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Posts from the Copenhagen Category


Climate Idealism Can’t Hold a Candle to Collective Action

Cross-posted from the Carbon Tax Center.

Why do Copenhageners ride bicycles? The key reason, says Yale economist and bestselling author Robert J. Shiller, is that Danes are idealists who resolved, after the oil crisis of the 1970s, “to make a personal commitment to ride bicycles rather than drive, out of moral principle, even if that was inconvenient for them.”

“The sight of so many others riding bikes motivated the city’s inhabitants and appears to have improved the moral atmosphere enough,” Shiller wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, that the share of working inhabitants of Copenhagen who bike has reached 50 percent.

In much the same way, Shiller argues, “asking people to volunteer to save our climate by taking many small, individual actions” may be a more effective way to bring down carbon emissions than trying to enact overarching national or global policies such as carbon emission caps or taxes.

Goodness. Rarely do smart people so badly mangle both the historical record and basic economics. I say “people” because Shiller attributes his column’s main points to a new book, Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, by Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund and Martin L. Weitzman, a Harvard economist. And I say “smart” because the three stand at the top of their profession. Shiller won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2013, Weitzman is a leading light in the economics of climate change, and Wagner is highly regarded young economist.

But mangle they have (I haven’t seen the Wagner-Weitzman book but assume that Shiller represents it fairly).

Let’s start with the history, which is fairly well known to anyone versed in cycling advocacy, as I’ve been since the 1980s, when I spearheaded the revival of New York City’s bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. Copenhagen’s 40-year bicycle upsurge, and indeed much of the uptake of cycling across Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, came about not through mass idealism but from deliberate public policies to help cities avoid the damages of pervasive automobile use while reducing oil dependence.

If idealism played a part at the outset it was a social idealism that instructed government to undertake integrated policies ­– stiff gas taxes and car ownership fees, generously funded public transit, elimination of free curbside parking, provision of safe and abundant bicycle routes — that enabled Copenhageners to do what they evidently desired all along: to use bikes safely and naturally.

The telltale is in the graphic. Only one in eleven Copenhageners who cycle have environment and climate in mind. The majority do it because it’s faster than other ways to travel, and around a third of cyclists say they ride because it’s healthy, inexpensive and convenient — belying Shiller’s meme of Danes idealistically choosing bikes despite their inconvenience vis-à-vis cars.

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Where Cyclists Have the Power to Ride Straight Past Turning Motorists

Hey, so it turns out the all-powerful @BicycleLobby didn’t actually scale the Brooklyn Bridge and plant white American flags at the top. That was two all-powerful German artists.

But courtesy of Clarence Eckerson Jr., here’s some footage of raw bicyclist power in Copenhagen, where turning drivers defer to people on bikes at intersections. I guess this is what you would call “soft power.” So many people bike in Copenhagen that all these polite motorists are probably either cyclists themselves or know close friends and family who bike. Each person on a bike going by could be a neighbor, an aunt, or an old roommate.

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Copenhagen’s Latest Cycling Innovations

Copenhagen just keeps finding new ways to make it easier and more convenient to bike. Recently I had the chance to take a tour with Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize and see some of the innovations that have changed the city’s streets since I was there four years ago.

First off, if you’ve seen my 2010 Streetfilm about Copenhagen’s bike infrastructure and culture, the busiest bicycle street in the world has changed: The Knippelsbro Bridge now boasts 40,700 riders per day! And speaking of bridges, Copenhagen is building six new crossings exclusively for biking and walking to help its citizens get around.

Last month another cool bridge debuted — the Cykelslangen (“Bicycle Snake”). You’ll see loads of footage as we traveled back and forth. It is truly a handsome piece of infrastructure. Even going uphill seems pretty easy!

Read more…

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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.

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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.

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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.


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."


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.


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.


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.