour marking our cycle tracks across intersections is, of course, famous. The choice of the colour blue was not the result of a long scientific research process. It was chosen because it was different and because it was nice and easy on the eye, as well as being easily noticeable to all traffic users.

Red and yellow have connotations of warnings and danger. Blue, it turns out, is a colour that tickles the fancy of scientists and psychologists and there has actually been a great deal of research into the colour of late. Researchers at the University of British Columbia discovered that blue computer screens enhanced creativity better than red or white. The colour blue also has the effect of suppressing your appetite. Blue is cool and tranquil. Around half of the people in various surveys around the world say blue is the favourite colour and almost 50% of Americans say that blue eyes are their favourite - even though under 20% of the population have them. If you darken or lighten all the other colours they become something else. Blue, will always be blue. The sky is blue and so is the deep blue sea. Blue, it turns out, was an incredibly cool choice for Copenhagen. Iconic, too.

Superkilen Friendship Stop
Staying in Copenhagen for a bit, people come from far and wide to see the bold, red design of Superkilen square, designed by starchitect Bjarke Ingels. It may be a cool idea but I am thinking that the bold use of so much paint on this blank urban canvas is an integral part of the draw and fascination.

City Stickers
A few years ago, the city of Copenhagen's Bicycle Office wanted to the put down stickers on the cycle tracks. Heavy duty stickers that are applied with strong adhesives and put into place with heat in order to stay firm. They had many ideas for applications for the stickers, including using the bicycle office's logo and various encouraging texts like the ones on the bicycle railings that we have written about before and that Copenhagenize Design Company developed for the city. The Danish Road Directorate, however, would have none of it. The idea didn't fit into their very square and small box regarding usage of the pavement.
Watch Out for Angles/Angels
A compromise was reached, so now and then we do see safety warnings using the stickers. Only on the cycle tracks however not the roads. The one, above, warns about blind spots on turning trucks.

Cykelsupersti Inauguration-006
Another recent example from Copenhagen about the immovable attitude of the traffic engineers is an idea for the Copenhagen Bicycle Superhighway network. There was an incredibly simple wayfinding concept to let the users of the network know when they were actually on a stretch of bicycle superhighway. A continuous orange stripe along the entire route, no wider than the dividing line in car lanes. A stripe along the curb and across intersections that would be wonderfully simple to follow and inexpensive to implement.

The traffic engineers at the Danish Road Directorate, however, suffered a mass outbreak of nervous tics when the idea was proposed. Unacceptable. Impossible. Simply can't be done. A lot of lobbying work took place but they refused to back down and accept the fact that new ideas need to grow. Even just getting the road directorate to add the new logo for the bicycle superhighway to the official signage along the routes was a major battle. A compromise was reached and the signage was allowed to be changed but the orange stripe idea had to die.

And all this from the people who have engineered road markings like the kind you see when you look down upon our city from above.

Sao Paolo Cycle Lane_1
Even though the idea works just fine in Sao Paulo. The red stripes signify where the Sunday ciclofaixa lanes are, and yet they're in place all week.

The paint that was used when the Albertslund route opened was just your standard house paint. I noticed last month that it had faded from most of the route. Although along one stretch, one of the municipalities had chosen to repaint the stripe, which is cool because it is probably ”illegal”.

As I understand it, Copenhagen Blue was the preferred choice for the colour of bicycle infrastructure in some cities in America. Then they realised that blue had been allocated to handicap markings and signage and that's why America has gone green. In France, green is also the preferred colour for marking bicycle infrastructure. In the Netherlands many cycle tracks are paved with an earthy, reddish tint which is clearly different than the roadway.
Bordeaux Cycle Chic_56
In Bordeaux, on stretches of tramway heading out of town, they simply plant grass between the tracks.

Sao Paolo Penny Farthing
This bike path through a park in Sao Paulo is painted blue – sponsored by Volvo, actually.

BXL bike lanes
On this stretch of new cycle lane that I saw in Brussels in 2009, an angry, aggressive red was chosen. All sorts of dangerous connotations about cycling in the city are right there in that paint.

With all that said, paint doesn't necessarily serve an intelligent purpose. When I was in Vienna at the Velo-City conference this year, I heard that the City of Vienna had plans to spend €100,000 on green painted cycle tracks. As you may know, the blue cycle track markings in Copenhagen are thermoplast - a mixture of pigmented plastic and sand is applied in a heated form. It has excellent traction when wet which is of course important if people on bicycles are using it.
The Birth of Copenhagen Blue

In Vienna, they were just going to use paint as though they were renovating the children's bedroom. I rode past one section that had already suffered this fate and I could smell it a couple hundred metres before I even reached it and a couple hundred metres after I passed by. Fail.

I'm sure somebody will tell me in the comments that white isn't technically a colour but white, at the moment, is all we have to brighten up the fifty shades of grey in the form of pedestrian crossings and other street markings. I like pedestrian crossings so much I published a photo book about them. I have seen some artistic interpretations of pedestrian crossings and every time I see them I just think yes, yes, yes. More of that please.

Even just extending the stripes of the pedestrian crossing to follow the actual desire lines of the pedestrians would be a massive improvement, as we suggested in our Choreography of an Urban Intersection study from last year.

Groningen Colour
On a recent visit to Groningen, we passed through a couple of intersections painted in a bright, cheerful yellow colour. It really makes you think: why aren't all intersections in cities painted in bright colours? I live on a busy intersection and I look out my window at it several times a day. I can tell you that if it was yellow or even pink, it would look so much more attractive. What about renting out the intersection surface for advertising, just in order to get some colour into the urban equation?

Wait, no, of course that is a stupid idea but I hope you see my point. It's winter in Copenhagen so now, more than any other time of the year, I am desperate for some colour. So forgive that last comment.

Although right now I would love to see exactly this kind of activism in Berlin on every intersection in Copenhagen:

Most of the creative addition of colour in cities is not officially sanctioned like the yellow intersections in Groningen or experimental road markings in Copenhagen. Most is the work of activists or artists. Hey, isn't graffiti just a reaction against the drab and dreary urban pallete - and the society that created it? Here is a simple example of spicing up one of the classic bicycle symbols on a cycle track in Copenhagen.

Bike Lane Art

All of this dull and dreary grey in our cities makes traffic engineering sound like Henry Ford. ”You can have any colour of asphalt you want, as long as it's grey”. Times are changing though. Urban dwellers are demanding new and exciting additions to our cities. We are thinking out of the box like we have never done before. It is an exciting age.

Nevertheless, there is room for improvement and for innovation. I'm certainly not suggesting that every square centimetre of roadway has to be artistically rendered in every colour available to us. I'm just saying that the rigid, last-century mentality about the sacred nature of the urban Wailing Wall - the city streets - has to be changed in order to accommodate all of these new schools of thought about how our cities can be made better, more modern and more human.

New Tilt-action Cargo Bike Brand Hits the Market

Butchers & Bicycles

It has black and white graphic lines, a cool vintage style logo, but most of all this bicycle hopes to provide you with a new way to ride a cargo bike.

The brainchild of the newly launched company Butchers and Bicycles - located in the heard of Copenhagen's meatpacking district - the Mk1 aspires to change the game of riding a three-wheeler. They launched with bravado in their funky showroom and their promotional film did the rounds of the social media.

Many people pointed out that there were no groceries or children in the box of the bike in the film. A good point, actually.

Riding the Mk1 gives you a very different sensation compared to the established brands of three-wheeler cargo bikes. It feels more like riding a two-wheeler.

The bike is also very sporty. Selling itself in the film by showing you how you can corner better and faster. The box tilts with you into the bend. It appears that the bike is aimed at the male demographic and not shy about it.

There is, however, a door at the front of the box, above parking supports so you don't need to lift the children inside. Although with 40,000 cargo bikes already in Copenhagen, that hasn't really been much of an issue. The bike is also nice and light compared to the established brands, which may be a unique selling point.

An optional electric assist motor can be mounted. Right there, we are sceptical. In a densely-populated city with an average speed of 16 km/h, we don't fancy large, electric scooters zipping past doing 25 km/h.

Design-wise, the lines are elegant, the details impressive and the Mk1 rolls boldly along in simple in black or white. No bad taste in that department.

Butchers & Bicycles 
All in all, it's a shiny new cargo bike and it looks good. Whether or not it will be the gamechanger the designers hope it to be remains to be seen. We know that in Copenhagen it is usually the woman in the couple who decides upon the model of cargo bike when they are out shopping for one. Our guess is that they're going to get dragged along by the man to the showroom and then they'll end up buying a Nihola, Christiania Bike or a Triobike.

The Mk1 might appeal to small businesses who need a cargo bike for transporting small goods but if you're going to hammer home a success you need to win the hearts and minds of the young families. Having a price tag of almost €4000 for the normal version and around €5000 for the e-assist (almost double the price of the rest of the cargo bikes on the market) is not the way to do it.

Butchers & Bicycles 
What also remains to be seen is how a trike with so more moving parts than normal holds up after a Danish winter and constant daily use. Let's see where this brand is after two or three years before we declare it a success.

It is always good, however, to see innovation from people wanting to take things to a different level. Kudos for that. Butchers & Bicycles
Website: www.butchersandbicycles.com

30 December 2013

The Young Urbanists

My son Felix is 11 years old. You've probably seen him featured here on the blog or on Instagram if you're a regular reader. I have written previously about a little parental thing I have going on with my kids. I've never wanted to influence them unnecessarily regarding such things as our transport habits or recycling garbage or other such things that are part of our daily life.

Despite my work at Copenhagenize Design Company, I don't bang on endlessly about how important it is to ride a bicycle in cities and how driving a car in cities is a hopelessly old-fashioned and irresponsible act. Cars simply never enter into the conversation. We don't have one and my kids only spend about five hours a year in a car so there is really no need to discuss them. They are simply not part of our life.

Nor do I talk about bicycles. I'm not some bike geek so I don't talk about how great bicycles are, how bicycles can save the polar bears, cure diseases like malaria or chlamydia, blah blah blah. We just ride them. I just make it normal for them. Kids don't want to be perceived as being strange or different in their social hierarchy. The same applies to recycling. The city in which we live makes it possible for us to dispose of our garbage in great detail in our backyard. I don't think I have ever said to my children why it is important to recycle. I just tell them to take out the garbage and to remember to put it in the correct containers. It's normal. Do it. When they get older, I may fill them in about it.

I think it has been a good strategy for the kids and their perception of what is normal, right and sensible. With all that said, Felix at the age of 11 has picked up on a few things. He's at the age where he knows a lot more about what his dad does for a living and the intellectual nature of our conversations has increased - like it does with all kids that age. Now, we can have great conversations about urban planning and the kind of city that we want to live in. I cannot avoid the fact that he is influenced by me and the work that I do but I try to encourage him to make up his own mind about things. He is inquisitive and often asks more and more questions about what I do.

As I write this, he is in the fifth year of school. It was about two years ago that I started to realise the potential of children in the field of urban planning and city life. A couple of years ago the Bicycle Innovation Lab, the first cultural centre for cycling in the world which I was involved in founding, put on an exhibition called The Good City.

The goal of the exhibition was to allow a group of different people and organisations the opportunity to envision what The Good City should and could look like. It was written between the lines that bicycles, inevitably, were involved in the development of The Good City. As I have said many times before it's not all about the bicycle. The bicycle is merely the most powerful tool at our disposal in our urban toolbox for creating liveable cities. Or as we like to say here at Copenhagenize - Life-Sized Cities.

The result of the exhibition was a fascinating array of interesting and sometimes visionary proposals about The Good City. Copenhagenize Design Company was one of the participants in the exhibition along with architectural firms, cycling organisations and other interested and interesting parties. I wanted, however, to throw a curveball into the equation. I enlisted the help of Felix's third-grade class and gave them a challenge.

I went into their classroom and asked them, quite simply, if they thought that they could redesign the roundabout outside their school. It's an incredibly badly engineered roundabout - even for Copenhagen or, more specifically, Frederiksberg, where we live. Nevertheless, it is a roundabout that all the students use at least twice a day - and often several times.
I asked them to look at the roundabout and figure out how they could make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as proposing how people could get out of their cars and onto public transport or bicycles. That's it. I didn't fill their minds with anything more than that. I try to explain the challenge in the simplest terms in the hope of getting them to take up the challenge from the purest possible point of departure.

They took up the gauntlet with gusto, dividing up into teams, doing site visits and talking together with the kind of passion that kids that age have. They took notes and made drawings - okay, mostly drawings - they were third-graders after all. They went back into the classroom after their field research to discuss both in their groups and as a class. Their teacher was brilliant in guiding them and keeping them on track and they brought a great many ideas to the table and the mini project culminated with them producing a wonderful model of the newly designed roundabout, made out of milk cartons and cardboard.

It was a joy to behold the entire process. Since this urban planning experiment, I have done a lot more work with children, including my own, and I have developed an enormous amount of respect for their purity of thought, rationality and logical approach to city life and urban planning.

As you would expect from 22 young urban minds there were a great many ideas. One of the boys suggested that all the roads be dug up and made into canals. His idea was that everybody could just buy canoes and kayaks and paddle happily about their daily lives in our densely-populated neighbourhood. Even the craziest ideas from the minds of children can be incredibly appealing and aesthetic. The boy may or may not have heard about Copenhagen's climate change fate which has brought us regular torrential rain storms that our sewer system was simply not designed to handle. More than likely, he just likes going canoeing with his family.

Regarding the question of how to encourage people to get out of their cars another boy had a simple suggestion. ”Why don't we just make cars uglier? Then people wouldn't want to buy them or drive them”, he said. Again... simple and rational.

They also had a long list of more concrete ideas. Without any real experience or knowledge of the finer points of speed limits, they determined that the speed through the roundabout and, indeed, all the streets around their school should be set at 15 km/h. This was one point that amazed me. When I went back into the classroom to talk with them about their solutions I asked how they knew that. How did they reach 15 km/h as a speed limit?

Bizarrely, or so you might think being a school in Copenhagen, the speed limit is 40 km/h past their school. Fortunately, the roundabout is tight, so it is difficult to hit that speed. The kids admitted that they saw the speed limit postings on signs nearby but also that they observed the speeds of the cars and the bicycles. They made a guesstimate about 15 km/h being the perfect speed limit. They had no way of knowing that 15 or 16 km/h is actually the average speed for cyclists in Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Nice one.

There are cycle tracks, of course, going past their school. Nevertheless, they proposed putting up a fence between the cycle track and the car lane. In order to keep people safer and to make them feel safe. They had figured out perception of safety. I was loving it.

After observing the roundabout and the traffic going through it one of the groups thought it might be a good idea simply put up traffic lights instead of using the roundabout function. The reasoning was based on their experiences going to school in the morning. School starts at 8 o'clock which is also the time that most of the city seems to be heading towards work. There are crossing guards to help the children and parents get onto the school grounds but impatient motorists, almost every single day, create a tense and somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere as the clock ticks towards the ringing of the school bell. They simply thought that would force the motorists to stop and it would make it a more pleasant and less distressing experience getting into the school.

Another interesting proposal from these young minds was implementing one-way streets around their school. Only for cars, of course. Most of them live in the neighbourhoods around the school and one-way streets are not a foreign concept to them but they identified it as a sensible solution around their school.

Putting in speed bumps at regular intervals was also an idea on the table. Again, only on the road for the cars. To slow them down, they said. All very simple and rational ideas that could be easily implemented.

They decided to conquer back the road space and put cycle tracks down the middle of the main street, relegating cars to side lanes and forcing them to come to a full stop at the intersection. It was also here that they took it one step further with their boldest idea. In a unanimous decision, they wanted to see glass roofs covering the cycle track, not only around the school but in the entire neighbourhood. They simply did not want to get wet in the rain or snow ever again on their bikes. That was something I could sympathise with.

At the end of the day all their passionate work was based on rationality, logic, human experience, their personal desire lines and human need.

It was then that I realised that by adopting their pure, rational thought we could very well be on the way to make a great leap towards modernising our cities and making them more liveable. Thinking like they do frees our minds.

The glass roofs are a funny idea, sure. As we speak, however, rain sensors are being tested in cities in the Netherlands. Sensors that will register if it is raining or snowing or if the temperature is too cold and that will then allow for 3 to 4 times more light cycles for cyclists in order to get them home quicker through the adverse weather.

In Copenhagen, the Green Wave for cyclists which has been in place since 2007, is another way of thinking simply about how to prioritise urban cycling. Ideas like these use the same simple and rational approach as the children used when redesigning the roundabout outside their school.

Like I said, I have become acutely attuned to the brilliant logic of children in matters relating to my work. Sometimes, I dare say, I feel like I would prefer to work with children on our urban planning projects. It would certainly be cheaper. Hourly wages could be paid in ice cream and the occasional trip to Tivoli amusement park.

As I say in my bicycle urbanism by design keynote talk, what would the streets of our cities look like if our main consultants were five-year-olds like Lulu, third graders and teams of young design students? I think they would be beautiful. They would work just as good as the working now.

More importantly, they would be safer than any single point in the last century. They would be rational streets designed on the desire and mobility patterns of the citizens. Just as they were for 7000 years since cities first were formed and before we screwed up by allowing traffic engineering to dominate life in our cities.

29 December 2013

Mexican Bicycle Town Fights for Country's First Slow Zone


Guest writer on Copenhagenize, Giovanni Zayas, is a founding member of Cholula en Bici and a junior partner in an architecture consulting firm.

It all starts at around 12:45 PM. A stream of mostly female cyclists starts flowing erratically from several cross-streets, weaving through downtown of the Mexican town of San Andrés Cholula in all directions. They are rushing to pick their kids up from the several schools located in this area. Most of their bicycles feature improvised small wooden seats fixed to the upper part of the frame, right where their children can grasp the handlebar while being protected by their mothers’ arms. However, it is when they are riding with their children when they seem the most vulnerable. In the middle of rush hour, they have to brave impatient speeding cars, distracted pedestrians and the many other cyclists that share the main road. This reality will soon change if the urban cycling collective Cholula en Bici succeeds in implementing Mexico’s first official slow zone. The campaign called Cholula Zona 30 would reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h through a redesign of the streets in a 5 km-wide perimeter in the center of San Andrés Cholula.

Cholula, located in the central state of Puebla, Mexico, is a municipality made up by three towns: San Andrés, San Pedro and the smaller Santa Isabel. Together they are part of the metropolitan area of the state capital, the city of Puebla, the fourth largest in the country. Famous for being home to the pyramid with the world’s largest base and a church on top, Cholula is one of the oldest living cities in the continent. Cholollan, the náhuatl word that the current name derives from, translates to “water that falls in the escape place”. It is a clear reference to the city’s ages-old role of accommodating several cultures throughout its existence.

Curiously enough, the city stills seems to be a place people run away to, even 2,500 years after its foundation. Since the establishment of the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla in the 1970’s, the town has seen a huge influx of out-of-state Mexicans and foreigners, adding a cosmopolitan flair to an ancient, traditional town. The private university, with its well-off students, has also pumped a lot of cash into the local economy, spurring on small businesses, as well as franchises for big box multinationals.

The proliferation of cars in cities seems to be endemic to modern economic development. Even today, Cholula is still a pueblo bicicletero- bicycle town- a pejorative used to describe a place so underdeveloped that it is deprived from the paradigmatic symbol of status - the automobile - as a means of transportation. But in recent years, the flat streets of this town, located 2000 m above sea level, have seen a dramatic rise in traffic. It is not only the students that drive around town in their brand new wheels; locals have started to purchase their own cars with easy and cheap credit. There is still, however, a very solid base of natives and students that ride their bicycles to work or school. Whether it is the balloon vendor, the high-school kids with their green uniforms or the man selling raw milk in large metal jugs, Cholulans seem to bike anywhere and at all times.

We used to feel safer,” claims a concerned mother named Dulce while her boy firmly grips the handlebar in order to maintain balance after his mom’s sudden stop. Dulce, like a vast majority of cyclists in the city, feels that both the 5 de Mayo and 14 Oriente streets are less safe after the San Andrés government dismantled the bike lanes during an urban overhaul of these main streets in September 2012. The lanes, which connected both streets perpendicularly, gave a sense of security despite the constant invasions by moving and parked cars and their deficient design (a meter-wide, two-way lane confined by flat,
turtle shell-shaped elements). San Andres’ mayor carried out the renovations mainly because he was eager to receive the Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town) distinction given by the Federal Tourism Ministry. The program grants federal resources to small towns so that they can exploit their tourism potential.

The original plans for the streets featured renovated city lighting as well as wider bike lanes and sidewalks to be built at the expense of a street section used only for free public parking. The neighbors allowed the widening of only one sidewalk but rejected the elimination of the public parking space, leaving no space for the bike lanes. They went as far as demonstrating outside city hall to ensure that the mayor wouldn’t try to reinstall the bike lanes.

The urban cycling collective Cholula en Bici demanded an official explanation through several letters and phone calls. The government, hoping to avoid any confrontation with the residents of 5 de Mayo and the cyclists, assured each party separately that their demands would be met. After months of waiting for the pledged construction works to begin on the streets, Cholula en Bici started the campaign #ydóndeestálaciclovía (#whereisthebikelane) which culminated in a rally on 5 de Mayo street (named for the day that marks the victorious battle between Mexico and France in the city of Puebla), a block away from the mayor’s office at the Zócalo (main square). The BICIRED (National Urban Cycling Network), the association that coordinates most of the country’s cycling groups, sent the city and state governments thousands of tweets demanding the restoration of the bicycle infrastructure. People signed petitions, voiced their demands with loudspeakers and finally formed a “human bike lane” by drawing with chalk and standing on the outline of the original lane. The conservative mayor, Miguel Huepa, sent his chief of staff to ask the protestors to meet with him before the event was over.

Cholula en Bici handed out 1,200 signed (plus 2,000 online) petitions demanding the construction of bike lanes that comply with the minimum design standards. After a two hour meeting between the collective and most of the city cabinet, the mayor approved the lanes as long as the 5 de Mayo neighbors agreed. The task was daunting, but the collective was determined to win this six month-long battle.

The following week, just as Cholula en Bici was set to begin addressing the residents, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a prestigious nonprofit organization that advocates for more sustainable urban transport, contacted the cyclists and gave them another idea: a slow zone that would use the disputed parking spaces as one of several elements meant to reduce vehicle speed to 30 km/h while transferring street priority from cars to pedestrians and cyclists. After many debates, the collective’s executive committee decided to cease the demands for bike lanes and push for the
creation of the slow zone. Accordingly, the project was named Cholula Zona 30.

Cholula Zona 30 features urban elements that induce motorists to reduce their speed by forcing them to follow a zigzag trajectory: chicanes, outlined by flower planters, include benches and bicycle parking; “noses” at intersections reduce car’s turning radius; speed cushions, unlike the infamous, yet ubiquitous topes (bumpers), reduce speed without forcing the car to a full stop when it is not needed; and signs painted on the street floor and set on posts, remind all street users about speed limit for motorists and about cyclists’ priority.

ITDP proposed to advise Cholula en Bici on street design, and San Andrés Cholula’s local government would fund and execute the project. Government approval would be practically guaranteed since the proposal addressed the concerns of both the 5 de Mayo residents and the cyclists satisfied.

Despite the fact that Mayor Huepa became a chapulín (a “grasshopper,” or a politician that “jumps” from one government post to another) and decided to run for state congress, council member Jesús Romero welcomed the proposal as the interim mayor. During a joint news conference with Cholula en Bici and ITDP, Romero announced that he would instruct his cabinet to provide the collective with all the construction plans and maps so they could jointly design the proposal. The collective, somewhat blinded by the milestone they had just achieved, could not foresee the next chapter.

In Mexican bureaucracy, incompetence, right after corruption, might be the main obstacle to real progress. Even when the mayor appeared to have the political will, the Public Works Ministry never fully understood why the streets would be re-designed to “annoy” car drivers with obstacles for the sole sake of reducing their speed. By delaying, or failing to comply with due dates and meetings, the officials in charge with designing and developing the city’s infrastructure were showing their complete disregard for pedestrians’ and cyclists’ rights on the streets.

In an attempt to appease Cholula en Bici, they hired a contractor to paint the outlines of chicanes and noses, as well as the “30” and the “bicycle priority” signs. The contractor purchased non-traffic paint, failed to use the correct measurements and hand-drew the signs instead of using a template. In less than three days, all of the signs had been mostly washed away by rain and other environmental elements.

A non-profit, social initiative like Cholula Zona 30 was not immune to the political brouhaha so characteristic of Mexican politics. The Public Works Ministry challenged direct orders from the interim mayor, Jesús Romero, who, despite his political weakness, was still the head of the government until Miguel Huepa came back to office; he pledged to do so after the elections. However, Mr. Huepa won a seat in congress but broke his promise to finish his mandate as mayor. Andrés Cóyotl, a 27 year-old mid-level official was then appointed mayor, making him the third one in less than 5 months. Mr. Cóyotl will step down in February 2014, when conservative mayor-elect Leoncio Paisano is due
to take office.

Cholula en Bici recently announced it would cease pursuing the implementation of the slow zone with the current administration and affirmed it would restart its campaign in February with the new mayor of San Andres. Efforts with the following government may be more successful considering a more energetic administration with a brand new budget to dispose of.

Nevertheless, the collective’s members continue to promote the project through publications and conferences. After a presentation during the 6th National Urban Cycling Congress, collectives from several cities approached Cholula en Bici requesting advice on how to implement their own slow zones. Cholula en Bici also managed to get San Pedro’s young mayor-elect, José Juan Espinosa, to sign a commitment letter that includes the development of a comprehensive Bicycle Mobility Program, the creation of slow zones and a Sunday ciclovía and the pledge to never promote or apply a mandatory helmet policy. In an effort to remind the incoming mayors of San Pedro and San Andrés that slow zones will be a central demand by Cholula en Bici during their tenures, the collective displayed, on top of the pyramid (located in the border between both towns and
managed by both governments), a gigantic 36 square meter banner with the emblematic “30” sign that could be seen from most spots in the city during International Car-Free Day on September 22.

And so, Cholula, the town of absurd sidewalks and herds of wild street dogs, may have started a slow zone revolution in Mexico. It has beat the country’s bicycle capital, Mexico City, in doing so. Cholula may envy the capital’s hip, and very successful, bicycle share program, its far-from-ideal bike lanes and its massive Sunday ciclovía that runs through the Champs Elysees-inspired Reforma avenue and the city’s majestic Centro Histórico. But what Cholula lacks in bicycle infrastructure and policy, it makes up for in a population that has used, and still uses, the bicycle as its preferred means of transport.

The mammoth challenge that Cholula faces is to prevent its people from quitting their bicycles to start using cars. As stated in its organizational charter, Cholula en Bici will do everything in its power to stop such a phenomenon. And it is on the right track to achieve just that.

See more photos from the project in Choulula on Flickr in this set.

How Cities Should be Designed

Another graphic illustration of the paradigm shift that is necessary for our cities.

25 December 2013

My Family Tree as a Metro Transit Map

I was thinking about designing a family tree. I have a huge family and it's often hard to keep track of all of them. I had a look around the internet and realised that there was little inspiration for designing a family tree, from a graphic design perspective. Shockingly little inspiration.

So I thought... what if my family was a metropolitan transit system? What would the metro map look like?

It took a while to figure out the details and the design. It's basically an infographic. Family trees are limited to a certain flow and order, which is maybe why there is so little new developments in the design of them.

Anyway, here's the result. The Andersen Metropolitan Transportation Map.

It goes without saying that bicycles are allowed on all these trains.

24 December 2013

Copenhagen Bicycle Rush Hour in Lego

Citizen Cyclists 001
If we lived in Toy-penhagen, this is what this rush hour would look like. Citizen Cyclists riding through the city.
Citizen Cyclists 006
Man in a suit complete with mobile. Supermum with her kid and her coffee. Flowers decorating a bike.
Citizen Cyclists 012
The elderly (with baguettes), a doctor, you name it.
Citizen Cyclists 010
Businessman with briefcase. 50% + female ridership. Etc.
Citizen Cyclists 004
One-handed riding. Yep... it's all there. All we need is for LEGO to make stilettos and mini-skirts if we really want to make a true representation of Copenhageners on their bicycles, but hey.
Citizen Cyclists 007

Vélomonde Vintage Bicycle Posters: Peugot
I have also reproduced one of my favourite bicycle posters in Lego. Based on the 1922 poster from Peugeot. Bicycles on top of the world.

Felix and I have also played around with Lego as urban infill, if you fancy a look.

If you haven't spotted the Copenhagenize Design Company christmas card on Twitter or our Facebook page, here it is.

Have a lovely holiday season and a wonderful new year.

18 December 2013

Crowdfunding Cargo Bikes, History, Social Inclusion and a Bike Race

The crowdfunding film we've made for our project over at Rockethub.

Here at Copenhagenize Design Company, we've been looking forward to this moment for a very long time. Just over a year ago I got the idea to take the traditional, historical Svajerløb cargo bike race that started in 1942 in Copenhagen and stage it in Rio de Janeiro.

Finally, together with Brazilian friends and colleagues, we are today launching a passionate crowdfunded project to stage the first Rio de Janeiro Cargo Bike Championships in 2014. We're absolutely buzzing today.

Let me stop you right there, just to make sure we're on the same page.

What we are planning for Rio de Janeiro will be a version of the original svajerløb cargo bike races held from 1942-1960 in Copenhagen. In 1942 a priest, Kristian Skjerring, decided to do something for the social inclusion of the men and boys from the poor neighbourhoods who were the backbone of transporting goods in the city on their armada of cargo bikes. They were invisible in the social hierarchy of the city and he thought they needed some respect. He organised the races on Grønttorvet - now Israel's Square - and the event became incredibly popular for the citizens of the city. The funds raised were used to send the boys to a summer camp on the coast.

Social inclusion at its best.

The races were revised in 2009 in Copenhagen - and Copenhagenize has been involved in organising them since - but the race in Rio will mirror the traditional race, with the same goal of social inclusion.

Rio de Janeiro is one of the great cargo bike capitals of the world, as this article of ours will attest. The army of cargo bike messengers - cargueiras in Portuguese - make the city work. In the Copacabana neighbourhood alone, there are over 11,000 cargo bike deliveries a day.

Nevertheless, the cargueiras do not enjoy the respect of the citizens as much as they should in they role as some of the hardest working people in the city.

Enter the Rio cargo bike championships - Campeonato Carioca de Cargueiras.

We would be most pleased if you had a look at the film and our crowdfunding site. It's all about history, social inclusion and adrenaline. A kick-ass bike race, a pedestal on which the riders can stand proud before their city and a win-win for everyone involved. Including those who donate.


- More on the history of the Svajere - Danish cargo bike messengers - and the history here and here.


12 December 2013

Spectacular Cargo Bike Collection in Italy

Cargo Bike Culture in Ferrara, Italy
Vintage cargo bike fleet in Ferrara, Italy

We love cargo bikes at Copenhagenize, not least for their role in modernising our cities. There are 40,000 of them in Copenhagen, so we see them every day. Copenhagenize Design Co. is also a partner in the three-year Cyclelogistics.eu project aimed at promoting cargo bike use in cities. We've published a book with 725 photos of cargo bikes in Copenhagen and around the world - Cargo Bike Nation. We help organize the Svajerløb - Danish Cargo Bike Championships. It's safe to say that we have cargo bikes on the brain.

Whereas in Copenhagen cargo bikes are an integral part of daily and city life, they are still very much an emerging trend in many parts of the world. I've ridden Bullitts in New York and Tokyo, a Bakfiets in Barcelona and a Triobike in Vancouver and Los Angeles. Every time, people are amazed to see these bikes. They've crossed streets to talk to me about it - non-cyclists, as a rule. They are amazing conversation starters.

Often you find yourself explaining that you know what?... cargo bikes used to be normal transport forms in cities all over the planet. In Russia. In Australia. In America - where IBM repairmen used to ride them. You name it.

Now, the cargo bike is returning to our cities. Even the Wall Street Journal has noticed. People are rediscovering all sorts of uses for them.

It's all good, but it's also important to keep hammering home that all this was normal for decades and decades. Enter our Cyclelogistics partner Gianni Stefanati, from the City of Ferrara, Italy. (amazing city for vintage bikes, by the way) He discovered this fantastic, free e-book written by Felino Tassi for the BikeItalia.it website about a passionate man in Lecco, Italy. Nello Sandrinelli has collected a great number of vintage cargo bikes from the era around the Second World War.

(Correction: in the original text we wrongly credited Gianni Stefanati as author. It is in fact Felino Tassi. Oops! Sorry!)

I've never seen anything like them. Mr Sandrinelli hasn't just gathered up dusty old bicycles. He has collected bicycles that were complete - just as they were the last time they were used. He also collects the stories - as much as possible - about the craftsmen who used them.

Here are some of the cargo bikes in Mr Sandrinelli's museum. Be amazed.

Cargo Bike History: Mosaic Craftsman's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: The Lamp and Stove Seller's Bicycle
Left: A mosaic craftsman's bicycle. Fixing mosaics and tiles damaged by age or storms.
Right: Lamp and stove seller's bicycle.
Cargo Bike History: The Furniture Polisher's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: The Wood Carver's Bicycle
Left: Furniture Polisher's bicycle
Right: Wood Carver's bicycle.
Cargo Bike History: The Coffee Seller's Bicycle The Vineyard and Orchard Grafter's Bicycle
Left: Coffee seller's bicycle, complete with grinder.
Right: Vineyard & orchard grafter's bicycle. Repairing broken vines and trees, grafting the branches back on.
Cargo Bike History: The Beekeeper's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: The Walking Stick/Cane Maker's Bicycle
Left: Beekeeper's bicycle. Complete with hives.
Right: Walking stick maker/seller's bike. The rack on the front is for carrying sticks found in the woods. The rack at the back is for displaying the finished products.
Cargo Bike History: The Cinema Vendor's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: The Plaster Sculptor's Bicycle
Left: Cinema vendor's bicycle. For selling sweets and cigarettes to cinemagoers.
Right: Plaster sculptor's bicycle.
Cargo Bike History: The Cobbler's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: The Wood Carver's Bicycle
Left: Cobbler's bicycle. For all shoe repair.
Right: Wood carver's bicycle.
Cargo Bike History: The Refrigeration Repairman's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: Package Delivery
Left: Refrigeration repairman's bicycle.
Right: Package delivery.
Cargo Bike History: The Midwife's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: The Professor's Bicycle & The Fortune Teller's Bicycle
Left: Midwife's bicycle.
Right, at top: Professor's bicycle from a female professoressa. At bottom: A fortune teller's bicycle.
Cargo Bike History: The Artist's Bicycle Cargo Bike History: Lunch Delivery Bicycle - to Factories
Left: Artist's bicycle.
Right: Lunch delivery bicycle. Wives would bring a hot lunch to men at factories.
Cargo Bike History: The Fireworks Bicycle & The Lumberjack's Bicycle 
Left, at top: A fireworks bicycle. Hired for parties and events. At bottom: A lumberjack bike.

You can download the e-book on Bike Italia's website. It's in Italian, but the text translates pretty well into English on Google translate.

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