29 January 2014

Trying to Take the Bicycle Seriously. Ish.

The Human League concert today at Danish Parliament

Today saw the final conference of the three year Bikeability research project in Denmark. Or Slutkonference, in Danish, which would make you wonder if you had the right room if you didn't speak Danish. But I digress. On the second sentence... which might explain alot.

Bascially, bicycle planning in the Kingdom of Denmark coasted to an internal hub brake stop today. 230 of the nation's planners, advocates - and others in pursuit of a free lunch - gathered at the Danish parliament (all the Borgen fans just started paying attention...) to hear the results of the research project.

Conference title: Take the Bicycle Seriously - The future of bicycle planning. Boom. Sounds good. Promising. Inspiring.

That's why I went along. I have a sincere personal and professional desire and hope to be inspired and learn about new research findings. I even went on my birthday, so eager for inspiration am I.

Bike Ride Science
Back in 2010, I went for a bike ride to launch this project, with the likes of former Science Minister Helge Sander, Brian Holm and others. Today was the culmination of the project.

Basically, 16.5 million kroner ($3 million USD) was pumped into the project from government funding and the list of partners is long. University of Copenhagen, Danish Technical University, University of Southern Denmark, Aalborg University, Danish Cancer Society, Danish Cyclists' Federation, Delft University of Technology and I-CE (Interface for Cycling Expertise, Netherlands)

My hopes were high.

Which meant there was a long way to fall.

The conference was interesting. It's also interesting listen to old Human League records, even though you've heard them before many times. There was, however, nothing new under the cycling sun today.

Here's the one minute version of the conference:

- New research confirmed older research.
- Cycling is good for the public health. (repeat 43 times)
- The Netherlands are way ahead of Denmark on national cycling levels.
- Density in cities is good for walking and cycling.
- Cycling levels are increasing in larger cities, falling in the provinces.
- People just want to get from A to B fast.
- Infrastructure increases cycling and therefore public health.
- Accidents happen in intersections.

The lunch was great, though. The coffee less so.

16.5 million kroner for a Human League record.

At lunch I asked ten random colleagues the same question: "So, what do you think? Anything new?" To which they all replied, "no, not really." But the meatballs were delicious.

I remember remarking three years ago when I heard that cycling was heading into an over-complicated, over-academicised project that for 16.5 million kroner we could just build some infrastructure and launch positive campaigns to encourage cycling and that branded car-culture as being old-fashioned and unwanted in our cities. That a project like this was seemingly a waste of time and money. It might not be a waste - reconfirming existing research is always nice - but the fact that the target was completely off is a concern.

During the conference all the things that we know about cycling were repeated ad nauseum. What was completely and utterly ignored was the elephant in the societal room. The automobile. For THAT kind of money, you'd think they would have tackled the present and immediate problem - reducing car traffic in our cities. Making driving more difficult. More expensive. Taking away space from cars and handing it to bicycle users and public transport.

Instead of wasting 16.5 million kroner, everyone could have stared at this poster until their eyes crossed, then went out and actually did it:

Copenhagenize Traffic Planning Guide

The poster took me an hour. The idea for it popped up in my head in an instant back in 2008. It is free.

Give the 16.5 million to a team of young marketing students and urban planning students - or a third grade class - and you would see results. In less than three years. Without having to heard that same old record over and over again.

I don't like being disappointed. It's frustrating and unpleasant. But the chain fell off this project and the bike shops are closed. We should expect more from one of the great cycling nations of the world.

5 comments:

Erik Griswold said...

Happy Birthday!

Unknown said...

A version of that poster (and others) that fits into a Facebook cover page would be useful. 851x315, I believe.

Nick said...

I worry that Denmark is succumbing to the US/UK obsession with data and statistics to guide their future bikeway development.

You know how to build good places. Don't let faulty, overly simplistic studies tell you otherwise.

Todd said...

Yes, true...the recent drive for data is also driven by the desire to "sell" / export the Danish bike transport policy and design experience to others such as the USA etc.

And it is all well and good to see and believe in the Danish success - I have enjoyed my trips to it - but the "decision makers" elsewhere either cannot travel to experience it/ embrace it or they need "cold hard facts" to sell the idea to citizens who have not cycled since they were 12 and never had a professional "cyclist as driver" training etc etc. etc.

Todd said...

PS. I am glad that this study helped settle a common bet in the Portland (OR) USA area...which country has had more success in cycling policy: the Danes or the Dutch.

(I won the bet, but forgot who I have bet on it...just buy me an adult beverage...or a coffee when you see me next time.)