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Posts from the "Copenhagen" Category

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Copenhagen Cargo Bikes

If you visit Copenhagen, the first thing you’ll notice (after being mesmerized by the sheer number of cyclists on the streets) is the eclectic variety of bikes, especially ones that carry groceries, baggage, furniture and/or children. As Copenhagenize impresario Mikael Colville-Andersen happily points out: for many in his city, the cargo bike is equivalent to the SUV.

So in the final chapter in Streetfilms’ 2010 Copenhagen Trilogy, we take a look at cargo bikes (check here for the first two installments on bicycling and pedestrian space). We spoke to folks hauling stuff around town on their vehicles, attended the 2010 Danish Cargo Bike Championships, and got to speak with Hans Fogh, owner of Larry vs. Harry, a cargo bike-building specialty shop.

The most impressive moment comes just over one minute in, where you will witness one of the more amazing bike feats we’ve ever seen on film: a father transporting four children, a bike, and half a dozen bags, on what can only be described as a cargo bike plus. It still makes me tired just watching it.

StreetFilms 29 Comments

Copenhagen’s Car-Free Streets and Slow-Speed Zones

In Copenhagen, you never have to travel very far to see a beautiful public space or car-free street packed with people soaking up the day. In fact, since the early 1960s, 18 parking lots in the downtown area have been converted into public spaces for playing, meeting, and generally just doing things that human beings enjoy doing. If you're hungry, there are over 7,500 cafe seats in the city.

But as you walk and bike the city, you also quickly become aware of something else: Most Copenhagen streets have a speed limit of 30 to 40 km/h (19 to 25 mph). There are blocks in some neighborhoods with limits as low as 15 km/h (9 mph), where cars must yield to residents. Still other areas are "shared spaces" where cars, bikes and pedestrians mix freely with no stress, usually thanks to traffic calming measures (speed bumps are popular), textured road surfaces and common sense.

We mesmerized you last month with our look at bicycling in Copenhagen, now sit back and watch livable streets experts Jan Gehl and Gil Penalosa share their observations about pedestrian life. You'll also hear Ida Auken, a member of Denmark's Parliament, and Niels Tørsløv, traffic director for the City of Copenhagen, talk about their enthusiasm for street reclamation and its effect on their city.

StreetFilms 168 Comments

Cycling in Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes

Last month, Streetfilms paid a visit to Copenhagen for the Velo-City 2010 conference. While we were there, of course we wanted to showcase the city's biking greatness. With such an abundance of bike advocates, planners, and city transportation officials attending from the U.S. and Canada, we also wanted to get their reactions to the city's bicycle infrastructure and culture, and ask how it compares to cycling conditions in their own cities.

If you've never seen footage of Copenhageners riding bikes during rush hour, get ready, it's quite a sight. Nearly 38 percent of all trips in the city are on bicycles. With plenty of safe bike infrastructure, including hundreds of miles of physically separated cycletracks, it's no wonder so many people ride. The majority of all riders are women, and you'll see kids as young as 3 or 4 riding with packs of adults.

Much thanks to the nearly two dozen folks who shared their insights for this piece. You'll hear reflections from Jeff Mapes (author of "Pedaling Revolution"), Martha Roskowski (program manager, GO Boulder), Andy Clarke (president of the League of American Bicyclists), Tim Blumenthal (president of Bikes Belong), Yvonne Bambrick (executive director of the Toronto Cyclist Union), and many other luminaries, including the great Dane himself, Jan Gehl.

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PlaNYC Report Takes a Restrained Approach to Promoting Electric Cars

Electric_Car_London.jpgAn electric car in London. Image: exfordy via Flickr.
Last week, the Mayor's Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability released its newest report, "Exploring Electric Vehicle Adoption in New York City" [PDF]. In a breezy 22 pages, it lays out some strategies to maximize electric vehicle purchases by so-called early adopters in the next five years. 

As a sustainability initiative, the merit of the proposal depends on whether trips in these new electric cars will replace trips powered by internal combustion or trips by foot, bicycle, and transit. According to the report, electric vehicles charged on New York's grid would emit as little as a quarter as much carbon per mile as conventional automobiles. "Electric cars are cleaner than conventional vehicles," said Natural Resources Defense Council vehicles analyst Luke Tonachel, "but walking, biking, and transit are all cleaner still." 

Switching to electric cars also does little or nothing to improve street safety, decrease congestion, or promote good urban design -- impacts that also benefit more sustainable modes of transport. Which seems to have been overlooked elsewhere, even in countries with enlightened transportation policies. As Charles Komanoff wrote on Streetsblog in November, Denmark's roughly $40,000 tax on conventional automobiles doesn't apply to electric vehicles, and EVs get free parking in downtown Copenhagen -- big perks that will lead more people to drive and fewer to bike or use transit. So is New York City planning to subsidize electric cars the same way they're doing in Denmark?

Thankfully, the PlaNYC report doesn't recommend using financial incentives to push people toward electric vehicles. "The absence of endorsements for such subsidies is a strong signal that the Bloomberg administration does not intend to follow Denmark’s mistake of subsidizing EVs in ways that would encourage more driving," said Komanoff. "This is very good news."

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Video: Copenhagen’s All-Weather Bike Infrastructure

In case you missed it in Friday's headlines, here's a video from Copenhagenize with some inspiration for this cold spell we've been having. The video shows Copenhageners -- lots of 'em -- making their way through the January snow. 

It's an instant retort to the old claim that "no one uses bike lanes in the winter." Of course, in Copenhagen they come prepared. Check out the bike-lane-specific plows used to keep the city clear for cyclists even in a snowstorm.

In fact, if your city has good bike infrastructure and maintains it well, cold-weather biking can become the norm too. According to Mikael Colville Andersen, 80 percent of Copenhageners who bike keep cycling all through the winter. And many of the top cycling cities in the developed world are in Denmark and Sweden, neither of which is famous for balmy climes.

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Jan Gehl on Sustainable Transport in Copenhagen and NYC

While in Copenhagen to film the Danish capital's world-beating bike infrastructure, Streetfilms' Elizabeth Press caught up with urban planner extraordinaire Jan Gehl for a brief, canal-side chat. In this clip, Gehl explains how cycling and transit fit within the city's sustainability agenda, and why "unnecessary transportation" threatens the global climate.

With Mayor Bloomberg in Copenhagen today for a gathering of mayors at the UN climate summit, Gehl also got in touch with Streetsblog recently to offer his take on New York's recent livable streets advances. Apparently, word has reached Copenhagen of the Bedford Avenue bike lane removal, a setback which Gehl says shouldn't obscure the Bloomberg administration's track record on walking, biking, and public space:

A heartfelt welcome to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Michael Bloomberg can participate in the assembly of mayors from the major cities of the world backed by impressive accomplishments achieved in just a few years as part of the ambitious and impressive program for making New York one of the world's leading cities regarding sustainability policies.

Throughout the world the New York programs of introducing an extensive bicycle infrastructure, a new bicycle culture and a general improvement and humanization of the public realm has been well noticed and hailed, and the City of New York is now seen as an inspiring example of things to do to improve the quality of city life and in the same process to address the climate challenge through city policies.

I keep up when I can on news from New York. I recently saw someone express the idea that bicyclists should protest against Mayor Bloomberg when he comes to the climate meetings next week in my home town of Copenhagen because part of a bike lane in Brooklyn was moved.

You will have to excuse me if I tell you that that is one of the more absurd things I have heard in a long time. Mayor Bloomberg should properly be celebrated as one of the world's most important leaders in making cities more friendly to people and bicycles.

It is easy to get excited when something like a local bike route changes. But I ask my friends in New York to also consider a wider perspective.

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Streetfilms: Copenhagen’s Climate-Friendly, Bike-Friendly Streets

Tens of thousands of people from nearly every nation on earth have descended on Copenhagen this month for the UN climate summit. As the delegates try to piece together a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they're also absorbing lessons from one of the world's leading cities in sustainable transportation. In Copenhagen, fully 37 percent of commute trips are made by bike, and mode share among city residents alone is even higher.

Copenhagen wasn't always such a bicycling haven. It took many years of investment in bike infrastructure to reclaim streets from more polluting, less sustainable modes. Last week, I was able to squeeze in a whirlwind tour with Mikael Colville-Andersen, the bike culture evangelist behind Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic, to get a taste of the city's impressive bike network and cycling amenities. Watch this video and see how Copenhageners flock to the streets by bike even in December, when average temperatures hover just above freezing.

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The Climate Pitfalls of Denmark’s Electric Car Parking Perk

Outside of China, only two cities of more than a million people are known to have a bicycling mode-share over 30 percent: Amsterdam and Copenhagen. As Rutgers urban expert John Pucher has documented, cycling's vibrantly high percentage of urban trips throughout Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany was not the product of amorphous cultural factors. Rather, it came about through public policies that not only made cycling safe and convenient but also made driving costly and cumbersome.

stroget_cars.jpgFree parking for electric cars would go against the grain of longstanding policies, like the decision to pedestrianize the Strøget, shown here in 1935, when private cars were still allowed. Photo: Copenhagenet.
So it was disconcerting to learn that one of these measures -- limiting the supply and raising the price of central-city car parking -- is about to be compromised in Copenhagen. And the announcement could not be more ill-timed, with the Danish capital set to host the U.N. Climate Change Conference starting Monday.

The government of Denmark this week unveiled a package of incentives to jump-start the sale and use of electric cars. As the New York Times reported on Wednesday, each new electric car comes not just with a per-purchase subsidy of $40,000, but with this stunning perk: free parking in downtown Copenhagen.

Free parking, as UCLA Professor Don Shoup has taught us, comes with a high cost: greater car use. The more valuable and pricey the parking space, the greater the inducement to drive when it is given away. In the case of downtown Copenhagen, where parking probably goes for the U.S. equivalent of $25 a day, the inducement will be powerful indeed.

Consider a resident of metropolitan Copenhagen headed downtown from, say, 10 miles away. Even with petrol taxed to a price of $8 a gallon, the fuel cost of the 20-mile round-trip in a 32 mpg car is just five bucks. That's pocket change next to the $25 parking cost. But make parking free, and the $30 car trip can now be made for $5. Econometric models using price-elasticity suggest that the number of trips will roughly triple as a result -- at least until the resulting traffic chokes off some of the increase.

Granted, the parking subsidy applies only to electric cars, so for a while the surge might remain a trickle. But once put in place, subsidies are hard to withdraw. Eventually, the increase in use of electric cars for commuting and other trips into the heart of Copenhagen will take mode share from cycling, walking and transit -- not just directly due to the subsidy for driving, but indirectly because those "green modes" will have become less efficient, less safe, and less valued by society.

But perhaps the most jarring aspect of the new policy is the way the national government is cloaking it in green.

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Should I Wear a Helmet Today?

bakfiets_naparstek.jpgThe Naparstek boys riding last year's Summer Streets event... wearing helmets.
Sarah's "Too Much Emphasis on Safety" post yesterday brings up the question in the headline above.

A Canadian Broadcasting TV crew doing a documentary on biking is filming me as I take my two sons to school on our Dutch cargo bike today. While the kids always wear helmets, and I do too when I'm commuting or riding longer distances, I often don't bother to wear one when I'm taking the kids to school in the bakfiets (also known around our house as the Cadillac Bikescalade). 

There are a few reasons why I tend to go helmetless. First, I'm a pretty careful, slow-riding cyclist in general, and even more so when I'm carrying kids. The ride to school is a short trip on residential streets marked almost entirely with bike lanes in a neighborhood where motorists are relatively respectful and aware of bikes. Walking across a street at an intersection with two young kids in tow often feels more dangerous.

Second, getting the kids out the door in the morning involves quite a bit of schlepping and hassle as it is. My own helmet sometimes just gets lost in the shuffle (as does my four-year-old's lunch). If the two-year-old is whiny or we're running late I'm not turning back to get the helmet. It's all about momentum.

Finally, I just don't like the way the helmet looks when I'm riding the bakfiets. This is less and issue of fashion (because lord knows I have no fashion sense) and more, I think, an issue of public perception. The bakfiets gets a lot of attention out there. We almost have to build in an extra ten minutes to every trip to account for all the passersby who stop us and ask questions about our unusual bike. Even though I know that I am putting myself slightly more at risk by not wearing a helmet, a part of me likes the idea that I'm showing that it is possible in New York City to walk out your door, hop on a bike and run a neighborhood errand without having to suit up like you're getting ready to play tackle football.

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When Cycling Becomes the Norm

Following up on Sarah's post this morning, here's a Bike to Work Week special from Mikael Colville Andersen, the mastermind behind Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Colville Andersen's blogs are like extended odes to urban cycling and bike culture, and in this vid he shows what bicycling looks like when it's seen as a "normal" way to get from here to there.

Half a million Copenhageners bike each day, says Andersen. It took forty years of incremental improvements for the city to attain that level of bike ridership. According to Jan Gehl, the Danish urban consultant and NYCDOT advisor, New York City can get there in ten.