This is what 100 years of building bicycle tracks gets you... London has a long way to go.

When even sperm samples are being delivered by bicycle - on a specially adapted "sperm bike" no less - you know you've got a successful cycling city on your hands.  The Danes have been building bicycle tracks in their capital, Copenhagen, since 1912 - and now more than 100 years later they can truly call themselves a "bicycle friendly city".  

This video, the first in a series on bicycle friendly cities produced by Skoda, looks at what it is like to ride a bicycle in Copenhagen:

In the video Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize fame explains that bicycles are like vacuum cleaners in Denmark.  Everybody has one, nobody thinks that is unusual, and certainly nobody gets dressed up in funny clothes to do the Hoovering...

Before I visited the city for myself I thought that perhaps the people who chronicle the riders in Copenhagen were choosing their pictures subjectively, and casting the riders in a light they wanted to portray.  But I was wrong; the reality is just like the pictures.  

There are bikes of every shape and size, riders of every shape and size and people who are both very young and very old get around on two wheels.  Why?  It is the most simple and efficient way to get around, and it is subjectively safe enough for a majority of people to ride.

The really wide lane these people are cycling in is a bicycle lane.  There's another - equally wide - lane going in the opposite direction on the other side of the bridge.  In the rush hour it suffers from bicycle "traffic jams".

This concept of subjective safety - how it actually feels to ride a bike - is the basic foundation of creating a successful cycling city that Mikael talks about as being something that you can "cut and paste" in to cities all around the world.  And he's right.  The infrastructure might be slightly different from one country to the next, or certain cities might have their own little innovative quirks, but whether Berlin or Budapest, Lisbon or London, the activity of riding a bicycle for everyday transport has to feel sufficiently safe and inviting for enough people to actually do it in order for mass cycling to occur. 

I love riding in London, but watching this video and reflecting on these images, sometimes I feel we have a long way to go...

PS I thought it was odd that Skoda would choose to make a video about bicycle friendly cities, but they are at pains to point out on their Youtube channel that they were making bicycles long before the automobile came along and they still do today.



Paul M said...

Yes, it is an interesting point, isn’t it, that Skoda, most commonly thought of as a motor manufacturer these days, would produce a short film which contains the comment “most people here don’t even want a car”. Of course Skoda has a history as a general industrial/engineering concern, and is famously quoted in a British legal case (on the taxation of business profits) as the manufacturer and supplier of equipment for refining sugar from sugar-beet.

But they are mainly known today as a car-maker. What is their motive? An optimistic guess would be to say that they understand that the car-ownership paradigm will, eventually, shift and people will definitively move away from cars, especially in cities, and city governments in particular will eventually prohibit all but truly essential car use within their limits. Rather like the computer giant IBM eventually, though rather belatedly, woke up and smelt the coffee, that the business model of giant mainframes managed by “data-processing” departments was being rejected by users who wanted personal computing power which they, and not some bloke in a white overall, controlled.

If you look at the statistics on car ownership in Denmark, you will find that in terms of cars per thousand of population, there is no statistically meaningful difference between them, and the UK and indeed the Netherlands. It is not that they don’t own cars, simply that they don’t over-use them or if you prefer abuse them.

Isn’t it a pity that our political leaders seem so incapable of seeing the point, that their constituents are not being asked to make some enormous sacrifice and return to a bygone age, nor are we looking to destroy an industry which accounts for a significant part of GDP and employment, that spending the money, and re-assigning that apparently very limited roadspace to cycling is not merely a net positive, it is a win-win?

ibikelondon said...

Hi Paul, I think you raise some very interesting points, as ever. Indeed, I believe you're on the right track with trying to pinpoint why Skoda would want to create a film such as this (when they're not busy beating sugar cane!!)

I think their reasons are probably two-fold:

1. There is a certain amount of positive messaging around bikes and cycling at the moment, and it is good for Skoda's image to share in this. Call it basking in shared glory if you like, but being "the car for cycling" obviously works well for Skoda and is a natural extension of their support for the pro cycling scene (e.g. primary sponsors of the Tour de France etc)

2. Much more interestingly I think you are right that the way in which cars will be used in cities in the next few years to come is going to change fundamentally. The youth market that is coming online at the moment is used to sharing, rather than purchasing, large assets (the so-called sharing economy) and are probably much more comfortable with the technology that is very soon going to change the experience of driving. As the way cars are made and used in cities, so then will the market. The customer base is going to be much more used to using a variety of means to get around; bikes, public transport and cars when needed. Hopefully, we will no longer be "cyclists" or "drivers" but just citizens. But companies like Skoda will still exist and naturally they are keen to be on the right side of history as the market evolves. Perhaps this video was made to help with that positioning?

Either way, it is a fascinating insight in to Copenhagen's cycling world!

Jono said...

Lovely lovely Copenhagen. Tab and I went just before the first big ride to see what a city that has mass cycling actually looks and feels like. It was a proper revelation. Although campaigning has turned up the heat on politicians, engineers and planners I still feel we are a long way from 'getting'it.
My biggest disappointment is discussions with politicians who whine about cycling being overly dominated by male-young-wealthy commuters, whilst at the same time actively blocking the one measure that makes riding accessible to all. It just feels perverse.

ibikelondon said...

I'm glad you had a good time in CPH Jono, we had the same revelatory experience.

I think you're right that too many planners and politicians argue too loudly that cycling is too much of a minority without doing anything that could actually rectify this. Tail wagging the dog!

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