28 October 2015

Oslo Reacts to News of a Better Future

Oslo rocked onto the front pages around the world last week after the newly-elected city council announced modern plans for improving the quality of life in the city. The global headlines focused on one aspect of the new plans: making the city centre - within the Ring 1 - car-free by 2019. We covered the bigger picture here on Copenhagenize.com, because it’s even more spectacular than a single headline.

What is also interesting is watching the reactions in Oslo to the news, something that doesn’t get covered after the headline gets bumped to below the scroll and enters “Related Link” land.

Globally, Norway is probably percieved as a progressive country with a cool capital - lumped together with the other Nordic capitals and The Scandinavian Way. One might assume that the local reactions would be suitably progressive and cool with an “of COURSE we’ll do this” undertone.

The reality is a little different, however, when you see the reactions in the week after the announcement.

As ever, there are two camps. One is the progressive group that supports this modernisation of the Norwegian capital. Regarding the news as a given and a natural upgrade to city life. This group, by and large, are informed and have done their research to confirm that a car-free city centre makes societal, financial and environmental sense. Data is in their back pocket.

The other camp is reacting in much the same way as their counterparts in other cities around the world. A lot of anger, arrogance, indignation, speculation - and not a lot of data to support their desperate position. They all appear to be people who don’t travel much or do much research. Similar things happening in other cities around the world are conveniently ignored in the attempt to grab headlines.

It’s all a classic scenario, as though the script for such urban dramas are recycled like so many soap operas.

You have to be able to read Norwegian to get the full scope of the debate and the humour involved but those who are interested can google translate the details.

Firstly, the newspaper Aftenposten looked at the global reactions and wrote an article about how “The World Praises a Car-free Oslo” - putting together a compilation of global press coverage. This is probably the best reaction to the local whining you can get.

One of the best articles I’ve read is heavy on sarcasm and humour, picking apart the politicians who have been voicing their dissatisfaction with the new plans. “Hallucinations in the Capital”. Here are some excerpts.

The Halloween Effect
The head of the traffic committee, Linda Hofstad Helleland (Høyre party), searched feverishly for a powerful enough metaphor and finally found it among the other ghoulish content: “The new city council wants to build a Berlin Wall around the city”, she said to VG newspaper.

Just when it couldn’t get funnier, secretary for Fremskrittspartiet (ultra-right wing), Jøran Kallmyr entered the competition with “With these politics you can’t even run a pub. I can’t see transporting beer on a bicycle”, he said to Nettavisen.

He should get a passport or at least an internet connection. Beer on bicycles? What about transporting goods by bicycle?

The article continues: “Siv Jensen, who is finance minister and therefore can’t be as cheeky and witty as a party secretary, announced to the people via Facebook that there will now be more chaos and bankrupt businesses in the capital.”

The writer goes on to ridicule the protesters by highlighting that similar plans are already in place in London and Lyon with reductions in car traffic of 30% and 20% respectively thanks to congestion charges. And Hamburg’s plans for a network of green spaces, pedestrian zones and bike infrastructure. Munich’s growing parking restrictions. Copenhagen’s car-free zones and bicycle infrastructure. Helsinki’s plans for car-free neighbourhoods. Madrid’s car-free zone that will grow in size.

Next up are more usual suspects. Oslo Handelsstands Forening (OHF) - the business development association in the city centre. In their rant entitled “Car-free City Centre is bad Environmental Policy”, they whine about Big Box stores in the suburbs killing off the city centre and the fall in pedestrians on the main streets. Presented in the classic way - claiming that more cars are required in the city centre in order to bring life back.

These people have no data to support their cause. They don’t understand that Oslo city centre must become a modern, attractive destination - which it isn’t really at the moment. The plans for a car-free city centre are a gold mine for commerce. Modern. Progressive. Profitable. Commerce and Bicycles, baby.

Like many business associations, they don’t know how people get to their shops. They just assume, blindly, that cars are the primary source. That is highly unlikely. Without concrete, neutral data, these people are not worth listening to.

In their rant they manipulate the truth - which is a nice way of saying that they’re lying - about a street redesign on Kirkegata in 2011. Saying the city added bike lanes illegally, which isn’t true. It was badly communicated and implemented, but not illegal. They claim that shops closed because of it. Which has never happened anywhere. Take a Google street view tour of the street.

The same old same old whining was heard back in the 1960s in Copenhagen, when the city made a main street into a pedestrian zone. Cries of “we are not Italians!” from the locals. We don’t want to walk! We want to drive! Cries that faded almost instantly after the pedestrian street, Strøget, was opened.

Interesting reading, in Norwegian, is Gehl Architects analysis, which hammers home the point that public transport users and pedestrians are the people who spend money in the city centre. Motorists are at the bottom of the list.

There is a great response to their statement by Olav Torvund on his blog, which gave them a good spanking.

In an age of wacky people thinking up new ways to hate on bicycle infrastructure - this woman in San Diego and this church in Washington, DC, Oslo doesn’t want to be left out. Some lawyers from a law firm called Arntzen de Besche declared in a right-wing newspaper that a car-free city centre in Oslo would be “illegal” and they banged their jungle drums about a massive court case by private citizens and owners of parking garages. They are obviously nothing more than ambulance chasers desperately looking for jobs.

It didn’t take long for another article to show up, by a law professor, debunking these lawyers’ claims as “nonsense” and completely out of left field and without any legal precedent in Norwegian law.

These lawyers say that it would be an attack on established rights that people are protected with in the constitution and the European Human Rights Court. It’s not true. There is no right regarding people being able to drive to their property.”

The Norwegian Automobile Association (NAF), not surprisingly, also commented on the plans in a right-wing newspaper, Nettavisen, that clearly has an anti-bike policy in their content. NAF says that the plans are “unwise” and that they fear that they can create more traffic and emissions.

They don’t bother backing up their claims with any reliable data, which is something we’re used to by now. They say it’s “unwise” when they don’t know the consequences. Which we do. From scores of cities around Europe. Typical fear mongering to support their car-centric view. People who need a passport and an internet connection.

Then there are surprises. The national Environment Minister, Tine Sundtoft from the right-wing Høyre party, was happy to contradict her fellow party members - like the Berlin Wall lady - by coming out in full support of the plans. She is “very positive” about the city centre being car-free for private vehicles. She encourages other cities in Norway to follow suit.

This is great quote from her: "It's clear that there are many advantages to restricting private car ownership. We also have to look at facts. In the core of the city centre today, 93% of people going to work do so in an environmentally-friendly way. Only 7% use a car to get to work in the centre of Oslo. Sometimes these debates are warped because you could get the impression that the numbers are reversed."

Data. Rationality. Modernity. Progressive mindset. Urban renewal.

27 October 2015

The Life-Sized City vs The Cult of Big - TED x Münster

This is a transcript of Mikael's latest TED x talk - in Münster, Germany in June 2015 - shown above.
Embedding was turned on but then it was turned off. Click on the above link if you can't see the video.

The Life-Sized City
I have a strange suspicion that we’ve been hacked. As people. As societies. We have been led to believe that big is best. That growth is good. For so many years that you can easily call it a century with the Cult of Big.

Certainly regarding the economy. You can’t mention the economy without mentioning growth. But I’m not an economist. I work in urbanism. In cities. And the same thing applies.

Cities have to be bigger. Wider. They have to sprawl into the distance as far as the eye can see. That is what makes a city great and good. Or so we’ve been told for many many years.

Buildings have to be taller, shinier. Reaching for the sky. Breaking world records. Monuments to engineering and, quite possibly, phallic symbols for the male dominated industries that design and build them.

Roads and motorways have to be longer, wider, go farther. More capacity, improved flow, reduced congestion. It's one of the saddest ironies of urban planning that the only thing we have learned from 100 years of traffic engineering is this: if you make more space for cars, more cars come. It's sad if you think about all the kabillions of dollars we've thrown at this for the past hundred years.

Megaprojects are all the rage. Never finished on time, always obscenely overbudget and yet they make up 8% of the global GDP. We're fascinated, obsessed by megaprojects.

We, the people, the consumers, are told to spend more. Buy more stuff. The more we buy the better it will be for the economy. For growth. Or so we have been told for a very long time.

Perhaps we’ve been hacked, but I believe that we still have the original code inside us. When you have been around for 200,000 years as homo sapiens, you possess that original code. The pure programming.

We can be rational when we want to be. Everyone knows, deep inside, which ice cream will be more enjoyable to eat when choosing between a single, delicious scoop or a monster pile of ice cream. Once in a while we can go crazy, but the single scoop will usually be the best experience. The same applies to food portions.

We’ve lived together in cities for 7000 years. We’re hard coded to understand the basics. Everyone of us who lives in a city knows what a good street should look like. It’s in our urban DNA to know that a human street that is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists and that has lots of green space is the best solution.

We know intuitively and instinctively as a species that size doesn’t matter.

Luckily, somewhere in there, in the dark shadow of the Cult of Big, behind the mountain of obsessive growth, there is a lovely little place I call the Life-Sized City. In the Life-Sized City, things are different.

The idea for the life-sized city came from a pint-sized person. Lulu-Sophia. Or just The Lulu as I call her. My daughter. I’ve written about her as The World’s Youngest Urbanist. The stuff she says is amazing. We were walking around our neighbourhood one day, holding hands. Waiting for the light to turn green at a crosswalk. She was quiet and she looked around and said, suddenly... "Daddy, when will my city fit me?"

She felt so small, as a kid, on the urban landscape. Everything is out of scale to her. I assured her that she would grow and she knew that. She just said “yeah”. But this made me think. Do I feel like my city fits ME? I live in Copenhagen, so in many places, yes. Riding my bike along 5 meter wide cycle tracks - one way - next to narrow car lanes across Queen Louises Bridge, my city fits me.

There are, however, other places in Copenhagen where it doesn’t. Wide cycle tracks, sure, but 8 lanes of cars and buildings that had no thought put into them. My city doesn’t fit me there. And that is the case in most cities in the world. But in the Life-Sized City, things are different.

Growth is also important in the Life-Sized City. It’s measured in centimeters and millimeters. Every new millimetre is greeted with a fist pump when a child measures their height. This is the important growth.

In the Life-Sized City we don’t need the failed sciences of traffic modelling and traffic engineering. We just need to apply logic and rationality. Using anthropology to develop traffic models. Mapping the desire lines of citizens and planning based on where they want to go.

Desire lines are democracy in movement. Democracy in motion. Every fraction of every moment of every day the citizens of our cities are sending us silent messages. They're telling us and showing us with their Desire Lines where they want to go and we should observe this and plan according to these mobility patterns that they are charting out for us.

Urban democracy is important in the Life-Sized City. In Montreal, people take matters into their own hands. A railway creates a barrier between two densely-populated neighbourhoods. Canadian Pacific Railways, who own the tracks, refuses to allow a level-crossing. So the citizens cut holes in the fence to get from A to B.

Canadian Pacific play cat and mouse, covering up the holes. The citizens, however, have a Facebook group to tell each other where the holes are. You cannot stop urban democracy.

In the Life-Sized City you don’t need to use car sales as a growth indicator. That is so last century. So old-fashioned. Instead, you measure your network of safe, cycle tracks. Your pollution levels. The distance from homes to green spaces. Accessibility.

This is how the citizens of Copenhagen get to work and education. 63% ride a bike. You measure this and you pump your fist when you see cycling and public transport levels rising.

You measure how much cyclists contribute to the city. In Copenhagen, citizen cyclists spend 2.34 billion dollars in shops in the city. A powerful force.

You measure bicycle friendly cities around the world using an academic ranking to measure how they are doing. Cities need to know how to measure their progress. This is important for the future of cities.

The bicycle is the chariot of the Life-Sized City.

Leading the armada of public transport and even car share vehicles. Bicycles aren’t like cars. They don’t get bigger. They remain largely constant. They are powerful, however. During the financial crisis, the Danish government said, “let’s build cycle tracks to get back on track". Imagine that.

Or like the Mayor of Paris - Betrand Delanoë - said... "The fact is that cars no longer have a place in the big cities of our time". When people like him say things like that, we know that the paradigm is shifting to something better.

In the Life-Sized City change can happen if quick if you want it to. If you change the question.

Cities struggle to reestablish the bicycle as transport. Lots of talk. Lots of baby steps. But then you have cities like Seville, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Paris - cities where there were no bicycles left just seven years ago. Now, in the course of short time, they are modernising and becoming bicycle friendly. With infrastructure and traffic calming and bike share systems. The holy trinity of bicycle urbanism.

For the better part of 100 years we’ve only asked one question of our traffic engineers. How many cars can we move down this street? Modern cities change the question. How many PEOPLE can we move down this street? Using all the transport forms available to us? How can we tackle urbanisation? Change the question.

You can still move stuff around the city. I was involved in research that shows that 51% of goods in cities can be transported by cargo bike. With a bit of creativity, you change the paradigm. Using barges and small terminals and cargo bikes to get goods to the people.

You hear people talk of Shrinking Cities or Declining Cities like its a worrisome thing. A problem. You know what? Maybe those cities are just scaling back to something good. They’re rebooting. Look at Detroit. Or Trieste in Italy.

Urban infill is many things. It can be large scale, but it can also be small scale. Like stuff like this my and my son Felix did. We found a hole in the wall across the street and decided our neighbourhood needed a cinema. So we built one out of Lego.

It’s all about people in the Life-Sized City. Like Felix. The Lulu. All sorts of people populate the Life-Sized City.

In the Life-Sized City someone like Lulu is not a consumer. A statistic. She is a little human. Do not measure her. Do not calculate how much money she will spend or how much profit the Cult of Big will earn off of her in her life. Design your city around her. Slow down the cars. Reduce pollution. Build cycle tracks so she can ride her bike for transport. Because that’s all she wants to do.

It’s time to hack it back. It’s time to rewrite the playbook. Cities will grow but we don’t have to be so completely obsessed with it that it clouds our logic.

Luckily, every city has pockets of life sized goodness. Seek them out. Create some more. Every day you move around your city you can choose to grow your urban landscape. Hack yourself back into your city. It’s time to go back to the future.

19 October 2015

Oslo Gets its Gameface On

A lonely tree and pedestrian overpasses! #Oslo parties like it's 1964! @oslourbanforum #Urbanism
Oslo, that little brother of Nordic capitals, recently had elections that saw a shift from right to left. The new city council announced today their plan for the city in a number of areas. The most relevant for this article is the transport visions. And they are impressive.

We know all too well that talk is cheap and political talk is often completely lacking in value, but the list for transforming Oslo is worth translating for a wider audience. Many cities have "plans" and it's important to compare what is happening around the world.

While Oslo is lightyears behind Copenhagen, the city can be compared with Helsinki for it's level of bicycle urbanism and both of those capitals are certainly ahead of Stockholm. One of the key factors for Oslo's potential for growth is the simple fact that they have an office - actually two of them - dedicated to bicycle urbanism. Sykkelprojektet (The Bicycle Project) has eight employees and Sykkeplanseksjonen (Bicycle Plan Section) has about the same. Stockholm, for example, doesn't even have a dedicated bicycle office.

Infrastructure for bicycles in Oslo is few and far between. Most of it is just paint, which does nothing for anyone. Some of it is better. One of the primary challenges is that the Norwegian Road Directorate has calendars on their wall reading 1958. They are, indeed, one of the most backward road directorates in the world regarding lack of inclusion of facilities for bicycles in their standards. Giving the VicRoads ini the State of Victoria, in Australia, a run for their money. So it ain't easy in Oslo or other Norwegian cities.

In 2012, the Ministry of Transport, hired Norconsult and Copenhagenize Design Co. to do a feasbility study about how to increase cycling levels in Norwegian cities. They were tired of the same, tired answers they had been getting from the Road Directorate and wanted a modern reply. A bold move. A good sign.

The key to growing urban cycling in Norway is allowing for Best Practice infrastructure to be built and updating the standards. THAT is the singlemost biggest hurdle facing the bicycle nation. At the moment, Oslo hangs about in the mid-50s on The Copenhagenize Index - out of 120 cities around the world.

Now we turn our focus to Oslo and the promises laid out today by the new city council. We have placed them in the order that we think are most important/visionary.

- Parking spots that are in conflict with bicycle infrastructure will be removed.
--- (Brilliant. Getting this onto the books is the best way to expedite the development of infrastructure and urban cycling)
- Minimum 60 km of bicycle infrastructure i this period.
--- Modest goal. Could be better, but given the current level, it's a good number to start with. Although Buenos Aires put in 140 km in just two years so it seems low considering what is happening elsewhere)
- Oslo must halve emissions by 2020.
--- (That is only five years away. Bold.)
- Oslo will be car-free within the Ring 1 road during that period.
--- (Lots of cities talk about this. Let's see one do it)
- Removal of all free car parking spots in Oslo city centre. (Sounds like they will become paid parking, not removed)
--- (Sounds like they will become paid, not removed, but still a bold move)
- 95% of all emissions will be gone by 2030.
--- (Did they say NINETY-FIVE PERCENT? We'll believe it when we see it, but it's a great vision)
- New Metro tunnel
--- (A good investment to add to the existing network and provide alternatives)
- Car traffic will be reduced by 20% in this period.
--- (Seems like a low number, based on the points above)
- No extension of the E18 motorway to the west.
--- (Of course not. It was the stupidest idea in Norway)
- Rush hour fee for motorists, in collaboration with Akershus.
--- (Extra fee on the existing congestion charge. Not bad at all)
- Oslo City will remove all its investments in companies that produced fossil fuel energy.
--- (Great symbolism)
- Subsidies for e-bike sales.
--- (Doing all of the above and then slapping more fast-moving vehicles on the streets is not exactly the right way to go about it. If they are forced to use the road and not the bicycle infrastructure, fine. 

All good. All interesting. Let's just see what Oslo does with it.

Here you can read about the local reactions to the plans.

15 October 2015

Cargo Bike Nation - Copenhagen

Long John

Cargo Bike Nation - Copenhagen
We are in the process of working on our newest Desire Line Analysis here at Copenhagenize Design Company. As mentioned in the previous post, we harvest all manner of data out of our many hours of direct observation. It is well known that Copenhagen is a cargo bike city. We know that there are 40,000 cargo bikes in Greater Copenhagen. Copenhagenize moved office by cargo bike. We have this film about cargo bikes in the city for your perusalWe even have a book featuring over 700 photos of cargo bikes and how they are used.

Nevertheless, we were curious and wanted some more data about cargo bikes in Copenhagen. Soo... we counted them. Over ten hours on May 6, 2015, we counted every cyclist going through the Søtorvet intersection in Copenhagen in order to study their desire lines. Then we went back and counted cargo bikes. Because we can. And because we wanted some numbers.

One important detail about this count is that most cargo bike traffic in the city is in the neighbourhoods. Parents dropping off their kids at school. These 'hoods are prime cargo bike territory. On the route we observed, most people are heading to work or education or running errands in the city. We knew that the number of cargo bikes would be lower than in the densely-populated neighbourhoods but we still ended up surprised.

Out of over 35,000 cyclists between 8AM and 6PM, there were 718 cargo bikes. That is 2% of the total number of bicycles. In the City of Copenhagen alone, 6% of all bicycles are cargo bikes. So that number is lower, for the reason outlined above.

The cargo bikes and bikes with trailers were being used for a variety of reasons. Just as a bicycle, to transport goods, to transport kids and there were also five rickshaws and 15 Post Danmark cargo bikes.

We observed them all and started to record data about them and their riders.

Cargo Bike Nation - by Copenhagenize Design Co.
Yep. Here is the established number of cargo bikes in Greater Copenhagen.

Cargo Bike Nation - by Copenhagenize Design Co. Cargo Bike Nation - by Copenhagenize Design Co.
The City of Copenhagen has determined that 26% of all families in the City of Copenhagen with two or more kids own a cargo bike. This is the primary use of cargo bikes in Copenhagen - getting kids around. The cargo bike is the SUV in this city.

There are over 30 brands of cargo bikes available to consumers in Denmark. More than 25 of them are Danish and others are from the Netherlands and Germany.

Cargo Bike Nation - by Copenhagenize Design Co.
Here are the numbers we crunched based on 10 hours of direct observation at Søtorvet intersection on May 6, 2015. The majority of cargo bikes are the Copenhagen standard - three wheelers in a wide variety of brands, although Christiania Bikes and Nihola have the largest market share by far.

14% were two wheelers - a style rapidly rising on the market here largely thanks to the Bullitt by Larry vs Harry, which made up over 30% of all the two wheelers. There are still a few trailers around - 4% of the total. In Copenhagen trailers are retro and remind us of Germans or Swedes in the 1980s.

Men dominate the ridership of cargo bikes as you can see in the graph at bottom right, above. Ask anyone who sells cargo bikes in Copenhagen and they'll tell you that the woman decides the brand that the family will buy. In the neighbourhoods, this gender split is more equal. In the commuting equation, the balance shifts.

Cargo Bike Nation - by Copenhagenize Design Co.

Just out of interest we divided up the gender based on time of day, from 8AM to 6PM.

Cargo Bike Nation - by Copenhagenize Design Co.
Yep. You know you're in Copenhagen when...

Below is a large infographic if you fancy sharing it.

14 October 2015

Bike Helmet Wearing Rates in Copenhagen in 2015

Copenhagen Bike Helmet Usage 2015
We like data at Copenhagenize Design Company. It's a major part of our work, not least in our Desire Line Analyses of cyclist behaviour that we have done in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and planning to do on a global scale. We film an intersection for 10-12 hours and spending a couple hundred hours analysing the behaviour, doing counts of everything we can and producing solutions for modernising intersections to priortise cycling and pedestrians.

In association with the current Desire Line Analysis we are working on, on Søtorvet intersection in Copenhagen, we have added some data sets. Including performing a bike helmet count.

The reason is simple. There is no reliable data. The numbers we have seen are from the Danish Road Safety Council - Rådet for Sikker Trafik - and we are sceptical about them.

They claim that the helmet wearing rate is 26%.

Their random counts during rush hour and some telephone surveys do not, however, provide reliable data. Especially considering that this car-centric NGO is desperate to brand cycling as dangerous and they do everything they can to prove that their helmet campaigns have been successful. When you work with an idealogy, you often skim over reliable data in order to get the result you want.

What we did was simple. We looked at our 10 hours of footage from the intersection - the busiest in Denmark for cyclists. We studied all the cyclists on one specific Desire Line, heading into the city centre, between 8 AM and 6 PM on May 6, 2015. The best way to determine a number is to see what the regular citizens are doing. They, and they alone, are the main indicator of safety and perception of safety.

10,734 cyclists in all, throughout the day. That is good, solid number to base some data on. Not just the morning commuters, but all the different types of people using the bicycle infrastructure throughout a typical day in Copenhagen.

As you can see, the data provides us with a very different number than the Danish Road Safety Council's exaggerated number.

11% of cyclists were wearing helmets. Safe to say that the vast majority feel safe and they have rejected the emotional propaganda from the Danish Road Safety Council. Using instead, their own rationality.

Copenhagen Bike Helmet Usage 2015

Because we found it interesting, we divided the helmet wearing rate up into hours between 8AM and 6PM. Just to see if there were variations.

Ideally, a city has suceeded in keeping cyclists safe when helmet rates are low. Infrastructure is the key. A rejection of ideological campaigns is also important.

Last week I addressed the 28 Transport Ministers of the European Union, telling them why they should take cycling seriously as transport. 40 minutes of positive messaging of cycling in Luxembourg. I also, however, mentioned that many safety organisations - and I used the Danish Road Safety Council as a prime example - often choose statistics that support their goal - and leave out an ocean of stats and studies that don't.

Data. Always data. Data forever.