30 December 2015

Oslo - Subversive Bicycle History

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Bygdøy Allé, Oslo // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // Year: 1943 // Norwegian Folkemuseum

A new article in our Subversive Bicycle Photo Series. Images of cities back when the bicycle was a normal transport form - as it was everywhere for decades. Subversive because if news got out that our bicycle history was long and well-established... well, then... The 99% might start doing it again. Lord knows THAT would be a catastrophe. So keep this to yourself.

The good people at the City of Oslo's Sykkelprosjektet (The Bicycle Project) - which is effectively Oslo's bicycle office - understand one of the main challenges facing us when trying to reestablish the bicycle as transport in our cities.

The short-term memory of humans.

Everywhere I travel with my work I hear the same thing - often from people who should know better. That urban cycling isn't possible "here". The usual myths about climate/topography are mentioned (and promptly busted) but also tales of how they have "never cycled here".


Luckily, intrepid followers of this blog started to delve into the local photo archives and a great many photos have been harvested and presented in this series from all over the world.

Now it's time for Oslo. Sykkelprosjektet found some photos in the archives of two museums and put them on their Facebook group.

Cycling. A normal transport form in the Norwegian capital. For decades. On regular bicycles. Don't tell Captain Spandex and his crew, let alone the car lobby. And to think the City is actual throwing money at e-bike subsidies, but totally and completely ignoring the kind of bicycle that served the city for almost a century. Wasting taxpayer money on putting more motorised vechicles on the streets is rather ridiculous.

But let's let these photos from a rational, intelligent age speak for themselves, shall we?

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Drammensveien, Oslo // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // Year: 1940 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Just traffic.
Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Øvrevoll Galoppbane, Bærum (horse racing track) // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // 
Year: 1941 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Bike Parking at the horse races in Bærum.

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Ingierstrand, Oppegård // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // Year: 1941 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Bike parking at a beach near the city.

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Katten, Oslo // Photographer: Unknown // Year: 1950 // Oslo Museum

Bike parking at another beach near the city.

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Dronning Blancas vej, Bygdøy, Oslo // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // Year: 1943 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Just traffic.

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Rådhusplassen/City Hall Square, Oslo // Photographer: Arne Tjensvold // Year: 1950 // Oslo Museum

Just a normal bike and a regular citizen outside City Hall.

Oslo Bicycle History
Location unknown // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // Year: 1943 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Great skirtguards. Normal thing all over the world back then.

Oslo Bicycle History
Location: Skaugum Asker // Princess Astrid, Princess Ragnhild & Prince Harald. // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // Year: 1939 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Three mini royals on wheels.

The Transformation of Almetyevsk

Copenhagenizing Almetyevsk
The head of the Executive Committee of Almetyevsk, Tatarstan - Ayrat Khayrullin (left) and CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co. - Mikael Colville-Andersen (right) touring the city.

The Russian city of Almetyevsk teams up with Copenhagenize Design Co. on a visionary urbanist project. A complete transformation into the best bicycle-friendly city in Russia.

Press Release from Copenhagenize Design Company. 01 December 2015

The desire for life-sized cities knows no borders. When the City of Almetyevsk, in Tatarstan, Russia, decided to embark on one of the greatest urbanist projects of the 21st century, they hired the renowned Danish consultancy and design bureau, Copenhagenize Design Company to tackle the job.

Despite the current geo-political climate, international sanctions as well as cultural, linguistic and engineering differences, Almetyevsk - a city of 150,000 - is dead-set on transforming itself into the most bicycle-friendly city in Russia - and in record time.

Copenhagenize Design Co. is tasked with developing a comprehensive strategy for the development of bicycle infrastructure in the city and coaching them until completion of the project. Over 200 km of Best Practice bicycle infrastructure is planned, along with all the necessary bells and whistles like bicycle traffic lights, pre-green for cyclists, extensive bicycle parking and general prioritizing of cyclists like you see in Copenhagen.

Tatarstan is an independent republic in the Russian Federation, with their own President and a largely autonomous political existence. Russian colleagues look with envy to the Republic as it is more well-managed, it would seem, that Russia itself.

There is impressive political will in Almetyevsk. The Head of the Executive Committee of Almetyevsk, Ayrat Khayrullin, is the driving force behind the city’s coming transformation. An energetic man in his early 30s, Mr Khayrullin is well-versed in what it takes to become a life-sized city.

Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co., was impressed on the company’s first visit to Almetyevsk. “We met a man of passion who had done his homework about what infrastructure is necessary and the societal benefits of cycling. For example, he knew well that bi-directional cycle tracks don’t belong on streets and that one-way cycle tracks on each side of the road were the way forward. It was brilliant to meet a politician who had done so much research”.

Indeed, Mr Khayrullin has outlined his wishes in no uncertain terms. He wants two things; for his kid to be able to cycle safely anywhere in the city and for there to be more cyclists than motorists.

Copenhagenizing Almetyevsk

Copenhagenize Design Co. visited Almetyevsk in September 2015 for preliminary meetings and discussions with city officials and engineers in order to start planning the strategy. CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen (middle, above) and Urban Planner James Thoem (right, above) were given a comprehensive bicycle tour of the city by Mr Khayrullin (left, above) and his team. Mr Khayrullin is already working to better his city with the design of parks and facilities that would work perfectly in any city in the world. The Kazan design agency, Evolution, who is partnering with Copenhagenize Design Co. on this project, has also been involved in designing parks in the city for Mr Khayrullin.

While there is no restriction to what city can implement bicycle infrastructure regarding typology of roads, Almetyevsk’s greatest advantage is that the city was founded in 1953 and the roads are more than wide enough to accommodate a solid network of Best Practice infrastructure. There are no baby steps in Almetyevsk - no single pilot project on one stretch of roadway - an entire network will be implemented from the first day.

In the late 1940s, oil was discovered in the region and the cornerstone for Almetyevsk was laid at the heart of oilfields that contain 7% of Russia’s oil reserves. For someone like Mikael, who was born in Fort McMurray and who grew up in Calgary, driving to Almetyevsk from Kazan was like going back to childhood roots. It’s basically Albertastan, as he puts it..

The irony of designing Russia’s best bicycle-friendly city in the heart of the oil industry is lost on no one. In addition, the national oil company in the Tatarstan Republic is financing the entire project.

“When I coined the word ‘copenhagenize’ in 2007 I would never have thought that we would be working on doing it with an entire city, from scratch”, says Mikael Colville-Andersen. “This is the bicycle urbanism version of Niemeyer’s Brasilia or Griffin’s Canberra. Except it will actually be a positive urban development. We hope we make Le Corbusier roll a few times in his grave by the time we’re done”, he adds.
Copenhagenizing Almetyevsk
Press conference in Almetyevsk. October 2015.

Copenhagenize Design Co. was back in Almetyevsk in October 2015 for detailed meetings with the City and staff. Work on the development of the strategy will take place through the winter and work will begin in the spring. The backbone of the network - 50 km of Best Practice infrastructure on primary arteries - is scheduled for 2016, followed by secondary roads and residential neighbourhoods the following spring.

In addition, a comprehensive intervention of road diets and traffic calming will be added to the project’s ‘to do’ list. All in order to lay the foundations for other urbanism developments that will establish Almetyevsk as a truly life-sized city.

The capital of Tatarstan, Kazan, has recently placed some painted lanes in the city - not a comprehensive network, certainly not Best Practice infrastructure - mostly symbolism. Almetyevsk has the opportunity to show the way forward for the capital but also every other city in the Russian Federation.

All the established theories and Best Practice about how to design a city for bicycles based on a century of experience will be put to the test in an oil town on the western steppes of Russia.

Almetyevsk will be given all the available tools and coaching guidance to ensure their transformation. What they end up doing with it remains to be seen. At this stage, however, the future is bright and the will is strong. We're ready to work.

In the 1950s, the city of Hannover was rebuilt in the car-centric style of the age and it was dubbed The Miracle of Hannover. Within a few years it is possible that we will be referring to The Miracle of Almetyevsk.

17 December 2015

Hoi An - Vietnam's Calm and Shining Pearl

Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling Town
All photos by Liv Jorun Andenes

Pockets of life-sized goodness exist everywhere. Even in the transport chaos that defines Vietnam. Traffic crashes kill at least 9000 people a year. Indeed, it is estimated that official data about traffic deaths underestimates the number of traffic deaths by as much as 30%.

On a recent visit to Vietnam, our friend and colleague Liv Jorun Andenes from Oslo's Sykkelprosjektet visited a small city that bucks the fatal trend of letting motor vehicles - be it cars/trucks or motorbikes - dominate.

The city of Hoi An. The sign, above, gives you a pretty clear indication about what it's all about. The name Hoi An translates - appropriately - as "peaceful meeting place". Rumour has it that "Australia" is actually an old Dutch word for "stupid traffic engineers", but I digress.

Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling Town
Bicycles abound in Hoi An - as they did in Vietnam for many decades before the scourge of cars and scooters took over. Here, however, they remain dominant, thanks to a simple vision for a nicer, life-sized city from the municipality.
Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling Town
Classic rickshaws are a popular sight and the modus transportus for the lazier tourists
Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling Town
I don't need to bang on about the history of this once prominent port city when one click will lead you to a crowdsourced article on Wikipedia about Hoi An.
Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling Town
It's a city of canals, though, with intense bicycle traffic across the water on ferries.
Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling Town
The streets are traffic calmed and, with the absence of Captain Spandex types, the space is shared between pedestrians and slow moving cyclists.
Hội An, Vietnam - Walking and Cycling TownBasically, if you go to Vietnam, make sure to pop by Hoi An to see what calm is possible in a chaotic world.

16 December 2015

Arrogance of Parking Space - Copenhagen

Arrogance of Space - Copenhagen Parking
Even in Copenhagen there are examples of an ongoing Arrogance of Space. Bizarre but true. Even here we are still battling to reverse decades of destructive urban planning at the misconceptions that came along with it.

In Copenhagen, only 22% of households own a car. No, not because it's expensive and there is a high tax on cars. The rednecks in the provinces buy them all the time and both cars and gas are cheaper than in the 1970s during the oil crises. Only 10% of Copenhageners use a use a car to get around each day. 63% ride a bicycle. The rest take public transport or walk.

It costs 50,000 DKK (ca. $8000) to make a parking spot and maintain it. But a parking permit for residents only costs 720 DKK (ca. 110) per year. That is bad business. The non-motoring majority are basically subsidizing a destructive, archaeic transport form used by a old-fashioned minority.

Nevertheless, there are still three parking spots for every one car in Copenhagen. Despite the logic and the numbers. The current Lord Mayor Frank Jensen - in an attempt to appease the right-wing who only have car parking to fight for anymore in the City of Cyclists - insists on putting back in parking spots for phantom motorists.

In the graphic, above, you can see what it would look like if we took all the car parking spots in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg and slapped them together.

Arrogance of Space - Copenhagen Parking
In this graphic, we can see roughly how much space a parking lot featuring all the parking spots would require - if we provided the necessary extra space for access and what not. You know, driving into the lot and finding a spot, etc.

Almost the entire city centre of Copenhagen would be paved over.

The news this morning in Copenhagen that the City is removing 80 car parking spots along the historic Frederiksholm Canal is great to wake up to. The City will be making a promenade along the canal to create better public space. Fantastic.

At the moment it feels like you are stuck in the mid-60s along this stretch so this improvement is much welcomed. Read more about the project - in Danish - on the City's website.

By and large, there are constant improvements for public space and bike infrastructure on the go in Copenhagen. Missing links are being fixed and small but effective examples of Reversing the Arrogance of Space are showing up on the streets of the city.

As we can see in the graphics at the top, however, there are more pressing issues that require bold, political leadership if we are seriously going to modernise for the next century of transport.

04 December 2015

Montreal - When Using Data Goes Wrong

This article is a guest contribution from Bartek Komorowski. Bartek is an urban planner and currently Project Leader in Research and Consulting at Vélo Quebec in Montreal. He and his colleagues reacted to a compartive study published last month in Canada and we're pleased to bring his thoughts here. Data is of utmost importance. More often than not, cities simply don't have enough of it. Then you have professionals who taken existing data and completely abuse it. Which is what this piece is about.

By Bartek Komorowski

Last week, the Pembina Institute, a reputable clean energy think tank, released a comparative study on cycling in Canada’s five largest cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa. The study compares a number of statistics on bicycle use, safety, and infrastructure. The authors spin a narrative about Montreal being a great cycling city, mentioning its presence on the Copenhagenize Index. Strangely, their report provides statistics that seem to suggest otherwise.

I work in Vélo Québec’s Research Department and my colleagues and I know a thing or two about Montreal’s cycling statistics. We publish a report called Bicycling in Quebec every five years, which includes a subsidiary report focusing on Montreal. We are currently collecting data for next edition of Bicycling in Quebec and Montreal’s cycling statistics are at the top of our minds.

While reading through Pembina’s report, we were struck by some major discrepancies between the data it presents and the data we have recently been poring over. We noticed the following:

Daily Bicycle Trips
The study says there are 40,000 daily bicycle trips on the Island of Montreal, citing data from 2008. Actually, there were 75,000 daily bicycle trips in 2008 according to that year's regional origin-destination survey. Results from the more recent 2013 origin-destination survey, which have been released to the media, show that 120,000 bicycle trips were daily in Montreal, representing a massive 54% increase compared to 2008.

Crash Rate
The authors calculated an annual crash rate for the Island of Montreal using a bicycle trip statistic supposedly from 2008 and a crash statistic that seems to be from 2013 (found here), which is methodologically unsound, particularly in the context of rapidly increasing bicycle trip rates. This error was compounded by the use of the faulty daily trip rate statistic explained above. They got a result of 6.6 crashes per 100,000 bicycle trips, a higher rate higher than all of the other cities. In fact, according to their results, the likelihood is of having a cycling accident in Montreal is an absurd 10 times greater than in Vancouver, whose crash rate is 0.67 per 100,000 trips.

Local media in Montreal zeroed in on this result, producing shock headlines such as this one. Needless to say, for cycling advocates, news reports about the supposed dangers of cycling in Montreal, backed up by seemingly credible research from a well-known think tank, are not helpful.

I redid the calculation for Montreal using the same method but plugging in the 2013 daily bicycle trip rate (which matches the year of the collision statistic). This yielded a crash rate of 2.3 per 100,000, lower than that of all cities except Vancouver.

Incidentally, the crash rate statistic for Vancouver strikes me as suspiciously low. This might have something to do with that city’s questionably high daily bicycle trip statistic. I have trouble believing that Vancouver, with roughly one-third the population of the Island of Montreal (603,500 vs 1,890,000), has almost three times more daily bicycle trips (106,500 vs 40,000). Can Vancouverites possibly be making eight times as many daily bicycle trips per capita as Montrealers? I doubt it.

Bicycle Network Size
The authors were sloppy in comparing the sizes of the cities' cycling networks. Some cities, like Toronto, count bicycle lane kilometres. This means that if there are bicycle lanes going in both directions along 1 km of street, they count as 2 km of bicycle lanes. Montreal counts street kilometres with bicycle lanes. In this case, bicycle lanes going in both directions along 1 km of street count as 1 km. If we applied Toronto's accounting method to Montreal's network, ours would appear to be almost twice the size of theirs.

Number of Bicycle Shops
The number of bicycle shops in a city is “an indicator of the prominence of cycling culture and access to bicycles,” say the authors. According to their findings, Montreal is poorly endowed in this department, with only 25 bicycle shops serving its 1.7M inhabitants. This is statistic is way off the mark: Vélo Québec's non-exhaustive listings contain 75 shops on the Island of Montreal, while a cursory search in the phone directory suggests there are well over 100. I can only speculate that this error is attributable to authors’ lack of knowledge of French and failure to use adequate search terms to find bicycle shops.

Other Minor Mix-ups
The study contains a number of other minor statistical mix-ups. The study cites the 2011 census population of the City of Montreal (1.65M) but cites the area (500 km2), the bicycle mode share (2.9%), and other statistics for the whole Island of Montreal, on which there are 14 other municipalities and 250,000 more residents. The City of Montreal has an area of 430 km2 and a bicycle mode share of 3.2%.

There are also some factual errors in the text about Montreal. For example, the authors say that the cycling network is planned at the borough level. In fact, the network is planned and financed by the City’s central administration. Boroughs do have scope to go above and beyond the City’s recently updated master plan (see picture below), putting bikeways on local streets under their jurisdiction. It is nonetheless incorrect to say that boroughs plan the network and the planning therefore has no coherence.

There may well be other errors but, as I’m less intimately acquainted with the cycling stats of the other cities, I cannot identify them as easily. I hope that the authors did a better job for the others than they did for Montreal. Due to the paucity of compilations of data on cycling in Canadian cities, it’s likely errors from this study will continue to circulate in the media and will be reproduced in other research, unless somebody sets the record straight.

My colleagues and I hope to provide a rich and accurate picture of the current state of cycling in Montreal, as well as its evolution over time, when we release the next edition of Bicycling in Quebec next June. Stay tuned.