Guardian article on Copenhagenize blog and "copenhagenizing" cities
Thursday June 26, 2008
Some might say that Mikael Colville-Andersen, owner of the Copenhagen
Cycle Chic blog, has photographed a disproportionate number of
beautiful women cycling in short skirts. To be fair, however, he
features photos of Copenhagen's male cyclists, too. Just as long as
they are stylish. Colville-Andersen is The Sartorialist on two wheels.
His website shows that you don't have to wear Lycra to get to the
office on time on a bike. Cycling in civvies is the done thing in
Copenhagen, he says, so we shouldn't scare off potential newbies by
fixating on "proper" cycle clothing or the necessity for showers -
something that Bristol should take note of, having been announced last
week as Britain's first designated Cycling City. And don't mention the
H word. Copenhagen's cyclists aren't into helmets. To find out why,
you have to visit Colville-Andersen's other Copenhagen-themed blog,
albeit one that's not quite so popular - too few photos of women
cycling in high heels, no doubt. Copenhagenize.com is "life in the
world's cycling capital".
Colville-Andersen ends lots of his posts with the dictum
"Copenhagenize the planet". He wants cycling to be recognised as a
normal way of getting around town. "So many people in other countries
have been brainwashed into believing that cycling is just a sport or a
hobby and haven't entertained the thought that it could be a daily
transport activity," he tells me. "So many Copenhageners ride in
style, on normal bikes and in normal clothes. Even those who are not
chic ride with an ease and elegance that borders on poetry."
There are YouTube videos that show this "poetry in motion".
Copenhagenize.com links to one from the Netherlands that focuses just
on the school-run. Hordes of young cyclists weave in and out of each
other's trajectories as they ride to school. Similar scenes can be
witnessed in Copenhagen each day .
Copenhagen hasn't always been wall-to-wall bikes. Its first purpose-
built, segregated cycle path was created only 25 years ago. Colville-
Andersen says the city's bike culture was built almost from scratch.
There was a political will to make it happen, funds were allocated.
Funds are still allocated. "We're not bike-friendly because it's a
flat city. We ride lots because of visionary political decisions."
These political decisions were unpopular at the time. Now Danes can't
remember a time before mass bicycle culture. Cycle use in Copenhagen
is 36% (the UK average is 2%). City officials want to see this rise to
50% by 2015, when it is hoped the city will become the world's
environmental capital. To reach this target, Copenhagen is closing
major thoroughfares to cars, creating bike motorways in their place.
Thirty thousand bikes a day, and only 15,000 cars, use Nørrebro
Street, making it a prime candidate for closure to cars. Copenhagen
also operates a "green wave" system on some streets: if you ride at a
steady speed, you'll hit green lights all the way. The city's vice-
mayor has proposed that when the pollution levels rise too high, all
the traffic lights at the edge of the city will turn red, stranding
cars in official gridlock.
It is this sort of radical thinking - and acknowledgement that such
ideas will be unpopular at first - that will be needed by local
politicians in Bristol, and in the 11 towns that were last week given
"cycling demonstration town" status - Blackpool, Cambridge, Chester,
Colchester, Leighton-Linslade, Shrewsbury, Southend, Southport with
Ainsdale, Stoke, Woking and York.
Bristol wants to create a Velib-style on-street bike rental network,
modelled on the successful Paris scheme. It also plans to build a
"state-of-the-art facility for cyclists in the city centre providing
showers, bike parking and lockers so commuters can have a wash and
brush up before starting work".
Why are British cycle planners fixated on personal hygiene? Cycling
short distances across town in normal clothes isn't a sweat-fest.
Installing showers reinforces the view that cycling is difficult,
smelly and, well, different. Copenhagen doesn't force its biking
populace to bathe: it takes space from cars and gives it over to
bicycle and pedestrian use. The true test for England's latest cycling
demonstration towns won't be which one can install the plushest
shower, but whether they can ignore the pleas of motorists and truly
"Copenhagenize" their streets.
Montreal QC Canada
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Copenhagen's cycling culture was "invented" in the last 25 years?
How, then, to explain the scene in The Counterfeit Traitor, a movie of
the early 1960s that takes place during World War II, in which
Copenhagen cyclists on the spur of the moment help William Holden
escape the Germans by filling the street with two-wheeled traffic and
blocking the pursuers?
Europe has always seemed more bicycle-friendly than the U.S. Look at
old British films or period pieces such as The Long Day Closes: lots
of bikes. Even as a child in the late 1950s, I heard a woman who had
taken a bicycle trip through Europe give a presentation at my church's
annual dinner and tell of the network of youth hostels that served non-
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Europe temporarily lost its
cycling culture in a brief infatuation with the car and is recovering
from that bit of madness as their environmental and social
- I think this is probably a result of how many people (and sadly this
is also true of many journalists, who should be paying more attention
to historical context) seem to judge everything in terms of what we
are habituated to in our own times, i.e., in this case, a very car-
centric transportation economy. You see this so often in reactions by
the average "Joe" or "Jane" to media reports of even the most timid
steps to (re-)introduce an emphasis on streetcars, trains and bicycles
and try to edge away from the overwhelming hegemony of the automobile:
for so many people, it is unimaginable that there could be any other
way to move around. This leads to disparaging comments we often see by
some politicians, in editorials, in letters to the editor, or in radio
or online opinion forums, about tramways being quaint 19th century
technology unfit for our times, or bicycles being impossible as a
means of getting anywhere or doing anything serious (and even being
"unprofessional", as I have seen in more than one comment). Even the
Treehugger blog,which you might think has its priorities straight, is
hopelessly enamored with the idea of the "green car", i.e. anything,
but any alternative fuel or power source, please please please!!! to
let us keep on driving everywhere.
Montreal QC Canada
On 28-Jun-08, at 6:28 PM, Karen Sandness wrote:
> Copenhagen's cycling culture was "invented" in the last 25 years?
> How, then, to explain the scene in The Counterfeit Traitor, a movie of
> the early 1960s that takes place during World War II, in which
> Copenhagen cyclists on the spur of the moment help William Holden
> escape the Germans by filling the street with two-wheeled traffic and
> blocking the pursuers?
> Europe has always seemed more bicycle-friendly than the U.S. Look at
> old British films or period pieces such as The Long Day Closes: lots
> of bikes. Even as a child in the late 1950s, I heard a woman who had
> taken a bicycle trip through Europe give a presentation at my church's
> annual dinner and tell of the network of youth hostels that served
> automotive travelers.
> Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Europe temporarily lost its
> cycling culture in a brief infatuation with the car and is recovering
> from that bit of madness as their environmental and social
> consciousness develops.
> In transit,
> Karen Sandness
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]