25 April 2014

Do Copenhagen Police Make it Up As They Go Along?

You know you live in a a car-centric city when it's not allowed for bicycle users to turn right on red. Despite the fact that it's legal in many European cities in France, Belgium and be tested in many others, like Basel. Despite the fact that it is one of the most obvious things to implement to encourage cycling and keep bicycle users safe.

A French friend new to Copenhagen had seen that a few Copenhageners turned right on red - only a small number, of course, as we've figured out - but one day in April he was stopped by Torben. Torben is a civil servant - a policeman - and that day he was out trying to meet the quotas necessary to please his boss.

Bicycle users are the low-hanging fruit for such situations. Going after motorists is time-consuming and tiring. Just stand at the usual spots and hand out fines for minor infractions - many of which that don't have a place in the law books in a modern city.

So Torben was just doing his job, as dictated by his superiors. It isn't known whether Torben was one of the many police officers who have publicly criticized the fact that they are forced to hand out traffic tickets to meet quotas.

Torben, however, seems to have some issues with understanding the basic rules about cycling. Fine, turning right on red isn't allowed at the intersection in question - Store Kongensgade/Gothersgade - so stopping my friend Romain is fair enough. A newcomer to Copenhagen - from a city where right turns on red for bicycle users is allowed at a number of intersections - could be forgiven for not knowing that Copenhagen hasn't yet removed this archaeic law. You'd think some respect and flexibility for foreigners navigating the city would be in its place, especially since Romain rolled calmly around the corner without bothering any pedestrians or other traffic users.

Torben informed Romain that his bicycle is required to have two brakes. The coaster brake on its own wasn't enough. Again, how are visitors supposed to know that Denmark has many obscure laws like this? Flexibility for visitors, please. You'll still make your quotas if you put your mind to it, Torben.

Then it all got a bit strange. Torben informed our visitor that his bicycle was also required to have magnetic lights and fenders. That it was illegal to ride it in Copenhagen. Magnetic lights are well-known in Denmark, but how on earth should a Frenchman have heard of them? And fenders? It's a no-brainer that fenders make sense for city cycling, sure, but you know what? It is not required by any law that a bicycle be equipped with magnetic lights (it was also broad daylight) or fenders.

The fine ($200) only covered the right turn on red but it left Romain very confused.

Romain emailed me to ask about these bizarre claims by Torben and I explained it to him. I also explained that he join the Cykelrazzia Facebook group in order to coordinate with almost 2000 other bicycle users in Copenhagen about the placement of the police's quota traps each day.

Can somebody tell our dear civil servant Torben the facts? And make sure his colleagues are in the same loop?

It's no secret that the Copenhagen Police are among the most bicycle unfriendly in Europe, but when it gets this silly, it doesn't help anyone.

22 April 2014

The New Question for 21st Century Cities

The New Question for Cities
It's all so simple if we want it to be. For almost a century we have been asking the same question in our cities.

"How many cars can we move down a street?"

It's time to change the question.

If you ask "How many PEOPLE can we move down a street?", the answer becomes much more modern and visionary. And simple. Oh, and cheaper.

Let alone the fact that the model at the top can move 10 times more people down a street than the model at the bottom.

When I travel with my Bicycle Urbanism by Design keynote, I often step on the toes of traffic engineers all around the world. Not all of them, however. I am always approached by engineers who are grateful that someone is questioning the unchanged nature of traffic engineering and the unmerited emphasis placed on it. I find it brilliant that individual traffic engineers in six different nations have all said the same thing to me: "We're problem solvers. But we're only ever asked to solve the same problem."

This graphic is inspired by the wonderful conversations I've had around the world about my keynote. How many people we can move down the street is the New Question for liveability and transport in The Life-Sized City.

With urbanisation on the rapid rise, we need to think big. Think modern. We need to travel Back to the Future for the solutions that will serve our growing populations best. Cycle tracks. Trams. Wider sidewalks. It's all right there for the taking if we dare to take it.

19 April 2014

Bicycle-Friendly Cobblestones

Bicycle Friendly Cobblestones
Ole Kassow from Purpose Makers - and brainchild behind the Cycling Without Age movement - gave us this great shot from a street in the Østerbro neighbourhood of Copenhagen. The City has a new thing they're doing. Replacing the old, bumpy cobblestones on certain streets with smooth ones. Just a strip, like down the middle on this one-way street - to make it a smoother ride for bicycle users. The city keeps a number of streets cobblestoned because of aesthetics and historical reasons. History can be a bumpy ride, though.

We like how the new cobblestones are elegantly woven into the existing ones.
Bicycle Friendly Cobblestones
On a street in the centre of Copenhagen, there are now smoother strips along the curbs for bicycle users to use. Above is a delegation from the City of Groningen, who we took on a Bicycle Urbanism tour of the city a few weeks ago. Apart from their fascination with the curb-separated cycle tracks (they filmed them in order to convince their engineers that they work... yes, they're from Groningen), these smooth cobblestone strips were an object of fascination and I had to drag them away in order to get to lunch in time.

I love how even established bicycle cities can continued to be inspired by each other. There is no complete bicycle city - yet.
Car-centric Østerbro
Have a look at the street in the top photo again. It is a one way street but it's clear that the Arrogance of Space exists even in Copenhagen. Stupidly wide street and that means the sidewalks look like this. Cars are prioritised still - at the expense of the pedestrians and bicycle users and basically everyone in the city. And this in a neighbourhood with only just over 20% car ownership.

18 April 2014

Films from Copenhagen in 1923, 1932, 1937, 1950s


Copenhagen. 1932. Thanks to @laxbikeguy (James) on Twitter for the link.
"Cyclists in hundreds - thousands (millions it seemed to our cameraman!) throng the City of Copenhagen."
Wild how there was only 12 views on this film when I clicked on the link from James. Feels like archeology. :-)


Here is Copenhagen in 1937. When I found this in 2011 there were only a dozen views or so. Glad it got out to a wider audience.


Copenhagen in the 1950s.


Copenhagen in 1923.

16 April 2014

The World's Best Behaved Cyclists are in Copenhagen


As I highlight in this TED x Zurich talk of mine about Bicycle Culture by Design, Copenhagen has the world's best behaved cyclists. Bar none. I've cycled in close to 100 cities around the world and I've never seen anything that comes close.

Citizens in any city do not - contrary to popular perception - wander around all day looking for laws to break.

Wherever you happen to be reading this from, you're probably aware of the general perception of "those damned cyclists". Even here in Copenhagen, the perception persists, not least from the Copenhagen Police and their one-man wrecking crew. They - and he - continue to spread personal perceptions about cycling citizens. 52% of the citizens in Copenhagen ride each day and most of the others have bikes that they use regularly. We are dealing with basically the entire population of a European city. The police are out of their league when it comes to behaviour perception.

This perception is as old as the bicycle itself. One of Denmark's most loved satirists and cartoonists Storm P. (Robert Storm Petersen), a daily bicycle user, highlighted with great Danish irony the silliness of such perceptions in his piece A New Traffic Etiquette for Cyclists - in 1934. Things haven't changed. The whining minority still whines about the cycling majority. A sign that we need to change the paradigm of planning to prioritise intelligent forms of transport, instead of merely accepting the car-centric status quo that we inherited from a previous century.

Behaviour hasn't changed for over 100 years - and won't be changing anytime soon. Here's my baseline: We can't very well expect bicycle users to adhere to a traffic culture and traffic rules engineered to serve the automobile, now can we? It is like expecting badminton players to use the rules of squash.

Every single moment of every single day, the citizens of our cities are communicating with us. They are sending messages about the urban space they inhabit and it is of utmost importance that we listen to every communication. Unfortunately, planning and engineering are often too self-absorbed and arrogant to answer the calls of the citizens.

Desire Lines are democracy in action and democracy in motion. They are, however, more than merely the mobility patterns of our citizens. They are the physical manifestation of much of the communication from our tireless army of urban cartographers. I find them to be quite beautiful. Not to mention incredibly useful, especially in bicycle planning and even in a city like Copenhagen.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll know all too well our fondness for Desire Lines related to bicycle planning and research. What started with The Choreography of an Urban Intersection has morphed into numerous Desire Lines Analyses of other streets and intersections in Copenhagen and, most recently, Amsterdam. Together with the University of Amsterdam we are analysing behaviour and Desire Lines at ten intersections.

With The Choreography of an Urban Intersection back in 2012, Copenhagenize Design Co. decided to take things to the next level regarding bicycle user behaviour. A study of that size and scope had never been undertaken before. So much commentary about bicycle user behaviour has been based on perception for far too long. "Those damned cyclists" repeated ad nauseum in dozens of languages has made us forget that we don't actually know very much about their behaviour.

In most cities, the reason for what is percieved as "bad behaviour" is simply the fact that bicycle users haven't been given adequate infrastructure or, even worse, none at all.

The explempary behaviour of Copenhagen bicycle users is due to the fact that the bicycle infrastructure network is, largely, so well-designed. Best Practice has been achieved and, for the most part, it is implemented.

Nevertheless, if you ask certain uniformed civil servants who work for the Copenhagen Police, it is their personal perception that hits the headlines.

With The Choreography of an Urban Intersection we decided to get some numbers to show that the perceptions are coloured with emotion and lack data and fact.

As the graph at the top indicates, out of 16,631 bicycle users in the intersection Godthåbsvej/Nordre Fasanvej only 1% broke a serious traffic law. Running a red light or riding on the sidewalk. We called them Recklists. The Momentumists were a group that technically broke a Danish traffic law. We put these infractions in a different category. Basically, if it is legal in another city or country with respectable cycling levels, we are okay with it. The rest, the Conformists, did everything by the book.

The results are mirrored by the results in our other studies of other intersections. The vast majority are just playing by the rules.



You can see which rules are being bent in the above graph. What is incredibly important to consider is HOW the rules are being bent. What is the actual behaviour of the individual Momentumists when you study each one with detailed obversation?

In short, it is exemplary. It is quite beautiful. One of the primary findings was that when an individual entered a zone where a law was being bent, they were aware of it. The pattern was the same: they would change their physical form.

Generally, the individual would make themselves appear larger. Rising up from their normal cycling position in order to make themselves more visible to others in the urban theatre. Sometimes this was enough for them but many would also look around with a sweet, apologetic look - vaguely, not at anyone in particular - as though to say "sorry... I know, I know... bear with me". And when they hit the cycle track again, they would assume their usual cycling position.

Some would do the classic bicycle chameleon move, swinging their leg off and using the bicycle as a scooter. Again, always aware of their surroundings and the other users of the urban theatre. This subtle awareness of their surroundings was impressive. At no point in the 12 hours were there "cyclist-pedestrian conflicts" as they're called in Emerging Bicycle Cities. In that regard, it was like watching paint dry. The flow was constant, smooth and elegant. It was choreography.

Even the Recklists were heartwarmingly civilised in their behaviour, showing consideration for others. Only three bicycle users out of the 16,631 we tracked roared through a red light. They were all bike messengers. Do what you want with that.

Momentum is paramount when considering how to plan for bicycles. A smooth flow that eliminates the need to stop and get out of the saddle is the key. Simple measures like the railings and footrests in Copenhagen are a fine example. The Green Wave for cyclists on the main arteries leading to the city are another.

Understanding the basic anthropological transport needs of bicycle users - not to mention pedestrians - is the way to designing liveable streets. Bicycles are not cars and this has been the greatest mistake over the past 50 years in city planning... placing bicycles in the same category as motorised vehicles, both regarding traffic laws and the perception of bicycles as vehicles. We are still struggling to rid ourselves of this flawed categorisation all over the world.

Stopping and starting in a car involves pushing down on a couple of pedals. Effortless. Stopping and starting on a bicycle requires a bit more effort. Once momentum has been achieved, a bicycle user will try to maintain it. The countdown signals in the middle of this article are an example of someone out there understanding the needs of bicycle users.

Children understand the simple necessities of traffic planning. Unfortunately, the geekfest that is traffic engineering has all too often forgotten rationality. Campaigns that try to "improve" behaviour are a waste of money. Simply because the people who think them up haven't bothered to understand the differences between cyclists and motorists or pedestrians.

Change the paradigm.

Read more about the Choregraphy of an Urban Intersections, including all the findings, here. Or you can download the document as a pdf.



05 April 2014

Copenhagen - Is Cycling Up or Down or What?

SnowFall RushHour - Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen
It's all so confusing. Numbers indicating rise and falls in cycling levels. Although perhaps not as much as we think.

Firstly, back in 2009 I made a bet with anyone who would take it. Cycling levels in Copenhagen had been stagnant for many years. In 2008, a whole new kind of stupid showed up in Denmark. The Danish Road Safety Council (Rådet for Sikker Trafik - or Rodet for Sikker Panik if you like) decided to expand their ideological campaigns by promoting bicycle helmets. They convinced the Danish Cyclists Federation (DCF) to join the parade. To this day, the DCF remain one of the few national cycling organisations in all of Europe who support promotion of bicycle helmets.

Anyway, hardcore emotional propaganda hit the streets of Denmark in January 2008. As usual with such organisations, there was little science involved. An unsuspecting population were subjected to a one-sided view on helmets and not offered any balanced, scientific perspective. The Culture of Fear is powerful when applied correctly. Now, 17% of Copenhageners wear helmets on average. They are usually the ones involuntarily performing Risk Compensation studies. Keep a careful eye when cycling out there with them.

In this article from 2009 - Cycling is booming - just not in Denmark - I predicted that the rash of bicycle helmet promotion would not cause cycling levels to increase - despite the massive political will at the time. As I wrote:

Here's my bet. Because of the intense bicycle helmet propanganda in 2008:
- the percentage of cyclists in Copenhagen - 37% - will not rise. It will either fall or remain unchanged.


Few colleagues believed it. What happened?

Copenhagen cycling levels fell from 37% to 35% by 2010. That's a lot of people who hopped off the bicycle. The people who made that happen have blood on their hands.

In order to explain the drop, the usual suspects will tell you that it was because there were two hard winters in Copenhagen. So we looked at all the different factors involved, including the weather, and compared it all with Amsterdam. Amsterdam, and the rest of the Netherlands, suffered EXACTLY the same hard winters in the same period. Amount of snow, temperatures, you name it.

Cycling levels didn't fall in Amsterdam. They remained steady. Fewer people drove because of the winters, but cycling wasn't affected.

The emotional propaganda onslaught faded away and, as one would expect, cycling levels started to recover. We're now at 36% modal share of people arriving at work of education in the city and have lingered there for a few years.

The news today in Copenhagen is of a massive increase in cycling in Copenhagen. Numbers from travel survey data from Danish Technical University show the following:

- The average trip length for Copenhageners increase by a whopping 1 km since 2012.
- Copenhageners ride 2,006,313 km a day, compared to 1.3 million in 2012.
- Car trips are down 12%.
- Public transport also increased its modal share from 28% to 32% since 2007.

One of the newspapers in Denmark that is arguably the most anti-cycling - Politiken - try to wrap their pretty heads around why there has been an increase in this article, in Danish. They ask all manner of academics who offer up their opinions.

The journalists claim that the City of Copenhagen's focus on infrastructure is a reason for it. They mention, among other things, the bicycle bridges over the harbour but fail to notice that they aren't even finished being built yet. So that doesn't work. There have been infrastructure improvements on certain streets, sure, but nothing on a large enough scale to boost cycling levels this much.

It's all very simple if you want it to be.

Copenhagenize Traffic Planning Guide

Right here, in all its simplicity.

Copenhagen is one massive building site. 17 new Metro stations are under construction all at once. Last year, work was finally completed on the huge network of pipes providing central heating to most of the city centre, which only contributed to the chaotic construction in the city. In the above article, the DCF - to my delight - recognised this as the reason for the current increase.

If you want to encourage cycling and public transport, make driving a pain in the ass. It is the only way forward and the only way we know to get motorists to change their behaviour.

Trip lengths by bicycle are up in Copenhagen - and car trips are down - simply because it's a pain to drive in the city because of all the construction at the moment. That's it and that's that.

If the City wants to maintain these cycling levels, keep the current chaos, albeit in a nicer form, when the Metro construction is finished.

The new numbers are nice today, but if everything just reverts to the car-centric status quo when construction is finished (and remember that the Metro expansion is already projected to reduce cycling levels by 3%), the honeymoon will be over and it will be abrupt and shocking when it happens.
Mark my words.

It's all so easy if you want it to be.
Don't promote helmets.
Make driving difficult, complicated, expensive.
Duh.

The homo sapiens of a city will always figure out the fastest A to B. We call it A2Bism. We are all like rivers, finding the easiest route. Make that the bicycle or public transport and you are halfway there.

04 April 2014

Bikes Beat Metro in Copenhagen

Travel Times in Copenhagen
Like anyone interested in city life, we at Copenhagenize Design Co. like to keep our eyes on the street life of our city. Currently however, the City of Copenhagen is planning to take some away from the street, by forcing  people underground, with the 'Cityringen' expansion of the Metro. Instead of investing in the reestablishment of our tram network - so rudely removed by the ironically-named mayor Urban Hansen in the 1970s - like cities all over Europe, Copenhagen seems keen to get people off the street.

This doesn’t come cheap: 3 billion Euros gets you an additional 17 stations added to the existing Metro network. In a nice circle shape. Perhaps some of the cost can be explained by the fact that It is not easy to build a Metro in Copenhagen, a city that is on the whole scarcely above sea level, and with a dense urban fabric too.  It's due for completion in 2018, but that's later than the initial estimate and with the date still some way off who knows whether it will actually be ready by then - just ask the planners in Amsterdam, where a new metro line has been under construction since 2002 and is still not finished, although it was supposed to have been operating for several years by now. As well as that, Amsterdam's costs more than doubled from initial estimates.

But this article is not only about the Metro extension in Copenhagen; it deals with the question of which kinds of transportation are needed to support cities in becoming more liveable. We realise that we won't be stopping the Metro, but we are keen to highlight - even years before it's finished - that it ain't "all that".

The projections for the Metro also have an alarming statistic buried in the paperwork. Cycling levels in Copenhagen are expected to drop by an estimated 2.8%. That is a lot of cyclists we'll be losing. 

We know what people want. We want to move fast, safe and cheap from A to B. Also, the transportation system has to be sustainable, namely environmentally friendly, at a reasonable cost to society and it should not exclude anyone.

Since we are hands-on people here at Copenhagenize, we decided to just test it ourselves. We were curious how the different transport modes score compared to each other and especially how the bike performs against trains, buses and the new Metro.

What we did was simple. For some days we tracked all our journeys from our homes to the Copenhagenize office (and vice versa) or other routes with the GPS-based App Endomondo. A great app - also because it includes Cycling - Transport as an option. Not surprisingly, it's a Danish app. Sometimes we came by public transport, sometimes, as normal, by bike.

As the new metro is not operating yet, we had to be a bit creative when comparing it to the bike. We built scenarios to challenge the totally unrealistic times which are published on the project website of the Metro extension. If false advertising is a thing, the Metro are guility of it. "7 minutes from Nørrebro Runddel to Enghave Plads!", they declare, without anyone bothering to check if it's true. Until now.

To be clear about that point: It is probably very realistic that the time you will need to spend on the metro carriage itself between the future stations Nørrebro Runddel and Enghave Plads is seven minutes. The unrealistic part about that is that nobody lives or works in those stations.

To have a realistic Home to Work scenario with which we could compare travel times with the bicycle, we took addresses in potential residential areas in a range of less than one kilometre to a future Metro station and tracked the time it takes to walk from the address to the future station. We then added the two minutes that it takes to get down to the train and wait for it. (We actually timed this at a number of stations and worked out an average. We like details.)

And then comes the time you actually spend in the train, followed by the fact that it will take another minute (again, on average based on our timings) to get off the Metro and reach the street level again. Lastly we added the walking time from the station to an address in a potential working area, again in a range of less than one kilometre to the Metro station. As you can imagine, a trip incorporating the journey from Nørrebro Runddel and Enghave Plads doesn't take seven minutes any more.


Here you can see the results of our Bike vs. Metro study.  
TIME bike vs. future metro - copie copie
TIME bike vs. future metro - 2nd map - copie copieFor the bike trips we assumed that we were travelling at an average speed of 16kph, which is the average pace people cycle in Copenhagen. Very relaxed, without having to sweat, and doable for all cyclists. We also added two minutes to unlock, park and lock the bike. The results are impressive: in three out of five scenarios the bike is faster door to door than the Cityringen line will ever be.

In one scenario there is a tie between Metro and bike and in only one instance is the Metro slightly faster. The longer you have to walk to and from the station (last mile) the higher are the chances that the bike will be faster. From our data we see that 700m can be seen as a threshold: if you take the metro to work and have to walk more than 700m (about 10 minutes) on the way from door to door, you almost certainly would have been faster by bike.

We're asking why the City of Copenhagen and the Danish government put so much money into something which does not bring a significant advantage to the people in the city? We're not saying that a Metro never makes sense. There are cities where the Metro is an indispensable element in the transportation system, carrying millions of people a day, like in London, Paris or New York. But does it make sense in cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, where you can reach almost everything in the centre within 20 minutes on a bike?

Of course, we understand that not everybody is able to ride a bike. And we definitely want a transport system which does not exclude anybody.

So, where is your tram, Copenhagen?

Imagine what a fantastic tram network we could have for €3 billion. Look at France, where new tram systems are popping up like mushrooms. Also, there would be plenty of money left to further improve the cycling infrastructure within the city. What we get now is a new line with 17 stations which runs in a circle and only connects to other lines at two points. It doesn't seem like the main effect of this project will be to make Copenhagen more liveable. The City of Copenhagen is clearly afraid of reducing car traffic. Despite the goodness in the city, they still are intent on maintaining the car-centric status quo.

Back to the competition: What about our commuting trips we tracked? Also in those cases the bicycle is highly competitive as you can see in the graphics below.  
TIME bike vs.bus - Map 1
TIME bike vs.bus - Map 2 - copie copie
On trips less than ten kilometres the bike is usually the fastest option. The longer the trips are, for example from Frederiksberg to the Airport at Kastrup or from Glostrup to the new Copenhagenize office on Papirøen (Paper Island on the Harbour), the better public transport scores. That makes sense and it is also in line with the fact that cycling drops significantly for trips longer than eight kilometres.

But we also have to mention that we set the average speed for cyclists even on the longer commuter trips to 16kph. It can be assumed however, that commuters who cycle everyday between 10 and 15 kilometres to work are faster than that. The bicycle superhighway network for greater Copenhagen for instance is designed for an average speed of 20kph. And then, the bicycle is even very competitive up to distances around 15 kilometres.

So, what’s the message of our short study about getting from A to B in Copenhagen? First: there's no obvious need to invest billions in mega projects if the effect is as small as in Copenhagen’s current Metro extension project. Secondly: Invest the money instead in cycling infrastructure.

Our little experiment has shown again that the bicycle is the best mean of transport to get from A to B in a city. And thirdly: Invest in public transport solutions which cover a larger geographical area at a lower cost. Like trams or light rail.

And lastly, you might wonder why we did not include the car in our comparison. Well, because a car wouldn't make sense at all for daily trips in a city and because only 14% of Copenhageners transport themselves by car each day.