Showing posts with label kristen maddox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kristen maddox. Show all posts

19 August 2013

Episode 06 - Macro Design - Top 10 Design Elements in Copenhagen's Bicycle Culture


Here we go... episode 06 of the Top 10 Design Elements in a bicycle-friendly Copenhagen. Über-intern Ivan Conte presents Copenhagenize's Kristen Maddox as she discusses the importance of Macro Design.


FILM SERIES: TOP TEN DESIGN ELEMENTS IN BICYCLE-FRIENDLY COPENHAGEN
- EPISODE 01 - THE BIG PICTURE
- EPISODE 02 - THE GREEN WAVE
- EPISODE 03 - INTERMODALITY
- EPISODE 04 - SAFETY DETAILS
- EPISODE 05 - NØRREBROGADE
- EPISODE 06 - MACRO DESIGN
- EPISODE 07 - MICRO DESIGN
- EPISODE 08 - CARGO BIKES
- EPISODE 09 - DESIRE LINES
- EPISODE 10 - POLITICAL WILL

16 July 2013

Ten Things Copenhagen Cyclists Say


(Note: Kristen Maddox was an intern for Copenhagenize Design Co. and was quickly elevated to the status of Legendary Interns in the company. She is sorely missed here at our offices.)

Danny Kaye made for an endearing H.C. Andersen in the 1952 film H.C. Andersen that tells the story of the legendary Danish author of The Little Mermaid and other fairy tales. One priceless scene: a group of sailors creaking into Copenhagen's port after a long journey, finally coming home up the Kattegat--the little bit of water hugged by Denmark and Sweden. The nostalgia in the scene is epic. Here are some of the lyrics:

On this merry night 
Let us clink and drink one down

To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen 
Salty old queen of the sea 
Once I sailed away 
But I'm home today 
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful 
Copenhagen for me


As a guest student here for a year to research, I always knew there would be a time when I'd have to return home to Chicago. When the Danish authorities could legally "use force, if necessary" to kick me outside the country's borders (challenge: accepted). A year learning about Danish urban planning and bicycle infrastructure felt like a tremendous amount of hours in the beginning, but like any journey, the ending feels surreal and much to soon.

There are some things I immediately know I will miss about living here. The near instant accessibility to scores of bakeries selling the kanelsnegle, for instance. An illogically delicious, simultaneously gooey and flaky, flat cinnamon bun. Other details are more fleeting: memories of conversations with Danes and other international. The color of light on the pavement after cycling home late at night.

Our work throughout this blog is dedicated to exposing these fine details to an international audience. Hence, the impossibility to squeeze these thousands of details into one small list. But here is a sampling, in no particular order, of the top ten conversations I've had regarding biking in Copenhagen. And one more thing: forgive me if the following list gets more sappy than Danny Kaye's sailor mates after a few swigs of Gammel Dansk.

1) "But of course they must have cargo bikes in Iceland!"
My friend said this in disbelief as I told her about Copenahgenize Design Co.'s quest to find the most northerly cargo bike. The fact that it seemed so odd to her that a place would not have cargo bikes was completely amazing to me.

2) "Can I please just go through this red light?!"
Internal monologue while waiting at a red traffic signal in the rain. No traffic. Past midnight. But the two people next to me were stubbornly staying put, so I did as well. Guess that thing about well-behaved, rule-following Danes is kinda true after all...

3) "Mittens...because you can't bike without gloves in Copenhagen"
Master's student from France here for her studies. She was asked to describe riding a bicycle in Copenhagen in three words. She gave "mittens" as her third word. We spoke with her in February, but her words rang true until April and were often quoted amongst colleagues.



4) "You can turn like that? I never even thought of that!"
A friend's amazement that in Chicago, we all (or nearly all, most accurately) turn "like cars" in the left hand turn lane instead of pulling through an intersection, stopping at the light after turning 90 degrees, and continuing on segregated cycle track. Turning left in Chicago is something that many a new bicycle user fears. Here, it becomes second nature.

5) "Yes, one can learn many things"
New bicycle rider at a Red Cross bicycle training course. The organisation teaches adults who have moved here from other countries and never learned to cycle as children. I was lucky enough to meet some of these people by becoming a volunteer bicycle teacher. One of the participants, a quite gifted older woman said this in Danish while gracefully sailing past me. It was one of those moments that just gives you an all-around good feeling because of the stark truth in what she was saying. Here was someone who initially was hesitant to try this thing that so many of her peers were using since childhood. But look at her now. Confident not only in biking, but in the ability of herself and people in general.

6) "I'm buying a bike when I get home!"
Australian university student's exclamation while talking about biking in Copenhagen. Before this he was saying how hardly anyone uses bicycles in his hometown. With renewed vigor, he'll go home and teach them a thing or two. And luckily, Velo City 2014 takes place in his university's backyard: Adelaide.

7) "But do you ever feel limited by transport there?"
My boyfriend in Chicago, talking to me on Skype. I could honestly answer that in my day-to-day experience, no. I feel fully able to go wherever I please in total security. At 4:00 or at 16:00. Through rain, sleet, snow, or hail. Okay, maybe I've never seen hail while living here.

8) "But what's your guys' bike culture like in Chicago?"
One of the first things my friend and classmate asked me when I told him where I was from. I remember us standing on the platform at Trekroner Station near Roskilde University, during a university organisation-led trip to Roskilde (a town a little more than 34km outside of Copenhagen). He had his bike in hand and the conversation had started to drift to topics other than biking before he interjected with this question. It felt like the most fitting thing in the world to stand in Denmark exchanging notes on bicycle mainstreaming before I had even passed the one-week mark of my stay.

The picture above shows part of an obstacle course arranged by the Danish Cyclists' Federation so that "mini Copenhageners" can practice their bicycle skills.
9) "WEEEEEEE!"
The sound of a gleeful little kid in the front of a cargo bike. All the ones I've seen are adorable. Downy, frequently blonde tiny heads poke out of cargo bike boxes. The particular case I'm thinking of was a little girl in snazzy pink sunglasses. Her arm stuck straight out in front of her. Soaring north through the neighborhood/island called Amager. Completing her completely jovial and free-wheeling image was what she held in front of her. She grasped a biscuit in her outstretched hand as if she wanted it too, to feel the freedom of flying.


10) "[stunned silence]"
So #9 and #10 are cheating, since they are just sounds. #10 cheats even more, since it depicts silence. But regardless. Imagine a caravan of bicycle rickshaws lumbering through the ordinarily quickly-paced cycle track. The drivers are young but the occupants are quite advanced in age. They are elderly folk from a local nursing home that was hooked up with a sweet rickshaw initiative called 'Cykler Uden Alder-- Cycling Without Age'. As part of an event called '100 In One Day', we rode our bikes alongside the rickshaws up the coast of Zealand to a town just north of Copenhagen, called Gentofte. The look on the first passerby's face showed pure wonder. The couple in the rickshaw were suddenly transformed into mightier figures than Queen Margrethe and Henrik, Prince Consort. The passerby simply enjoyed seeing two other people enjoying time in the fresh air.

Copenhagen, you might not notice that I've gone away from your ports and away from my spot at the Black Diamond Library, but I won't stop talking about what my country (and many others) can learn about how to create bicycle friendly cities focused on the people.

So just as I step unto the jet plane I'll run through this list one last time. But not until I check to make sure the smuggled kanelsnegle is hidden from the Beagle Brigade dogs' hungry noses.

05 July 2013

The Missing Link: Bremerholm and One-Way Streets


Earlier this year, Mary Hudson Embry wrote about the cycle track addition on Gothersgade. Another "missing link" in the Inner City's bicycle network was just completed, this time on Bremerholm: a small one-way street near Christiansborg (the Parliament and other governmental functions building), Holmen Canal, and Magasin department store. The road leads towards other focal points in the Inner City such as the famous pedestrian street called Strøget. Now that Knippels Bridge is the most biked street in Copenhagen according to the newest 2012 Bicycle Accounts, the new cycle track will allow bicycle users to continue on a straight path from the bridge into the inner city. Before, one would have to risk going against the grain of car traffic or turn either left or right and take a more circuitous route.

Other highlights: fresh bump-free pavement, a separate traffic light for bicycles, and two lanes-- one for those going straight or turning left and another to turn right. 

Before these additions- and admittedly sometimes during their construction process- the area was clogged as everyone and their uncle tried to squeeze past one another. A jumble of interweaving wheels and lots of glances over the shoulder. It's not like it was hellish before, but now it is a whole lot nicer.


Many other cities have what is known as "contra-flow" bicycle lanes or cycle track that run in the opposite way of one-way traffic. These are common scenarios since almost all cities have one-way streets in one form or another regardless of whether they are in ancient city centres or along straight grid-systems. In the world of urban cycling, there are contra-lanes...and then there are contra-lanes. Like many aspects of perfecting bicycle infrastructure, one of the most important things is to make space for cyclists. Squeezing a skinny bike lane in a curving, roughly cobbled street with cars whizzing past at high speeds is not the way to convince people they are safe on two wheels. Instead, planners must provide ample room, a kerb or other barrier so cars cannot encroach, as well as separation from pedestrians who might mistakingly cross into the bicycles. If the street does not contain this segregated infrastructure, a 30km/hr zone will prevent cars from barreling towards cyclists. 


Danish democracy: Folketinget (Parliament) framed by Danish democracy
A new idea catalog was just released last month called: "Idea Catalog for Traffic and Urban Environment in the North Quarter" and the proposals contained therein are recommended for inclusion in the City's budget. The total price for all suggestions would be 20 million Danish kroner or about 2.6 million Euro. Among the recommendations is a stunning proposal to turn Vestergade into a bicycle street. Now, you may be asking yourself what makes this different from any other street in Copenhagen. Good point. 

The entire road will be turned into a bi-directional cycle path, with pedestrian paths on either end and flex parking for deliveries and bicycle parking. The street will remain a one direction street for cars, but their speed limit will be reduced to that of a bicycle's. Something that means bicycles are given the home team advantage. The document reads: "motoring allowed on bicycles' terms". Other road sections would be blocked for car traffic altogether, which is a wonderful improvement in roads that already are heavily bike dominated. Read the entire report here; although non-Danish speakers will have to use Google translate or find a Danish language-endowed friend.
Screenshot from the Idea Catalog document. The street today (on left) and the street with the intended changes (on right).
Could this be a third "missing link" in Copenhagen's bicycle network? We'll be keeping our eyes peeled to find out.

19 June 2013

CycleLogistics: Flooding EU Cities with Cargo Bike Goodness



When listening to presentations at this year's Velo City Conference in Vienna, Austria about various city's newly unveiled bicycle strategies, it was easy to see which will be most user-friendly and adaptive to change. Among other criteria of course, the new cycle tracks (or cycle lanes, since some presenters' cities were not onboard with the Copenhagen style...) must boast widths to accommodate cargo bikes.

To promote the cargo bikes' viability as present-day and future transport options for delivery and freight services, we are proud to serve as local partner in the EU project called CycleLogistics. We hope to work with a smorgasbord of nine other cities to replace smelly, antiquated delivery vans with gleaming new cargo bikes. The project is truly a game-changer, pushing the boundaries of bicycles for transportation.

Here's a snapshot of the innovators who represented CycleLogistics' diverse ideas, innovation, and forward thinking via a Velo City 2013 lecture entitled, "Back to the Future: Cycle Logistics and Advanced Sustainability". Their bike enterprises and projects are hitting the ground running. A return to the Dutch or Danish heyday of cycle-led logistics can and will return like a tide.



Outspoken Delivery-- Rob King represents Outspoken Delivery from Cambridge, UK. Why rely on heavy, polluting trucks when this delivery service can pick up goods from city outskirts and deliver them within the city? The service is called "last-mile delivery"-- goods are consolidated, instead of relying on vans that on average are only half full. The goal is to create transit hubs outside the city, where trucks would load cargo onto delivery bicycles instead of vans. But just how much could a bike carry, you ask?...A hefty 250kg with one model and 60kg with another. Check out the presentation slides and don't miss the snazzy video embedded in the Prezi, while you're at it.

Susanne Wrighton of FGM-Amor & Franz Hoelzl of Spar Salzburg, Austria discussed a local initiative from major food retailer, SPAR. Their Bike & Buy campaigns encourage shoppers to do just what the name entails. In total, the 15 Shop by Bike campaigns orchestrated by CycleLogistics will reach up to 3000 people in pilot projects of 1-2 months. Susanne Wrighton and mobility research/ communication company, FGM-Amor in Graz, Austria enlisted 400 participants to shop only by bike. 9 out of 10 said they would continue using their bicycles to return home from shopping after the program's end. Even better, 7 out of 10 said they would cycle for other uses and to other places. Biking is, as we know, infectious.

Retail companies are also jumping on the cargo bike band wagon, as Ton Daggers describes, owner of International Bicycle Consultancy from the Netherlands. His work begins by asking whether bicycles can take the place of conventional traffic vans within cities. His answer, of course, is yes. His company has promoted bicycles for the last 20 years. The bikes he showcases in his presentation are used within the fleet of "big box" retailers and other commercial entities. Some of the bicycles are two-person outfits that enable the transport of even larger quantities of goods. Wouldn't it be cozy to buy a bed from Ikea with your partner and rest assured (no pun intended) that you wouldn't need to get a hold of a car to transport it to your new home?



Originally working from the angle of positive health and movement promotion, Dr. Randy Rzewnicki now works on several projects with the European Cyclists' Federation, based in Belgium. With pure joy and enormous enthusiasm he documented the diverse array of cargo bikes he's seen during his first couple days at Velo City--at the bicycle fashion show, in city streets, and represented in media. He described how DHL now uses cargo bikes to deliver mail and packages. When they buy these bikes, they make a corporate promise to use the bicycle to actually replace one of their vans. Additionally, the FahrRADhaus or "Bicycle House" (play on the word: rathaus or City Hall) was transported to the festival site entirely by bicycle, making it the largest structure moved by cargo bicycle.

Photo by: Sebastian Philipp -- http://www.fahrradwien.at/fahrradhaus/
Their work shows what I wrote earlier: that a city's bicycle plan is only as good as their provisions to accommodate the growth of cargo bike-based business endeavors. The bikes are as eye-catching as they are useful and their business models will stand the test of time and the test of a world switching to non-carbon sources. They will do so with simplicity and ease of use.

CycleLogistics works across borders for cargo bike promotion. For more information, you can like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, watch their videos on Vimeo, or read more on their official website. You can also learn more about our partner cities and the passionate people who make it all possible.

14 June 2013

The Choreography of an Urban Intersection




Part 1 - On bicycles & Behaviour

“Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets”. The oft-quoted words of Jane Jacobs from her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities ring true even in 2013. Throughout time, there have been key urbanists who are not satisfied with municipal jobs, tucked away from the citizens. These are the urban superheros. The almost mythic figures like Jacobs or William Whyte who intimately know our cities. 


A little over a year ago, we blogged about an exciting new project to honour these thinkers’ legacies. We put their methods into action in novel and exciting ways. We study the bicycle users' intricacies on a greater scale than ever before.

Enter a simple video camera, an ordinary intersection, and more than 16,000 bicycle users. “The Bicycle Choreography of an Urban Intersection—an anthropological study” was born.

Over 200 hours were logged by anthropologist Agnete Suhr as she studied 12 hours of video footage from our camera’s vantage point above two streets: Godthåbsvej and Nordre Fasanvej. Pedro Madruga logged hundreds of his own hours making sense of the raw data. The result? A delicious mélange of anthropological observation, video ethnography, and quantitative sense-making. There is something ground-breaking here. It is one thing to advocate for people-centered planning. Quite another to get our hands dirty and investigate methods to better accomplish this feat. We classify and categorize the bicycle users’ “desire lines” throughout the intersection. Where they go, but also how they get there. 

Are bicycle users really the two-wheeled tyrants that popular media and common conceptions pin them as? Yup. We’re closing up shop…Just kidding. Three major “types” of bicycle users emerge, separating the steady stream of bicycles into a diverse and differentiated bunch. Each “type” uses the urban theater differently, like the people William Whyte captures on film in the plaza of the Seagram Building in New York City.

Now, in this three part series, we are proud to present you with the study’s most pertinent findings. Stay tuned for the full document’s unveiling in the last segment. This is no fancifully-designed paperweight. We hope that traffic engineers, city planners, flaneurs of all sorts, urban fanciers, and elected officials alike will take interest and make our ‘Copenhagenize Fixes’ a reality.


Let’s begin with what we’ve learned about the users’ behaviours through the intersection. The next edition describes the results of the “number crunching” that came out of studying all these choices and so-called “rule-breaking” behaviours. Our final words cover the infrastructure improvements that we believe will work with these users’ movements and truly transform planners’ prioritization of urban space.

So let’s dive in…What interested us most after hours in front of the video screen? What was remarkable or noteworthy? We focus on bicycle users, but the full document reports on all who were in the road that spring day.

Mixing desires
Desire lines. The footsteps (or wheel rotations) marking movements outside of the mainstream, pre-decided paths. French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard coined the term ‘desire paths’ in 1958. We pay homage to Bachelard and the urban visionary Michel de Certeau by spotting these fleeting desire lines. When stepping outside of the “normal” movements, it was fascinating to watch when bicycle users’ posture shifted. Tiny changes that help facilitate communication amongst other road users. Look for them while you walk or ride.

Occasionally, bicycle users needed to cut through pedestrian crosswalks to change routes. They would either stay on their bicycle, “scoot” along with one foot on the pedal while the other pushes off from the asphalt, or hop off entirely and walk across. In choosing the one of the first two options, the bicycle user sits straighter, glances around more frequently, and generally makes his or her presence known. They resume their normal position once they are again in the cycle-only space. We do not advocate the willy-nilly mixing of road users, yet these small encounters show the lack of drama between pedestrians and bicycle users. They communicate with subtle body language and voila! Safe passage for all. The tape showed no events of angry pedestrians cursing at bicycle users, or similar over-the-top encounters that have become the anti-bike, apocalyptic visions of so many hesitant to embrace bicycles in city streets. Conflicts do occur--and Copenhagen could do a lot more to treat pedestrians with the same level of courtesy that they do cyclists—but our video ethnography revealed no such occurrences.

Pedestrians continuously entered the crossings from the very edges or off the white stripes entirely. As they crossed, sometimes their paths curved in the center, so that they walked in the middle of the stripe by the time they reached the road’s center.

“Follow the leader”
Movement throughout city space is a funny thing because users act according to their own wishes, yet these choices are influenced by others’ movements and choices. We observed this “follow the leader” spirit when bicycle users chose to wait either before or after the stop line at traffic signals. Time after time again, we saw the first person at a light set the precedent for the cyclists who joined them there. If one waited in front of the stop line—while making a box turn, say—rather than the customary position behind the line, small bicycle packs formed nearer this ‘first mover’. If the first mover positioned themselves behind the line, the bicycles who joined them at the light frequently waited behind the light as well, instead of going past the line.



Like the “scooting” cyclist we discuss above, these bicycle users are (perhaps unbeknownst to them) using subtle body language to coexist together. It is fascinating to watch how their movements relate to one another and how their paths intertwine in surprising ways.


Try it next time. Note where you stop and let us know. Are these behavior patterns similar in other cities or not? If one bike stopped at a red light starts to “crawl” forward at a light to roll past the stop line, do others follow? Our own observations saw others “crawl” forward as well. Fascinating fodder for any number of other urban experiments.

The three bicyce users you might meet on Copenhagen’s cycle tracks
Our office has ridden bicycles in 70 cities around the world. It is an understatement to say we are confident in Copenhageners' well-behaved bicycle behaviour. Having the infrastructure to follow, means they will stick to these paths. No surprise here!

So who are these mysterious Citizen Cyclists making their way around Copenhagen? We’ve devoted our work to catering to their needs, telling their stories in the cities where we ride, and generally trying to export their experiences elsewhere. So it makes sense to take an “up-close and personal” glance into how they travel. “Those damn cyclists!” as it turns out, are much more heterogeneous than the average person might think.

Conformists—93% of observed users. They follow the rules. Generally very precisely. They stick to the paths laid down in front of them and follow the traffic signals and road markings how they were intended to be used. Even if the rules governing cyclists were mainly car-centric in origin.

Momentumists—6% of observed users. They follow their desire to keep a steady flow and make adjustments accordingly, including turning right on red or carefully riding through a pedestrian crossing (See the above section for more on this).

Recklists—1% of observed users. The original wild urban poster child for the “bad” cyclist: riding through red lights and turning left like a car. In contrast with the legal method of riding straight through an intersection, turning 90 degrees and halting at the light before continuing in the new direction.

Of the rule breaking we observed, the majority (53%) occurred as bicycle users “crawled” past lines at red lights. Not so grave an infraction as some associate with urban bicyclists. The physical environment (segregated cycle infrastructure) and influence of other road users (stopping location—see previous section) combine to shape cyclist behaviour. In building bicycle culture in other cities, we can use these findings as powerful tools. They show insight into the building blocks for safe, respectful, and successful bicycle mainstreaming.


Part Two - Numbers Speak Louder Than Words



Here, we take the quantitative data from the study and tell a story about our cities. A story about how to understand allegedly ‘rule-bending’ behaviour to discover how municipalities can better relate to these users and the desires of all on our roads today.

Thanks to some solid work by data wunderkind Pedro Madruga, we were able to visualize the finer details of the 16,631 bicycle users’ movements. Let’s return to the three “types” of Copenhagen cyclists that we introduced in the previous section: Conformists (93%), Momentumists (6%), Recklists (1%). The major reason why cyclists bend rules is to keep their momentum. As stated in the previous installment, bicycle users who bend the rules use a posture change that lets them communicate with others. Their more upright and alert position says they are aware of their infraction and the disturbance will soon dissipate. Cycling or scooting through pedestrian crossings made up 19% of the observed occurrences of rule bending and showed examples of these posture changes. The majority (53%) of the minor rule bending occurred as bicycles rolled past stop lines. As they “crawled” over the official stopping area, other bicycles often joined, their behaviour was influenced by the first bicycle’s position at the light. 


We dissected the presence of momentumist behaviour according to travel direction to investigate whether road design has an effect on prevalence of momentumists. Based on similar ratios in all directions, these differences in road design did not seem to influence the rule bending behaviour. Cyclists still bended rules to save momentum. Contrarily, the left turns from North to East had the lowest rule bending ratio: 1% (2 momentumists out of 329 conformists).

When turning right, the most frequently occurring “momentumist” behaviour was turning right on red. Something that is already legal (or changing soon) in many other cities. When turning left, the most common infraction occurred as momentumists saved time by cycling through the crosswalk.
Not even the Recklists were truly “reckless” all of the time. 82% were classified with the ‘other momentumists’ data, so the second largest infraction was running a yellow light while it was turning red (10% of infractions).

In the next section, we will explain  our own “Copenhagenize Fixes” that take these rule bending behaviours into account and work with the 16,631 road users’ movements. One other important detail, often overlooked by traffic planners, is the simple U-turn. 35 were observed throughout the 12 hour observation period. 32 of these 35 occurred in a pedestrian crossing and the remaining 3 took place before the cyclist reached the crosswalk. We believe that deviations such as U-turns, cycling through pedestrian crosswalks, turning right on red lights, and walking outside of walkways are not opportunities for increased policing of cyclists or pedestrians. Instead they are opportunities for city and traffic planners to be more creative with the services they deliver to road users.

We couldn’t be more excited about sharing these fixes with you because of the pragmatic solutions they deliver. They may not fit every city. That is where urban thinkers in every city come in. “Old-fashioned” observation, analysis, and follow-up studies show new ways forward in urban planning. Ironically by returning to the “old” ways.


Part 3 - Copenhagenize Fixes


We now present our “Copenhagenize Fixes”. These fixes are quite simple, but we believe, will go a long way in working with traffic behaviours, instead of policing them.
The graphic above shows the following improvements to the streetscape. Each desire line is given a different letter as a label. The numbers are the number of bicycle users. Two numbers? The first is a mounted bicycle user and the second, a person walking their bike (example: through an intersection).

For bicycle users:

-Bicycle path is extended parallel to the pedestrian crossing, on the inside of the intersection:
We create a safe space for bicycle users to make U-turns, while respecting the traffic flow and infrastructure. As the diagram shows, the edges are curved to facilitate their turning movements. Since the paint follows them through the crossing, the bicycle users are protected from automobile traffic.

-Car stop line is pushed back five metres:
Bicycle users roll past the stop line to distance themselves from cars. Pushing the stop line away from the bicycle users creates more space for cyclists and would probably result in more conformist behaviour, since more than 90% of bicycle users respect the existing infrastructure.

-Additional traffic signal:
Most intersections in Frederiksberg/Copenhagen come equipped with traffic signals, so adding one here closes a missing link in the city’s overall traffic design.

For pedestrians:
-Crossing design:
The crosswalk edges wing out to match the places where pedestrians are most likely to enter the crossing. Throughout our observations, we noted people's tendency to enter the crosswalk from the edges of the white stripes, or step into the crosswalk from the outside of the lines entirely.

The pedestrian crossing is a lower-tech version of the Ergo Crosswalk designed by Jae Min Lim that we blogged about a few years back.

After publishing this document, we've thought more about design possibilities that would push the envelope for this intersection and others throughout the city. Another reason why the document cannot be viewed as a static product of our observations, but the tip of the planning iceberg. A path to new ideas that we will keep developing over time. So while these ideas incubate, we'll keep an eye peeled out our window and in city streets for how best to direct the choreography that blissfully surrounds us.



Read here our report: "The Bicycle Choreography of an Urban Intersection: an Anthropological Study" and let us know what you think.

11 June 2013

The Choreography of an Urban Intersection - Part One: On Bicycles & Behavior




“Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets”. The oft-quoted words of Jane Jacobs from her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities ring true even in 2013. Throughout time, there have been key urbanists who are not satisfied with municipal jobs, tucked away from the citizens. These are the urban superheros. The almost mythic figures like Jacobs or William Whyte who intimately know our cities. 


A little over a year ago, we blogged about an exciting new project to honour these thinkers’ legacies. We put their methods into action in novel and exciting ways. We study the bicycle users' intricacies on a greater scale than ever before.

Enter a simple video camera, an ordinary intersection, and more than 16,000 bicycle users. “The Bicycle Choreography of an Urban Intersection—an anthropological study” was born.

Over 200 hours were logged by anthropologist Agnete Suhr as she studied 12 hours of video footage from our camera’s vantage point above two streets: Godthåbsvej and Nordre Fasanvej. Pedro Madruga logged hundreds of his own hours making sense of the raw data. The result? A delicious mélange of anthropological observation, video ethnography, and quantitative sense-making. There is something ground-breaking here. It is one thing to advocate for people-centered planning. Quite another to get our hands dirty and investigate methods to better accomplish this feat. We classify and categorize the bicycle users’ “desire lines” throughout the intersection. Where they go, but also how they get there. 

Are bicycle users really the two-wheeled tyrants that popular media and common conceptions pin them as? Yup. We’re closing up shop…Just kidding. Three major “types” of bicycle users emerge, separating the steady stream of bicycles into a diverse and differentiated bunch. Each “type” uses the urban theater differently, like the people William Whyte captures on film in the plaza of the Seagram Building in New York City.

Now, in this three part series, we are proud to present you with the study’s most pertinent findings. Stay tuned for the full document’s unveiling in the last segment. This is no fancifully-designed paperweight. We hope that traffic engineers, city planners, flaneurs of all sorts, urban fanciers, and elected officials alike will take interest and make our ‘Copenhagenize Fixes’ a reality.


Let’s begin with what we’ve learned about the users’ behaviours through the intersection. The next edition describes the results of the “number crunching” that came out of studying all these choices and so-called “rule-breaking” behaviours. Our final words cover the infrastructure improvements that we believe will work with these users’ movements and truly transform planners’ prioritization of urban space.

So let’s dive in…What interested us most after hours in front of the video screen? What was remarkable or noteworthy? We focus on bicycle users, but the full document reports on all who were in the road that spring day.

Mixing desires
Desire lines. The footsteps (or wheel rotations) marking movements outside of the mainstream, pre-decided paths. French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard coined the term ‘desire paths’ in 1958. We pay homage to Bachelard and the urban visionary Michel de Certeau by spotting these fleeting desire lines. When stepping outside of the “normal” movements, it was fascinating to watch when bicycle users’ posture shifted. Tiny changes that help facilitate communication amongst other road users. Look for them while you walk or ride.

Occasionally, bicycle users needed to cut through pedestrian crosswalks to change routes. They would either stay on their bicycle, “scoot” along with one foot on the pedal while the other pushes off from the asphalt, or hop off entirely and walk across. In choosing the one of the first two options, the bicycle user sits straighter, glances around more frequently, and generally makes his or her presence known. They resume their normal position once they are again in the cycle-only space. We do not advocate the willy-nilly mixing of road users, yet these small encounters show the lack of drama between pedestrians and bicycle users. They communicate with subtle body language and voila! Safe passage for all. The tape showed no events of angry pedestrians cursing at bicycle users, or similar over-the-top encounters that have become the anti-bike, apocalyptic visions of so many hesitant to embrace bicycles in city streets. Conflicts do occur--and Copenhagen could do a lot more to treat pedestrians with the same level of courtesy that they do cyclists—but our video ethnography revealed no such occurrences.

Pedestrians continuously entered the crossings from the very edges or off the white stripes entirely. As they crossed, sometimes their paths curved in the center, so that they walked in the middle of the stripe by the time they reached the road’s center.

“Follow the leader”
Movement throughout city space is a funny thing because users act according to their own wishes, yet these choices are influenced by others’ movements and choices. We observed this “follow the leader” spirit when bicycle users chose to wait either before or after the stop line at traffic signals. Time after time again, we saw the first person at a light set the precedent for the cyclists who joined them there. If one waited in front of the stop line—while making a box turn, say—rather than the customary position behind the line, small bicycle packs formed nearer this ‘first mover’. If the first mover positioned themselves behind the line, the bicycles who joined them at the light frequently waited behind the light as well, instead of going past the line.



Like the “scooting” cyclist we discuss above, these bicycle users are (perhaps unbeknownst to them) using subtle body language to coexist together. It is fascinating to watch how their movements relate to one another and how their paths intertwine in surprising ways.


Try it next time. Note where you stop and let us know. Are these behavior patterns similar in other cities or not? If one bike stopped at a red light starts to “crawl” forward at a light to roll past the stop line, do others follow? Our own observations saw others “crawl” forward as well. Fascinating fodder for any number of other urban experiments.

The three bicyce users you might meet on Copenhagen’s cycle tracks
Our office has ridden bicycles in 70 cities around the world. It is an understatement to say we are confident in Copenhageners' well-behaved bicycle behaviour. Having the infrastructure to follow, means they will stick to these paths. No surprise here!

So who are these mysterious Citizen Cyclists making their way around Copenhagen? We’ve devoted our work to catering to their needs, telling their stories in the cities where we ride, and generally trying to export their experiences elsewhere. So it makes sense to take an “up-close and personal” glance into how they travel. “Those damn cyclists!” as it turns out, are much more heterogeneous than the average person might think.

Conformists—93% of observed users. They follow the rules. Generally very precisely. They stick to the paths laid down in front of them and follow the traffic signals and road markings how they were intended to be used. Even if the rules governing cyclists were mainly car-centric in origin.

Momentumists—6% of observed users. They follow their desire to keep a steady flow and make adjustments accordingly, including turning right on red or carefully riding through a pedestrian crossing (See the above section for more on this).

Recklists—1% of observed users. The original wild urban poster child for the “bad” cyclist: riding through red lights and turning left like a car. In contrast with the legal method of riding straight through an intersection, turning 90 degrees and halting at the light before continuing in the new direction.

Of the rule breaking we observed, the majority (53%) occurred as bicycle users “crawled” past lines at red lights. Not so grave an infraction as some associate with urban bicyclists. The physical environment (segregated cycle infrastructure) and influence of other road users (stopping location—see previous section) combine to shape cyclist behaviour. In building bicycle culture in other cities, we can use these findings as powerful tools. They show insight into the building blocks for safe, respectful, and successful bicycle mainstreaming.

Up next: Get your calculators ready because we’ll show you the numbers behind our behavioural observations.