27 September 2016

PARK(ing) Day Tackles Bike Infrastructure

Dozens of bicycles replace a former single car parking space, a common sight on Copenhagen streets.

Co-written by Sylvia Green and Copenhagenize Design Co.

The transition from summer to autumn brings life back to our cities, filling schools, offices, busses, cycle tracks, roads, and of course, parking spaces. While it’s exciting to feel the energy brought with this transition, it’s hard not to miss the elephant in the room, the bull in the china shop, the private automobile. One annual autumn event, PARK(ing) Day, has done an incredible job at questioning the dominance of the car in our urban spaces. On the third Friday of each September, PARK(ing) Day has everyday citizens transform street parking into public space of their own design.

PARK(ing) day began in San Francisco in 2005, when Rebar Design decided to convert a metered parking spot into a public park for a period of two hours. Since then, a movement has expanded globally, and now includes installations redefining local spaces to suit political, commercial, playful or aesthetic intentions.

In cities worldwide, car parking takes up a tremendous amount of space, is often heavily subsidized, and, despite the general strategic embrace away from high energy and heavily polluting transportation (ie cars), car parking is still seen to be a right in the eyes of planning officials. Even in bicycle-friendly Copenhagen, despite the low vehicular modal share of 22 percent within the city, there is over 3 square km dedicated to parking vehicles. Much of this is unmetered, all is heavily subsidized.

PARK(ing) day allows everyday people to re-imagine what the tremendous amount of public space could contain if cars were not the dominant force they are, and put their imagination into action. The day is also a part of the broader movement to reclaim space in densely populated city spaces. Many of the installations at this year’s PARK(ing) day event contained bicycle-related components. Here are a few of our favourites, to inspire you for next year’s event.

Berlin, Germany.

In Berlin, two installations nicely brought utilitarian cycling issues to the table. The bicycle advocacy group Volksentscheid Fahrrad redesigned a mobile trailer as a small park for hanging out and discussing the referendum movement, which switched spots regularly. One organizer, Maximillian Nawrath, explained, “I think it will raise awareness amongst citizens about how much space parked cars occupy and what we could use in their place. Additionally, I want to promote the referendum group Volksentscheid Fahrrad, because it's state election time in Berlin and we have to be in the minds of the people on election day! We invited lots of press and will be very present in local media, which is super important!”.

The second, Netzwerk Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln, set up an installation along Hermannplatz, an arterial characterised by heavy car traffic and very little bicycle infrastructure. There, temporary bicycle parking was created and bicycles were painted on the street to visualize the need for a protected bike lane instead of free parking space for cars. A representative from Netzwerk Fahrradfreundliches Neukölln explained, “[PARK(ing) Day] has relevance generally as many cities are growing and a battle has started over the public space. Cities need to re-think how to use it in the most sustainable and efficient way. Berlin is fast-growing and there is an increase of traffic and parking. Yet, cities and are for people and not for cars. A liveable city focusses on enough recreation zones, and space for traffic participants who do not emit fumes, CO2 and noise.”


Cambridge, USA

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Cambridge Bike Committee replaced car parking with a protected bike lane for PARK(ing) day. Megan, from the committee, explained the concept, “I suggested that instead of 1 spot to TALK about biking, that we take over a whole block to SHOW what biking should feel like and even better if it was a high profile street like Mass Ave in front of the busiest coffee shop, Flour, and employer, Novartis. Ms. Anne Marie jumped on the idea and gave it life within the committee. The amazing Cara Seiderman and Jennifer Lawrence scoped out the blocks on Mass Ave and determined that we could install a popup protected bikeways on BOTH sides of a very busy block! To create the barrier of protection, I suggested that kids paint a wall mural, which they loved. I talked to Katie who runs the summer camp program with Annika's school to see if the kids would be interested and if we could use the paint and she was excited to help make it happen.”

Megan hopes that this bike lane will help to change attitudes towards cycling infrastructure in Cambridge. “When you hear people say that ‘we don't have space’ for biking like The Netherlands, remember this picture and let them know that we do have space, but it's used for storing a car driven by typically 1 person. The Dutch didn't do it overnight - it took protesting moms and an oil crisis to jump start the movement in the 70s. We'll get there, too, but it takes a cocktail of passion, time, behavior change and political will."





Montreal, Canada

Turning to Montreal, our local Copenhagenize office made an installation to show the difference between existing painted lanes in Montreal and physically protected one-way cycle tracks. As Michael Wexler explains, “It is one thing to post articles online and look at maps and plans, but for the average person, whether or not they are used to riding a bicycle, seeing is believing.” Michael believes that pop-up bike lanes can dispel myths surrounding cycle tracks, show their versatility and allow users to understand how it feels to have protected infrastructure. “The event allowed us to put something on the ground and engage with people on and off bikes about how their city's streets should and could be better designed. It also didn't hurt that traffic was jammed up on the street while bikes used our cycle track and totally circumvented the gridlock. PARK(ing) day is a great event to show what is possible with so much of our city space that we allocate to storing giant metal boxes”. Michael believes that PARK(ing) day should be used to push the conversation forward in formal planning spaces, “There is so much potential for good design in a city like Montreal - where there is arguably the strongest urban cycling culture in North America.”



As a fun and engaging annual event, PARK(ing) Day does an excellent job of having everyday citizens draw to light the potential of the inefficient use of these highly valuable spaces. In some cases, such as San Francisco’s Parklet program, the movement has successfully inspired more formal and permanent installations expanding the public realm. Rather than subsidizing valuable urban land to accommodate big metal boxes it’s time for cities to wake up to the misconception of parking as an necessity and economic generator. Here’s to seeing PARK(ing) Day continue to question the status quo of our urban parking spaces.

For more information on organising your own PARK(ing) Day, click here.

23 September 2016

When a Public Space Doesn't Want You - Kvæsthusmolen

The Bicycle Chef on Kvæsthus Pier
A late-summer evening in Copenhagen. Copenhagenize Design Company arranged for The Bicycle Chef - Cykelkokken to serve up a delicious snack for our guests from the City of Bordeaux, including Mayors from surrounding municipalities, who were visiting our city to learn about bicycle urbanism and public space.

Ole Kassow from Cycling Without Age was invited to spread his good word about his amazing project. Being urban designers, we thought it highly appropriate to exploit the potential of Copenhagen's newest public space - Kvæsthusmolen - a redevelopment of a quay in the heart of the Danish capital.

Summer is lingering this year, but the space was rather empty at 18:30, with only a few people enjoying the evening. We arranged for the Bicycle Chef to meet us at the "Kissing Steps" and set up for serving our guests from his converted Bullitt cargo bike.

It was going to be a classic Copenhagen arrangement. Or so we thought.



In all the material about the new, public urban space, grand descriptions are employed. "A space for cosy and quiet moments", they tell us. "A good urban space also invites people to linger". Indeed. The spot we chose - the Kissing Steps - is "a perfect place to share a moment in the sun." Not a dry eye in the house.

There is nothing in those descriptions to indicate that using the space would result in an angry employee from the Scandic Front hotel nearby storming out to us in the middle of the urban space and informing us in no uncertain terms - read: rude - that we had to move. That the space upon which we stood was private property and that we had to leave it immediately.

When we questioned this bizarre statement with comments about public space, we were informed by this man that it WASN'T public space - it was owned by The Royal Danish Theatre - also located nearby - and that the Scandic Front hotel pays "a lot of money" to rent it. Therefore we, as Copenhageners with international guests, were not allowed to have a private picnic.


Damn. There we were. Ready to experience a place for everything, a place for excitement and a place for US.




We were ready for a vibrant urban space and nine steps for kissing! As RealDania, the philanthropic fund who financed it says on the project website, the goal with the space was:

• creating an urban space which communicates the transition between Frederiksstaden and Holmen through a wide architectural “embrace” that extends the classical understanding of space in Frederiksstaden, staged through a sensual mixture of materials and a “fairy-tale” composition of lighting, which in itself makes the square enticing; both day and night

• to soften the transition between land and sea, e.g. with a stairway, and to enable a broad spectrum of recreational activities on and by the water


RealDania's declared mission is "To improve quality of life for the common good through the built environment".

What an amazing array of glossy, marketing texts about this new destination.


We were the only people in the space at that moment. The outdoor seating for the hotel was packed up for the evening - and probably the rest of the year. While Angry Hotel Man didn't seem very certain about his claims, we had distinguished guests arriving so we chose to avoid educating him in public space and, instead, roll over to the other area on Kvæsthusmolen, along the harbour, to begin our evening.

The Lulu and Cykelkokken Ole Kassow
The World's Youngest Urbanist, The Lulu, helped Morten out preparing for our guests. Ole Kassow did his magic and all went well.



Kvæsthusmolen was designed by Danish architects Lundberg & Tranberg.

The question remains. Can you boldy proclaim "public space" and then try to kick people off of it? And in a city that prides itself on public space like few others? The lines between private and public are blurred here on Kvæsthusmolen. The Royal Danish Theatre even tries to brand the space as Ofelia Plads / Ofelia Square, complete with a website. Even though the official name is Kvæsthusmolen.



Screengrab from The Royal Danish Theatre's website. Just because it's weird.

As Mayor Morten Kabell has said, "There is nothing called Ofelia Plads - except in the imagination of The Royal Theatre".

Addendum
Mayor Morten Kabell, on Facebook, has looked into this. He writes:

The stairs and Kvæsthusmolen is owned by the Ministry of Culture and administered by ofeliaplads.dk. They have leased a part of the place to Scandic Hotel for restaurant purposes, but far from it all. On the hotel's area you cannot make a private event or picnic.

But at the rest of Kvæsthusmolen, you can sit and enjoy yourselves, have a picnic and so on. When it amounts to a bigger event, you have to apply for permission from ofeliaplads.dk just like you'd have to if the area was owned by the city.


We weren't in the (closed) cafe space near the hotel. We were in the middle of the area. It would be interesting to see a plan showing the exact lease area. The whole area was deserted. You would think that creating some life in the space would be regarded as beneficial to everyone, including the businesses.

But hey. So maybe it's a free-for-all in this new urban space. Organisations can make up names for it. Hotels can kick you out of it - and, what's worse, hotels that only have a dismal 3.5 rating on Trip Advisor.

This may be routine in other cities in the world. This is not, however, fitting in the Copenhagen in which I choose to live and work.

21 September 2016

The Lulu Solves Congestion, Road Safety Issues and Finding Space for Bikes


I finally got around to subjecting The Lulu to a simple test. I've been meaning to do it for ages and last night we cast ourselves headlong into the urban fray. I figured The World's Youngest Urbanist would have a good shot at it.

The Lulu, since she was 3 1/2 years old, has delivered a constant stream of urbanist wisdom. Indeed, I feature her in most of the keynotes I do around the world. The point being that kids are better at planning Life-Sized Cities than a room full of adults.

While walking around our neighbourhood a few years ago, she dropped another wisdom bomb. We were waiting at a red light. She was a bit quiet and looking around. Suddenly, she looks up at me and says, "When will by city fit me, Daddy?"



It was a frustration for her to be so small on the urban landscape. I assured her that she would grow. She just shrugged and said, "yeah". She knew that. But at that moment she didn't feel like her city fit her.

That sentiment stuck with me. I started to think hard about whether my city fits ME. By and large, it does, this Copenhagen of mine. But there are still many places in this city where it doesn't. And most cities in the world don't feel like they fit me. They don't feel like they are life-sized cities. That phrase I came up with is a direct result of The Lulu's comment.

I used the phrase in the title of one of my TED x talks:


Furthermore, it is now also the title of my new TV series - premiereing in 2017 - The Life-Sized City.

The Lulu's observations can be profound, but they can also be simple. Like this one. Letting her loose with a camera on her urban landscape also offers up interesting street photography results.

After she started to deliver her wisdom, I started to think about what kids could contribute. I got Lulu's big brother and his whole 3rd grade class in on it with this project. And I remain amazed at the logic and rationality that children employ.




14 September 2016

Gladsaxe focused on cycling - and saved millions

The following post is an English translation of Søren Astrup's recent article for the Danish newspaper, Politiken, Gladsaxe satsede på cykeltrafik - og sparede over en kvart milliard kroner:











The municipality's willingness to provide safe cycling infrastructure has been a good idea, according to new calculations.

Like life-sized cities the world over, the Danish municipality of Gladsaxe, just northwest of Copenhagen, has sought to understand how to make roads safer for their citizens. The solution, they’ve found, is to simply make roads more bicycle friendly. To do so, they’ve transformed 94 percent of the city’s road network to feature either sensible speed limits (30 or 40 km/hr) or dedicated, separated cycle tracks. First set in 1984, the humble goal of making safer streets by way of traffic calming and bicycle infrastructure has been a worthwhile investment. A study carried out by the Aalborg University Traffic Research Group has found the efforts have paid off significantly. To date the city has invested €24 million in traffic calming and cycle  infrastructure, while realising €66 million in direct health care savings. The study looked at cycling injuries in the region as well as hospital and emergency room treatments of cyclists involved in an auto collision.

Turns out traffic collisions are expensive

Estimates suggest the improvements in Gladsaxe to have resulted in 4,500 fewer traffic collisions resulting in injuries, all while bicycle traffic has increased by 15 percent. Calculations developed by Cowi Engineering Consultants for the municipality suggest the average public expenditure per person injured in an automobile collision to just over €17,000.  A significant part of this cost (hospital treatment, care, and rehabilitation) is covered
And the bicycle keeps paying off Furthermore, the study finds health savings in the municipality to amount to €0.09 per kilometre cycled. And with a 15 percent increase in bicycle traffic in Gladsaxe since 2000, the municipality can boast nearly €5 million in savings.