Views

London Assembly Police and Crime Committee review into road traffic crime 11/02/2016

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 10 February, 2016 - 18:36

Here is our joint response with CTC, London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace, Sustrans, 20s Plenty for Us and Living Streets:- oLondonAssemblyPoliceandCrimeCommitteereroadtrafficcrime


Categories: Views

Wooden cycle bridge Grubbenvorst

BicycleDutch - 8 February, 2016 - 23:01
New motorways often sever old connections, especially for people walking and cycling. It’s always good when those old routes are quickly reconnected, especially when that is done with a beautiful … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

German version of one of my videos

BicycleDutch - 8 February, 2016 - 21:31
You can now see one of my videos with a narration in German. Many of my videos already have subtitles in a range of languages, but in Germany people are … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Rolling in the rain

BicycleDutch - 1 February, 2016 - 23:01
Rain! We almost need to apologize when we draw attention to it nowadays, because, as you know, It Almost Never Rains! But… as will become clear from this post, it … Continue reading →
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Zwolle to Assen by bike (part 2)

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 26 January, 2016 - 11:16

So, as promised here is the second and final part of my cycling trip between the Dutch cities of Zwolle and Assen, in July last year – part one here. As already mentioned this was about 45 miles, and done at a steady and relaxed pace on a heavy Dutch bike.

In the ‘first half’ post I’d got as far as the town of Meppel. This is in fact only about one-third of the way to Assen from Zwolle –

– but this part of the route contained most of the ‘interest’ of the day’s journey, because (as we shall see) there wasn’t a great deal that was remarkable between Meppel and Assen, given that my plotted route consisted entirely of a beautiful cycleway running parallel to a fast and (mostly very straight) main road.

Meppel was effectively bypassed again on a small main road that skirted the town centre; a road with industrial units that might have been quite unpleasant to cycle on. As it was I had quite an old ’tiled’ style path; definitely not as good as smooth asphalt, but still preferable to the road, especially given the type of traffic on it. (Incidentally the van parked on the cycleway in the photo appears to be a ‘path inspection’ vehicle).

Leaving Meppel I was quickly onto the infrastructure that would carry me all the way to Assen – a cycle path fully separated from the main road that speeds north, the N371. 

As with all Dutch cycle paths alongside main roads, this was essentially designed like a road for cycles; 3m wide (or more), but with no separate pedestrian provision. There aren’t many people walking here, given the rural nature of this area, and any pedestrians simply use this ‘bicycle road’. Where pedestrian numbers are higher, the Dutch will of course provide a separate footway.

As had been the case throughout the day, there were plenty of HGVs on the main roads, and on this one like the others. To give some indication of the level of comfort Dutch infrastructure provides, this situation in the photograph below felt like a ‘close pass’, given the way the HGV seemed almost to be coming towards me as it came around the bend, at 80kph.This despite the presence of a reasonable large verge separating me from the vehicle. Most likely in the UK I would have actually been on the road in this situation, or at best on a shared use footway directly adjacent to it.

Typically the separation from the fast main road itself was much greater. In the photograph below, the road is actually on the other side of the canal (which ran in parallel with it all the way to Assen)  you can just about see an HGV directly above the boat. Note here that there is also a service road for properties on the left, entirely separate from the cycle path.

While there was obviously priority over private properties and minor roads and tracks, at more major roads the cycleway lost priority. 

This didn’t feel like a particular problem to me; I might actually have felt quite exposed venturing out across the road, having to assume drivers would yield, especially on such a straight, fast main road. It was easy enough for me to gauge for myself when it was safest and easiest to cross these few interruptions. (All roundabouts in the north of the Netherlands are treated in this way – with no priority for cycling).

Mostly, however, tedium was beginning to set in. This was by no means arduous or hazardous cycling, using such well-designed infrastructure on a beautiful day. But unfortunately this was mile after mile with only the occasional bend or junction to divert my interest – I even found myself counting trees to keep myself occupied, working on the assumption that counting one hundred trees would equate to roughly a kilometre or so, ticking off the tens of kilometres remaining to Assen.

Happily, as planned, I soon met David Hembrow coming the other way to meet me, and we immediately diverted away from the main road, taking a winding scenic route through the countryside before heading into Assen.

We used a variety of types of path, but all of them were wonderful to cycle on. The example below is a new strip of farm access road, complete with tractor tyre marks in the mud to the sides. The strips either side of the brick paving in the middle are (of course) billiard-table-smooth concrete.

As on the earlier part of the journey from Zwolle, even tiny recreational paths also have a smooth concrete or tarmac surface. You will occasionally have to ‘single up’ as you meet people coming the other way, but these are not utility routes, so the amount of cycle traffic is very low.

And again, as with earlier in the day, there were plenty of people out cycling in the afternoon, enjoying the Drenthe countryside – mostly elderly couples, and kids.

Another swerving close pass into uncoming traffic for the ‘Dutch driver’ collection…

The connection between these rural areas and Assen itself is painless; both the motorway skirting Assen, and the city’s ring road, were negotiated with underpasses.

And in the blink of an eye I was in the centre of Assen.

If I had to do this route again I would probably avoid cycling along the N371 for so long; not because it was difficult or hazardous (far from it), but because it did get quite boring. It was certainly the quickest way, but it might be worth venturing cross country, just to make the route a little more lively. That said this second half of the trip was almost entirely free of interactions with drivers, given most of it was on fully separated paths, either alongside the main road, or through forests and fields. It was a lot of fun!


Categories: Views

Crowded cycleways lead to new urban design approach

BicycleDutch - 25 January, 2016 - 23:01
It was in the news again: Dutch cycleways are getting overcrowded. It was not the first time this made headlines. I have shown you “bicycle traffic jams” before. In 2014 … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Field Report: Cycling Toronto's Rocket

Copenhagenize - 22 January, 2016 - 09:58

The latest article by Copenhagenize Design Company's resident Torontonian, urban planner James Thoem.

It’s been two and a half years since I’ve returned to Toronto. Some things have changed. Others haven’t. Since ditching the mayor who actively removed bike lanes at a huge costs, the City has introduced a couple kilometres of half decent separated bicycle lanes along with more woeful sharrows (as if they’re still fooling anyone ). The public transit agency, The Toronto Transit Commision (TTC), has since rolled out a sleek new bike-friendly rolling stock, and introduced some of those well-meaning, though silly repair bike repair stations.

Now there’s an old saying among Toronto’s transport cynics that TTC, in fact, stands for ‘Take The Car’. While this approach is sure to trigger eye rolling among any urbanist, it does at least bring up a concept we can work with, the multi-modal city. At Copenhagenize Design Co. we’ve long championed the strengths of a multi-modal city coupled with a sensible transport hierarchy that values active transportation over motororised, and public over private. Cars are inevitable, but a city that prioritizes people must make cycling, transit and walking equally legitimate. As the Copenhagenize Traffic Planning Guide illustrates:



With overcrowded and delayed trains an all too common issue on the TTC, it’s no wonder Torontonians joke about ditching ‘the rocket’ for their commute. But opting for a private car only makes everything worse for everybody. Hopping on your bike is a quick and easy solution to free up seats and streets all while avoiding overcrowded train cars and mind numbing rush-hour traffic. We’ve made this little play on the TTC subway map to remind Torontonians of how accessible switching from rocket to bike actually is.



Often it seems as if the number one priority for subway riders is to completely tune out from their surroundings. While in this little world, we tend to forget that each and every stop is it’s own neighbourhood complete with it’s own stories, daily rituals, familiar faces and hidden gems. And often, regardless of whether you’re in Scarborough, Bloor West or Etobicoke, it’s the spaces between the stations stops where you get a real taste for the area.

Back in Copenhagen, we’ve conducted experiments, pitching bike commutes against actual subway travel times, with the former often coming out on top . So is this the case in Toronto? We expect so. But just one thing stands in the way: safe, functional infrastructure. But that’s an issue for a whole other post.

Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Zwolle to Assen, by bike – Part 1

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 21 January, 2016 - 08:40

Hackney Cyclist has recently put up a series of blogs on his experience of cycling between Dutch cities. They’re well worth reading in detail, and they’ve inspired me to do the same for a ride I made last summer between the cities of Zwolle and Assen, in the north of the Netherlands.

This is a distance of around 45 miles, or 70 kilometres. I did it on my omafiets, shown below during a ‘rest stop’ on this ride.

As you can see it has two full panniers carrying everything I needed for a week’s worth of cycling (this was part of a trip that included visits to Rotterdam, Utrecht, and a three days in Assen and Groningen on a David Hembrow study tour). I was wearing ordinary clothes; I’ve never felt the need for special equipment or special bikes when doing these kinds of distances in the Netherlands because the environment allows me to go at a smooth, relaxed and consistent pace, never really exerting myself. Indeed, part of the fun of these trips is covering large distances as a ‘wheeled pedestrian’, hopping on my heavy machine straight after breakfast without even really thinking about it, and heading off over the horizon.

l left the centre of Zwolle on one of its ubiquitous bi-directional cycleways. Zwolle itself is very much a mixed bag; some really high quality new stuff, mixed with some low-quality infrastructure – just paint, essentially – that is very dated and often left me feeling quite exposed.

Heading north, I turned off this path onto an access road, with no centre line, and cycle markings at the edges.These kinds of markings have recently hit the headlines, so to speak, having been employed on a main road in the north of England. That’s a very different context from this street, which only serves a handful of properties, and is very quiet.

My route then took me onto a temporary path, and the crossing of the main road that has been upgraded, as described here, and shown in the video below.

On the other side of the road the cycle path climbed gradually, reaching a high bridge that took me over a large canal. There was a fast, busy road alongside me here, but cycling was comfortably separated from it.

In the distance in the photograph above is the impressive cycling suspension bridge shown in this Good Facility of the Week. You can cross a large junction on this bridge to enter the suburb of Westenholte, or you can veer around underneath the bridge to head north out of the city, as I did. Note the two very different types of cycling!

The path continued on seamlessly, bypassing a roundabout without me having to go anywhere near it…

 … before leading me onto another access road, this time in a new development.

Again, just as with the example before, these markings are only appropriate on these kinds of quiet streets. Motor traffic (as can be seen) stays out of the lanes, because there is rarely oncoming motor traffic. This particular street only serves the dwellings on the left here; it is closed at the far end with a bollard (which retracts, only to allow buses to pass).

From here I left the city completely, moving onto a beautiful access-only road running beside a branch of the Ijssel river.

Motor traffic can use this road, but again, only around a handful of houses along here (a white one can be seen in the background) and I didn’t encounter any drivers along it. At this point, in fact, I still haven’t had any encounters with motor traffic, at all, nor have I even had to stop. My journey out of the city has been blissfully smooth and painless.

Checking my directions carefully on my phone, I eventually find the correct country lane I need to take to head towards the town of Hasselt. Even this quiet little lane has had a smooth concrete cycleway added alongside it, within the last few years. This concrete is actually smoother than the tarmac of the road.

This lane took me to the busy N331 road (‘N’ is the Dutch equivalent of a UK ‘A’ road), which was carrying plenty of fast, intimidating HGVs. Naturally enough, however, I had some parallel provision in the form of a service road, some distance from the main road itself.

In this agricultural part of the country these service roads are used by farm traffic, too slow for the fast main road – and obviously by any residents who live along the service road as well. This led to my very first shock of the day, an overtake from a large tractor pulling a vicious-looking piece of equipment, perhaps only a foot away from my left elbow. (The farmer had obviously momentarily forgotten about strict liability, which makes everyone play nice in the Netherlands).

Happily this service road ended as I arrived on the outskirts of the town of Hasselt, and I was back on a cycleway, which followed the N331 as it bypassed the town.

I was treated to a lovely, almost stereotypically ‘Dutch’ view of Hasselt as I crossed the river, and here I made my first (entirely voluntary) stop of the day. I’d made great progress – not with any great speed while cycling, but without ever having to have stopped moving.

Leaving Hasselt I was back on a service road again, parallel to the main road, and this one was definitely uncomfortable by Dutch standards, with what seemed like a large number of vehicles turning in and out of it at a busy junction which I had to cross, feeling quite exposed. Just like the overtake from the tractor driver, this was another bump back to earth, and it felt distinctly ‘British’. Note how the drivers are driving on the cycle markings – a clue that they aren’t appropriate.

From here, though, I was rewarded with perhaps the best cycling of the day, winding my way towards the next town of Meppel along a combination of tiny, tiny little tracks through the countryside, and broader farm roads, again only used by farmers to get to and from their properties, and not used by people cutting through, avoiding main roads.

These little tracks were surfaced with beautifully smooth concrete – this might be the ‘countryside’, but the surface was wonderful to cycle on.

It’s important to note that paths like these are merely ‘recreational’ routes, and are definitely not part of any formal or official utility cycle network. That’s why they are often not particularly wide, because they aren’t being used heavily – only by people like me taking the scenic route, or people cycling around for leisure. (The width isn’t a problem because you are unlikely to encounter someone coming the other way). In essence they are a nice ‘extra’ on top of the dense grid of utility routes.

Indeed, as I got closer to Meppel I joined one of these ‘proper’ routes, a much wider concrete path, with lighting – even though I was still in the countryside,

… cycling past herons…

… distinctive cattle…

… all on gloriously smooth paths, even the farm roads themselves, composed of wide concrete that I just rolled along on.

These little lanes had no motor traffic at all on them, but I still managed to suffer a close pass from a lady in a battered old Ford Fiesta, who then immediately turned left, right in the midst of her attempted overtake, into the farm where she evidently lived. Again, that hallowed ‘strict liability’ effect was evidently only intermittently effective…

On the outskirts of Meppel these tracks and paths joined a tarmac road, busy with leisure cyclists of two distinct types – elderly couples, and people whizzing past them in lycra, both groups enjoying the morning sunshine.

I’d reached Meppel – about 30km from Zwolle – having only had four or five direct encounters with motor vehicles (unfortunately, most of them quite bad!), and with only having had to stop a handful of times, whisked along on a combination of genuinely impressive cycle engineering on a grand scale, right down to modest, tiny paths in the middle of nowhere.

Part 2 – in which I cycle from Meppel on to Assen, with a diversion along the way – to come!


Categories: Views

Main cycle routes updated in Utrecht

BicycleDutch - 18 January, 2016 - 23:01
Utrecht has recently upgraded several main cycle routes in the city. In this post I show you the largest part of the route alongside Merwedekanaal. It is part of a … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Transport tribalism (part 2)

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 13 January, 2016 - 09:49

Last week I wrote about Transport Tribalism, the curious habit of parcelling people up according to the mode of transport they are using – even defining them by that mode of transport. It was prompted by articles from Linda Grant and from David Aaronovitch, the latter a plea that polarised viewpoints should be avoided. I attempted to argue that Grant’s article itself was itself an example of just that kind of polarising, simplistic, black-and-white moralising that Aaronovitch was objecting to, in that it presented ‘cyclists’ as a unique kind of human being, without ever appearing to realise that human beings are multi-modal, and that they carry their characteristics with them as they switch their mode of transport. An ‘angry cyclist’ is really just an angry human being, who might have an ‘angry busist’ the day before – except of course we don’t ever describe people who get the bus in this way, because it’s faintly absurd.

At the end of the post, I said I would explain why this way of looking at the world is problematic, and why so many ‘cyclists’ (really, people who happen to feel strongly about using a bike for certain kinds of trips) objected to Grant’s article.

Mainly, it’s because it has consequences. Aaronovitch was fairly dismissive of any potential negative outcomes from Grant’s piece. He wrote

Some accused her of inciting attacks on cyclists as though maddened drivers would mow down anything in lycra while shouting “THIS IS FOR LINDA!!!” One man compared what she had done to the hate-articles which accompanied gay-bashing in his native Ireland back in the old days.

Now I can’t imagine any driver choosing to attack someone on a bike specifically because of an article in the Guardian – one by Linda Grant, or otherwise. Nor can I imagine some kind of strange vengeance attack, getting retribution ‘FOR LINDA’. But that wasn’t really the objection. It’s not that an article like this would lead to any specific incident. Rather that it, and the countless others like it, contribute to an already fairly poisonous background climate surrounding cycling, that reinforces prejudice.

We live in a world where people are apparently willing to use their cars to bully people on bicycles, even using their cars as a weapon to attack them, and undoubtedly many will do so because of their general attitude to ‘cyclists’ – an attitude that will be framed and shaped by the things people read, and see.

A recent trial provides a case in point. Last week a delivery driver was found guilty of careless driving, following an incident in which he knocked a woman off her bike at the Bank Junction in the City of London. The evidence presented – which included onboard video camera in the van) – is strongly suggestive that this was quite deliberate, even if the driver himself was only found guilty of careless driving.

The onboard CCTV camera in Baker’s van captured the delivery driver saying ‘Oh God’ as she moved in front of his vehicle. As she moved off and signalled to turn right, Baker was heard to say: ‘Come on get out of the bloody way’ and beeped his horn.

Mrs Kempster told jurors: ‘I got a beep which I regarded as an angry beep which I was rather annoyed about because it was a hugely busy day and I knew I was cycling impeccably. I am afraid I made an unsuitable gesture and stuck two fingers up. I continued and heard a roar of the van coming up my side. Then he slowed to my speed and came closer and closer getting towards the edge of his lane, then he must have been in my lane.’

… Baker carried on driving until a motorcyclist caught up with him and tapped on his window to tell him he had knocked a cyclist off her bike. The delivery driver allegedly replied: ‘Really, did I? Did she not run into me?’

In the context of discussion about attitudes towards people riding bikes, this particular passage is instructive –

In interview Baker admitted cursing at the cyclist and spoke ‘disparagingly’ about cyclists in general, the court heard. He also admitted hearing a bang but claimed he thought he had driven over a manhole and didn’t realise he had knocked the cyclist off. Prosecutor Martin Hooper said Baker was ‘rather irritated by this cyclist in particular but also cyclists generally.

How much did Baker’s general dislike of ‘cyclists’ (note, any person moving around London who happens to be on a bike at the time Baker encounters them) contribute to this incident? It’s obviously impossible to say, but it’s more than plausible that a person harbouring an intense dislike of users of a particular mode of transport is more likely to be involved in this kind of incident than someone who is more equanimous.

What is certain is that people behind the wheel of a motor vehicle will yell at you, or abuse you, or bully you with their vehicle, simply because you happen to be on a bike. I know this, because it has happened to me. I have been going about my business quite blamelessly, when someone decides to punish me with their vehicle – and when I ask them why, the justification is almost always along the lines of the general behaviour of ‘cyclists’, not anything that I myself had done. Whether it’s ‘you all go through red lights’, or ‘you mow down grannies on the pavement’, their behaviour towards me is rationalised by the bad behaviour of complete strangers, who simply happened to be using the same mode of transport as me. To these particular drivers, I am an embodiment of ‘cyclists’ and all their ills. It’s similar to the kind of ‘outgroup’ thinking that leads to abuse and attacks on innocent, but visible, members of a particular minority group following an atrocity committed by a member of that minority group – even if the outgroup identity of ‘cyclist’ can be shed at a moment’s notice simply by stepping off the bike.

To be clear, Grant’s piece – despite the fact it contained well-worn tropes like ‘lycra-clad cult’ – wasn’t particularly bad, as least as far these kinds of articles go. I’ve seen much worse. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, it all adds up to a kind of toxic soup, one that serves to reinforce hostile attitudes, and even to inflame them.

My personal view is that hostility towards people cycling, of the kind that Dennis Baker displayed, is almost entirely a symptom of a crap road environment that fails to take account of cycling as a mode of transport. It’s an environment that pushes cycling and motoring into the same space, two modes of transport with disparate requirements that are not suited to being treated in the same way. It’s an environment that pushes cycling onto the pavement when things get a bit too tricky, lumping it in with pedestrians in a way that again creates needless conflict. It’s an environment that inevitably restricts cycling to a small minority of the population, fertile grounds for outgroup thinking – phrasing like ‘them’, ‘they’, as opposed to ‘us’ and ‘we’. To me it’s not the least bit surprising that people walking and driving hate ‘cyclists’, because the needs of anyone choosing to use a bike are rarely catered for in a sensible way.

But newspaper articles that present ‘cyclists’  as some kind of uniquely awful species on our streets certainly do nothing to ameliorate that hostility, and just as problematically, they make attempts to improve our streets, so that they work for all users, even harder. Witness the way improvements in London are being presented as ‘for cyclists’, particularly by hostile parties on social media, but also by journalists on mainstream newspapers.

The battleground for the clash of commuters is Victoria Embankment, where the two-wheeled Utopia of a Cycle Superhighway is being built, and it is causing all manner of discord.

On one side are the high achievers reliant on Porsches and petrol to glide between engagements. Pitted against them are their cycling evangelist colleagues, Lycra-clad executives who splurge their bonuses on 1,000-pound Brompton bikes or fixie racers, pedalling their stress away by turning the city’s roads into race tracks.

Of course,  current users of the Embankment are probably disproportionately composed of males, on faster bikes, principally because this was a very hostile road to cycle on. But the Superhighway isn’t really ‘for’ these users. It’s for everyone, for anyone who might want to ride a bike, whether they are a City type on an expensive carbon racing bike, or families with children.

@parimalkumar@theJeremyVine With Embankment S/highway, young children feel safe enough to cycle in central London. pic.twitter.com/s5peBkEoHQ

— Christopher Day (@IndieChris71) December 30, 2015

The potential users of cycling infrastructure like the ones shown in the photograph above disappear from view when the debate is narrowly focused on current users of bicycles in London, and their apparently unique mode-specific ills. Debate framed in this way not only contributes to a more hostile environment for existing users, but also makes the struggle to open up our streets to anyone who wants to ride a bike even harder. That’s why it’s problematic.


Categories: Views

The Ultimate Indicator of a Bicycle-Friendly City

Copenhagenize - 12 January, 2016 - 10:17

There are numerous ways to measure how citizen cyclists feel about cycling in a city. We know that there is no chicken or egg - there is only Best Practice infrastructure. Keeping cyclists safe but also giving them the all-important sense of safety.

I have cycled in over 60 cities around the world. In safe cities like those in Denmark and the Netherlands and cities that struggle to emerge as bicycle-friendly cities. In the latter I am rolling through a lion's den, often forced subliminally to speed up because of the pace of the motorised traffic. In these old-fashioned cities that have failed to provide safe infrastructure for cycling, I am quite sure I have never yawned. Too much intensity, too much adrenaline.

If we look at revealed preferences, as opposed to declared preferences (asking people in surveys), the urban cycling yawn has to be the ultimate indicator of the state of a city's progress towards being bicycle-friendly.

If you don't see people yawning regularly whilst riding their bicycle through a city, it is safe to say that you are doing something wrong.














Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Cycletracks and commercial driveways

BicycleDutch - 11 January, 2016 - 23:01
Driveways to people’s homes crossing cycleways are not a problem in The Netherlands, but the same goes for commercial driveways. I had already shown you the private driveways long ago, … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Skateboarding in Place - Skateboard Urbanism

Copenhagenize - 8 January, 2016 - 19:50

This article is written by Copenhagenize Design Co's resident skater here in Copenhagen, James Thoem. Urban planner from Toronto.

And now for something completely different. Well, only sort of. Skateboard urbanism.

For decades now, skateboarders have been part of our urban landscapes. Though nowhere near as common a sight as the commuter or the shopkeeper, they join the buskers and the street food vendor as extras in the everyday theatre of our cities. Initially emerging out of the paved schoolyards and drained swimming pools of sprawling California, skateboarding as an activity, a mode of transportation, and a subculture quickly spread throughout the world. As skateboarding is rooted in adapting the landscapes and environments presented (think swimming pools, public plaza, rural hills), it has also managed to give rise to a whole new phenomenon in its own rite, the skatepark.

Early skateparks were designed to reflect the wave breaks and swimming pools popular among skaters at the time. Decades later, Kettering, Ohio’s ‘Skate Plaza’, marked a transition to skateparks designed wholly to replicate urban landscapes more popular with a newer generation of skaters. Complete with staircases, handrails, ledges and garden beds, these skate ‘plazas’ brought the streets to the skatepark, but forgot the street life.

As a single-use facility often segregated from any urban life, there’s something distinctly modernist about the skatepark. The concept of having skateboarding completely removed from the streets and plazas that gave rise to the activity seems unfortunate. A cynic may see skateparks as a solution to get skaters, sometimes seen as a nuiscance, off the city streets and into a controlled, observable environment (This wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, as we’ve covered before, playgrounds were initially pushed by the automobile industry to get those pesky little children off city streets to make way for more cars). In fact, the city of Philadelphia has recently built a world-class skatepark while simultaneously moved to ban street skateboarding, punishable by $,2000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail (!). The city of brother love is sending a pretty mixed message if you ask us.

Above: Defensive ‘skatestoppers’ added to Philidelphia’s LOVE Park. 

Above: Philidelphia’s new Franklin’s Paine skate plaza simulating urban landscapes.

Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much grew up at a skatepark, they can be great places to develop a sense of community, agency and belonging. But it’s the time I spent skating around my hometown, down alleyways, along drainage ditches and through public plazas that I really developed an appreciation for city life. So rather than restricting skateboarding in the city through laws and defensive architecture while making skateparks sterile simulations of city streets, why not actively encourage skating (and other similar activities) in appropriate public places through great design.

Far from the Californian school yards and swimming pools that birthed modern skateboarding, two cities in the Øresund region (which encompasses Copenhagen and Malmö) are acknowledging skateboarders as just one of many groups that contribute to lively streetscapes, accommodating them accordingly. And while both cities have built gigantic, popular skateparks, they find the value in working with existing or new architectural design elements that bring life to a space in a more subtle way than any skatepark can.

Take for example Copenhagen’s popular skate spot, Jarmersplads. Originally designed as a plaza in 1997 to complement the neighbouring modernist office tower, the seemingly purposeless granite slabs have ended up as a defacto destination for skateboarders. I gotta say, the original photos look beautiful as a sculpture destined for the sterile pages of an architecture magazine. But looks even better with people (and bikes). The story of how this non-place of a plaza was activated into a skate spot known around the world goes something like this: Architect builds sculpture public plaza, people are repelled, skateboarders are attracted, architect sad, skateboarders talk to architect, architect and property manager accept and accommodate their argument, they all lived happily ever after. (You can watch a slightly more detailed account here).


Above: How architects see Jarmers Plads in Copenhagen. Beautiful. Sterile.

Above: How skateboarding citizens use Jarmers Plads. Social. Active.



Or turn to Malmö, arguably the world’s most skateboard friendly city. Yes, the city has a skateboard oriented high school, a huge skatepark and hosts an annual international competition, but the most telling sign of Malmö’s openness is that they actually have a ‘skateboard coordinator’ on payroll at city hall. As I spoke with said city staffer, Gustav Svanborg Edén, about the City’s openness to skaters using everyday public spaces, the idea of skateboarders as a nuisance came up. As he pointed out, the four most commonly cited reasons for restricting skateboarders in public space boil down to issues with demographics, noise, damage, and obstruction. Of these four issues, the latter three can be addressed through design solutions. Smoother surfaces, granite or metal ledges, and wider, smoother cycle tracks. As Svanborg Edén pointed out, skateboarders don’t want to make a lot of noise and damage objects, they want to skateboard.

With these design fixes in mind, the City of Malmö recently accommodated skateboarding at two public in two public squares. The first, Värhemstorget, an already popular skate spot, was improved with the introduction of some new granite ledges. Complementing the introduction of these new ledges, the city also holds an annual competition in the plaza to help activate the square, bringing in a community programming side to a simple design fix.

The second locale, Svampen as the locals call it (literally translates to “the mushroom”), sits just outside of the city’s public art gallery, and connecting to a larger public space revitalisation around the triangeln Train station. Here the city started from scratch, designing a public square that is welcoming to a wide group of users, while still designing street furniture to accommodate skateboarders in a subtle way. This multifunctionality is at the top of Svanborg Edén’s mind, “If we are going to make things at all, we may as well add functionality by using insightful design and durable materials. If we build bike-racks, why not make them good for skateboarding or general play as well”. The result is a plaza that looks and functions like, well, a plaza! Only now the skateboarders that frequent it bring an extra set of eyes on the street and some extra life to the streetscape.


Malmö’s new skateboard plaza, Svampen, in use. Simple, subtle skate design.

The design strategies employed in Copenhagen and Malmö illustrate a really simple concept, multifunctionality. ‘Why not kill two flies with one slap’ as they say in Sweden. While it seems obvious, nearly a century of engineering the life out of our streetscape did everything it could to put every landuse, mode of transport, and activity into their own little dedicated compartments. In a way, skateparks fit into this modernist mindset. However, recent trends in urbanism have started to undo this mindset, inviting interactions and life through design rather than engineering. Cities like Copenhagen and Malmö have recognised skateboarders as just another community that belong in everyday streetscapes. Here’s to others following suit.



For more photos of skateboarding in the city, see our Flickr photo set here.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Transport tribalism

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 6 January, 2016 - 13:57

There’s an interesting and thoughtful post from David Aaronovitch in the Jewish Chronicle, examining the fallout from a recent piece written about cycling by a friend of his. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to state that the article was this one, written by Linda Grant.

The thrust of Aaronovitch’s piece is – quite reasonably – that polarisation is bad. That seeing things in black and white terms is deeply unhelpful. The example given at the end of his article is a discussion – chaired by Aaronovitch – of a film on Zionism at a film festival. Constructive discussion about any merits the documentary possessed became impossible, simply because a large portion audience became swayed by an argument that the film was too anti-Zionist. The audience had became polarised and blinkered, too fixated on whether the film was pro- or anti-, when in reality being pro- or anti- anything might not even have been that relevant to the film itself.

By analogy, the debate about behaviour on the roads is apparently also polarised. As Aaronovitch argues –

…. even the “more in sorrow than in anger” critics of [Grant’s] piece could not admit, even for a second, that she might have a point. To do so would simply be to concede too much to the other side, to the enemy, to the four-wheeled cyclophobes and their allies. A line had been drawn: all virtue on this side, all sin on the other. To blur the line was to betray the cause.

Indeed, that would be unhelpful; just as unhelpful as those in the audience at the film festival who refused to consider a film on its own terms, but instead through an ideological prism of whether it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

But hang on. What was the point that Grant was making, that apparently critics refused to concede? Aaronovitch says

The point was that she had been frightened [by someone cycling], and many pedestrians in London could tell a similar story.

Is that really something that the people who responded to Grant would refuse to concede? I doubt it. There are something like 600,000 trips made every day by bike in London. That means it’s simply inevitable that people walking and cycling are going to come into conflict with one another, and that there will be collisions and near misses, and that a good number of these collisions and near misses will have been caused by people making misjudgements, and even behaving badly.

Because that’s what people do. 

People make mistakes, and people behave badly – and they do this regardless of the mode of transport they are employing, whether they are on foot, on a bus, on a train, behind a steering wheel, or behind some handlebars. To use Peter Walker’s memorable phrase, there are multi-modal arseholes, people who just don’t show consideration for others, whether they are barging to get the last seat on a train, pushing on to a crowded tube carriage before people disembark, running to get a bus, cycling home, or driving to work.

It’s totally unreasonable to expect people to behave well when they are using one particular mode of transport, because, frankly, humanity is imperfect, and the inner fallibility, or worse, loutishness, of some people will inevitably manifest itself, to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the person) as they travel around a city, whatever the mode of transport they are employing – bus, train, tube, car, bicycle, or shoe. So the idea that critics of Grant’s piece were upset because they refused to accept the notion that anyone on a bike could behave badly is pretty untenable.

The real issue with the piece (at least for me) was not that it pointed out that people can behave badly while using a bicycle. To deny that would be absurd, as absurd as maintaining that nobody from a particular city could possibly commit a crime, or that nobody with the name ‘Linda’ could ever behave badly. Instead it was one of curious framing, and context. For instance –

  • People behind the wheel of a car slow to let her cross the road; someone on a bike comes ‘barreling’ out of nowhere, ‘hunched’.
  • People behind the wheel of a car get out to help; the person on the bike is uncaring, and disappears.
  • People behind the wheel of a car ‘overwhelming’ obey traffic signals; people behind handlebars ‘repeatedly’ disobey them, and ‘scatter’ ‘screaming’ pedestrians.
  • ‘Arsehole cyclists’ are a minority; but no mention is made that there might even by a minority of arseholes behind the wheel of a car.
  • All road users transgress; but apparently the transgressions of people behind handlebars are hypocritical, because ‘only cyclists proclaim themselves to be standard-bearers for an ethical higher calling and mode of being, more suited to a Lycra-clad cult than simply a mode of transportation.’ (Really).

With a bit of reflection, is it sensible to pigeonhole people in this way, given that all of us will quite happily slip from one of transport to another without really thinking about our behaviour, let alone adopting any kind of transport-related identity as we do so?1

At what point does this family’s outlook on the world change as they move from being people on foot, to being people on bicycles?
Here? As they touch their bicycles?

Here, as they sit astride them?

Or is it only here, once they are pedalling away, that they suddenly become ‘standard-bearers for an ethical higher calling and mode of being’? Are they suddenly more aggressive and unpredictable, compared to how they were seconds ago, as mere pedestrians? Are they more likely to ‘barrel’ somewhere, ‘scattering screaming pedestrians’, than would be the case if they were behind the wheel of a car?

It seems highly unlikely to me. Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense to look at the world in this way, to define people by the mode of transport they happen to be using at a particular moment in time. To talk of a ‘cycling community’ is as meaningless as talking about a ‘hatchback community’, but to read Grant’s piece again it’s almost like reading about a different species, and an invasive one at that, a new, unpredictable and even incomprehensible threat to London’s pedestrians, as if people cycling could never themselves be pedestrians at any point in time.

In fact, it’s as clear an example of polarising debate as anything that appears in Aaronovitch’s article. And in a follow-up piece, I’m going to explain why this matters.

1. Just to give a little bit of context here, around 1/5th of inner London residents ride a bike at least once a month. It’s as meaningless to generalise about such a large swathe of the population as it would be to generalise about tube users.

 


Categories: Views

Sometimes, winter weather is so bad that conditions stop people from cycling, driving and even walking...

A View from the Cycle Path - 6 January, 2016 - 12:10
-5 C where we live (gr is short for"degrees" in Dutch). We are warnedof an extreme risk of black ice. December was extremely mild. In fact, December 2015 was the warmest ever recorded, with no frost at all. The warm weather continued into New Year's Day, when we went for a very pleasant ride through the countryside, but by the 3rd of January everything had changed. Part way through my ride, IDavid Hembrowhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14543024940730663645noreply@blogger.com0http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2016/01/sometimes-winter-weather-is-so-bad-that.html
Categories: Views

Motorway removed to bring back the original water

BicycleDutch - 4 January, 2016 - 23:01
It had been a motorway for over four decades, but now Utrecht has its old city-moat back! What better way to start the new year than with this new beginning … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Oslo - Subversive Bicycle History

Copenhagenize - 30 December, 2015 - 13:54

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".

Sigh.

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?



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

Just traffic.

Location: Øvrevoll Galoppbane, Bærum (horse racing track) // Photographer: Andreas Beer Wilse // 
Year: 1941 // Norwegian Folkmuseum

Bike Parking at the horse races in Bærum.


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

Bike parking at a beach near the city.


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

Bike parking at another beach near the city.


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

Just traffic.


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

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


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

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


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

Three mini royals on wheels.


Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

The Transformation of Almetyevsk

Copenhagenize - 30 December, 2015 - 08:53

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.



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.

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.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

A video review of my 2015 posts and videos

BicycleDutch - 28 December, 2015 - 23:01
To review 2015 I made a video that includes scenes of all the videos I published this year. It is a good tradition to look back at all that you’ve … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

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