A little bit of Copenhagen came to the Bay Area yesterday. Mikael Coleville-Andersen spoke to a packed room of about 100 people at the San Francisco office of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association).
Coleville-Andersen is the publisher of the increasing popular blogs Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize as well as the producer of the music video "Copenhagen - City of Cyclists." Copenhagen Cycle Chic's popularity stems from the fact that residents of Copenhagen don't view themselves or identify themselves as cyclists, but just average Danes who just happen to get around by bike.
On a tour of the western United States, Coleville-Andersen was introduced by a member of the Royal Danish Embassy. The tie-in with the embassy is being promoted as a opportunity for discussion about the humble bicycle and it's role in reducing carbon emissions before Copenhagen hosts COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December.
One of the first things that strikes a visitor to the site is that it not only includes young men on wheels, but also moms, lawyers, lovers, the elderly, and children. You won't find bright flashy clothes on his website - no neon yellow nylon jackets, no spandex. But you will find cyclists dressed in tweeds, leather, boots, skirts, and hats. Yes, hats.
Fewer than 1% of the residents of Copenhagen wear helmets, a clear indication of the safety of cycling in this northern European capital. Coleville-Andersen introduced a few concepts illustrating why cycling in Copenhagen is so popular. Concepts such as A2Bism, taming the bull, and the need to lessen the focus of cycling as a subculture.
A2Bism illustrates that fact that when people use their bicycle for daily transport, all they want to do is go from A to B quickly, on the shortest route. Since most U.S. cities are starting from scratch building a bike infrastructure, the main measure of progress is miles: miles of bike paths, bike routes etc. In most cases the effectiveness of these paths are not taken into account because we still view cycling solely as recreation.
So many times bike paths are built with only recreational riders in mind. You know them; they wind along creeks or between subdivisions and are full (especially on weekends) of pedestrians - both with and without dogs - joggers, and other cyclists. For the daily rider they don't connect to or with anything or anyplace we want to go - the grocery store, the book shop, the local coffee house, or even your job.
Coleville-Andersen stated that in Copenhagen if you can't get back on your bike and on the road in less then 30 seconds, the average rider becomes frustrated. To accomplish this, bike racks are easily accessible, and the locks in most cases are nothing but simple wheel locks; no U-bars, no thick chains here.
Another great concept that he spoke of was the view that cars are seen as the sacred bull in a city's china shop. Even though the bull is big and strong and destructive we tend to look the other way when the bull does what we expect - destroy china in the shop. “We tend to wrap up the thin, delicate pieces in the china shop, but we still let him run loose; damaging the shop,” Coleville-Andersen stated. Or, in this case, damaging people and property that just happened to be in the way.
One other theme that Coleville-Andersen emphasized was the re-branding of cycling to make it more mainstream (see Colin's post, Women serve as bicycling 'indicator species'), or at least more appealing to the mainstream. We in this country still tend to view bicycles as a toy, something to race, a tool for workouts, or something to show off on weekend rides. The comparison was made with vacuum cleaners; they provide an important household function. No one needs to show them off. We certainly wouldn't collect three or four expensive models to put on display to our friends.
Cycling will become more mainstream when it is perceived as almost boring. When that day comes the average cyclist won't consider herself as a cyclist, just an average Silicon Valley resident that just happens to get around on a bike.