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Rethinking How People Move in Cities November 14, 2014
Bicycle Urbanism by Design: The Importance of Designing Streets Instead of Engineering Them
For 7000 years, streets of our cities were public domain – the most democratic spaces in the history of homo sapiens. The automobile changed that and a century of traffic engineering has ruined our cities. What if we used direct human observation and basic design principles in urban planning, in order to try and make transport more effective and to rebuild our liveable cities?
It’s time to move on. Anthropology and design can make the difference in our quest to modernise our cities. Mikael talks about the importance of following desire Lines and highlights Copenhagenize design Co.’s work with their desire Line Tool, as well as presenting the thoughts and observations of some of the leading minds in the field.
I am very aware that I am in a reemerging bicycle culture so I have a disclaimer. At the beginning of my talk I’m going to mention bicycles a lot, in the course of this talk but I am not a cyclist. I am just a guy who happens to use bicycles to get around. Today, in Copenhagen, there’s about over 400,000 people in Greater Copenhagen using bicycles for transport, that’s more than the entire United States of America and the 99% of them do not regard themselves as cyclists either. We’re just people who use bikes because it makes sense, it’s quick and it’s convenient. So that’s really the base line for what I want to say today. I like bikes, I am not a bike geek, I don’t know how to fix them, but I like them and I believe in them in our cities. But I really love streets. I find streets absolutely fascinating and in the 7000 thousand years since cities first were formed, streets were really the most democratic spaces in the history of homo sapiens. Nothing beat the streets for democracy. Everything we did happened in the streets; we flirted, we gossiped, we met our partners, we transported ourselves, our children played in the streets, we bought and sold our goods, they were extensions of our homes, of our living-rooms.
Two things happened to change that 7000 year old perception of what streets were and the first thing was the rapid urbanisation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All these people moving to cities in massive numbers, and the invention of the automobile really was a game changer. Engineers were the urban heroes of the day, solving all these problems, these new cities, growing cities were throwing at them and almost out of desperation they were handed the job of solving the traffic safety problem because nobody else could and they were the people who were solving things at that time. But what happened was that the perception of streets changed almost overnight. They became regarded as public utilities, like sewers, roads, electricity, puzzles to be solved with mathematical equations, that was a massive shift in our perception of streets.
The other thing that happened was that the automobile industry started to wake up and smell the coffee. They had a problem. This is something they call the anti-automobile age when the automobile appeared on our streets. Cars were despised, motorists, you know, they could be lynched out of their cars for killing a pedestrian or running over a kid. And they realised that they needed to employ tactics, which they still excel at today. Marketing, spin, and even good old fashioned ridicule, to start changing people’s perceptions of the streets. Because they believe that streets should be there for their new, shiny automobiles. The word in America they have is “jaywalking”. This is when you cross the street in the middle of a block. Thank God it doesn’t really exist in any European language, I can tell you. But this is a very important word because the automobile industry actually kind of invented it. The word “jay” existed, it was a sort of a slang for a country bumpkin, somebody who didn’t really know the ways of the big, cool city, didn’t know how to get around and what not, a sort of a, you know, a redneck and what not. So the automobile industry started calling people who crossed the streets in the middle of the block for jaywalkers. They had Boy Scouts handing out flyers to these people, chastising them for their behaviour. You know, a 7000 year old habit and people, all of a sudden, were being chastised. Anybody who said “Oh, these cars, this is no future in this!”, they were, you know, labeled as old fashioned, you know, seriously? “You’re standing in the way of progress.” We live in cities, we want to be cool, we want to have the newest smartphone, we want to be down with all the cool things that are happening in cities. So this was a very effective technique that they used and it really took two decades to transform the perception of streets. Pretty soon, pedestrians were hurded up to crosswalks, to use these newly designed things called crosswalks up to the corner, to use these crosswalks, children were shepherded into these newly invented things called playgrounds, these little zoological garderns into which we throw our children while we check Facebook, you know, yeah, “Hi”, you know, like this. These were really an invention of the automobile industry, they had this one last bastion and that was the angry mother of the cities. And this was a major problem and I know angry mothers and I can assure you they have power, when they want it. And they were just tired of their kids getting killed all the time and you might understand that and they were the last bastion so they invented the playground, we need something for these kids and if we can put them in there, the mothers will be happy and they were. And finally, the streets were clear of these squishy, irritating obstacles and the stage was set for the greatest paradigm shift, really, in the history of our cities. And we’re still paying the price for that.
I am an optimist, I can see that we are approaching another paradigm shift, another paradigm shift, perhaps back to the future, back to things that we knew and that might work again. this is one of my favourite quotes: “The fact is that automobiles no longer have a place in the big cities of our time.” I’d wish that was my quote, but it’s a quote from a Mayor of a city and it’s not the mayor of some unpronounceable Danish town or Dutch town, but it’s actually the Mayor of Paris for 12 years, Bertrand Delanöe. And he was a man who really saw that his legacy after his term, his three terms in Paris was, Paris should just be nicer, it should just be a nicer place to live. Enough of this, you know, traffic hell. Let’s calm the streets, 55% of Paris is going to be a 20 miles an hour zone in a few years, they have the massive bike share system, 20,000 bikes, infrastructure for bikes. He said, this is the kind of Paris I want to leave behind. French politicians, they like to build big monuments to themselves, this guy went “Nah, let’s just make it nice!” This is a sign that things are changing,
when people like that say things like that. The Mayor of New York had said similar things, Mayors all over the world, in Vancouver, in Chicago, in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, all over the place. This is a sign that we’re approaching a different paradigm shift.
Regarding transport and streets in cities for really about 70 years it was only been one question asked of the engineering department, you know, “How many cars can we fit down this street?” That’s really been the singular question, even the cities with public transport, “how many cars?!”. All of the work and hours put into trying to figure out how to maximise flow and capacity, reduce congestion for 70 years, is that one single question. The question for modern cities now on the 21st century has changed, with this very clearly illustrated Photoshop that I did. This model at the bottom, it has five times the capacity for transporting people down streets. This is the new question. How many people can we move down streets? European cities are just putting back in their tramways now, after having them removed a few decades ago. You know, cycle tracks for bicycles, there’s still cars on these streets, you know, cars will never completely disappear, but this is the question that we need to ask if we are going to solve the congestion problems of our urbanising cities once again.
At the moment, however it feels like we are all just characters, against our will in the film of The Matrix, you know, living in this reality here, but it’s actually being controlled by some other alternative reality higher up or something like that. I feel like a character sometimes, in The Matrix. We live in cities, when you look at it, controlled by mathematical equations, computer programs, down in the engineering department. Everything is run like mathematical models and we’re just expected to go to work, and you know, sort of just suck it up, and accept this reality. Not even aware, many people, that it exists, right? Engineering is super important in cities. My God, we need it for sewers, electricity and all the different things, public transport, trains, and everything, but it’s really a sucky way to make human streets.
This is the most simple guide, the short history of traffic engineering, that you will ever see. For 7000 years, we were incredibly rational, we had straight A to B lines for the transport forms that made sense, the intelligence transport forms. 1950s, since then, it kind of all screwed up. You know, the cars have been given the street line and everybody, you know, at the expense of everybody else trying to wander around the city, “How do I get across this street?”, “How do I ride a bike lane ended?” or “What do I do?”. Cars were just rolling. So this is really the shortest history of traffic engineering you’ll ever see. This is the shortest traffic guide to liveable cities, traffic planning for liveable cities that you’ll ever see. You prioritise the transport forms that makes sense, the intelligent cost-efficient transport forms and you make drive in a car, basically, a pain in the ass. All the campaigns in the world for “Let’s ride a bike”, “it’s green”, “it’s healthy”, “it’s saving the planet”, “walk more in your neighborhood” and all these things are things that people should do, use a bike to get to work, take public transport, all the campaigns in the world are a complete waste of money unless we do this thing right here. We know for many decades of experience that the motorists, are the last people to change their mode of transport, you know, poor bastards, it’s not really their fault, that’s what they grew up with. But the still are the last people to change. Everybody else is intermodal. “My tyre is flat in the morning, oh, shit, I’m going to take the metro to work, I’ll hop I’ll hop on a bus” We interchange very easily… motorists
are going” Nope, I’m not moving, nope, nope.” You know, they get a flat tire, they’re like: “I am taking the day off at work, I simply can’t come to work today, I have a flat tyre.” Everybody else will go: “I’m taking the bus dude…” you know, like it’s not that hard. It really is the challenge. You make driving a pain, difficult and more expensive, more complicated and these things are happening in cities around the world, then you start
to see a behaviour change in motorists.
I called this “A2Bism”, if you make the bicycle the fastest way from A to B, the strangest people will be seen on bicycles. All we want as homo sapiens is a fast A to B. To the café to meet that girl that we just met the other day, to have a drink with her, or going home to our family, going to work, if we are the kind of people who actually like our jobs, who actually want to go to work, wherever you want to go. If you made it the Pogo stick, you know, A to B as in people would take the Pogo stick. But this is really a very, very simple way. You want people to do one thing, you make it the fastest way. This is why people ride bicycles in Danish and Dutch cities, it’s the quickest way from A to B. And we know this, we’ve asked them for about 30 years in surveys, “why do you ride your bicycles?”, it’s fast and quick, you know, that’s why they do it. That’s all homo sapiens want. Anthropology is very important.
With my company, we work with planning, we work with engineers on projects, but we really focus, primarily, on design and direct human observation. It doesn’t look like it, but this is the world’s busiest bicycle street in Copenhagen, and this is a spot where the city noticed that just a couple of hundred citizens every day were cutting across a sidewalk to get to a parallel street. The rush hour for bicycles is intense in Copenhagen, you’ve never seen anything like it and a lot of people were taking a shortcut. The city said “OK”, to their credit, the City of Copenhagen said: “Right, let’s figure out why, let’s not just hand out tickets to them every day for riding on a sidewalk, which is illegal, there must be a reason.” And this is a new thing this is a new mobility pattern that came out of nowhere. So they watch, they observe, they stopped people, they followed people, they had like interns, following random people to see where the hell they were going, sometimes even talking to them: “where you going?” But it’s more fun to sort of follow them. But they discovered “Ok, we have this hole new urban development south of the city”. Ørestad is called and there’s a university, Danish broadcasting, all of these places. People were getting out of the rush hour because it was too busy, and also because they could skirt around the city centre and find a new route to this new neighbourhood. And the city went “Ah, there you go!”. Ok, so what happened was that they put in a temporary cycle track on the sidewalk to legitimise it, to see if people ere going to use it, accept it, and finally, it was made permanent. So now, across the sidewalk, there is a cycle track. The desire lines. Desire lines is the greatest expression in urban planning, it’s so poetic. It was a French philosopher in the 50s who coined this phrase. There’s other phrases for desire paths, the Dutch call it Elephant Paths and what not, but desire lines, this is the greatest expression. They listened to desire lines of just a few citizens in the city and they legitimised their behaviour. Instead of setting up a fence, saying you’re not going to ride on that sidewalk, we are going to allow you to do it, because you know what, desire lines are democracy in action. They are the people, the people of our cities communicate with us 24 hours a day, every single second of the day, the citizens of city are sending us messages. And it’s up to a modern city to listen, receive the messages, act upon the desire line instead of expecting people to do what we want them or we think they want to do. I love desire lines, this is sort of, you know, some people go bowling, I look at desire lines. This is my hotel in Halifax, in Canada, fresh snow on the Commons, and it’s an old, North American old city, you know, and the green lines are the original pathways, perfect for 19th century promenading, you know, and walking your dog, going for
a run, that’s fine. Snow fell, I woke up, rush hour, boom! The red lines were desire lines carved straight as arrows through the snow. People walking from the neighbourhood to the city centre, also on bikes. The next day has snowed again and I’m sitting there in the morning, I’m going “Yes!” same desire lines, identical, a modern city would react to that. Keep the recreational paths, fine, but this is where the people of that city, now, today, are actually wanting to go. We take desire lines very seriously, and we take it to the next level, we filmed an intersection relating to cycling and behaviour, we wanted to look to see how we could, maybe, redesign, these cars centric intersections that we have just inherited from the last century and don’t think so much about. We filmed an intersection in Copenhagen and we filmed 16,631 cyclists in twelve hours. Nobody has ever done a behavioural study like this for cyclists anywhere in the world, you have to go to the next level when you are battling the matrix. If you have seen that film, you
know you gotta do the “Keanu Reeves”, right? You have to tackle it. We did not have any data at this point, we just had film footage, 12 hours with lots of people and pedestrians and cars. And we, I got an anthropologist into the company, I said “Look at that! Let’s try and crunch some behaviour here.” So she sat there and used like 250 hours of direct human observation, studying the behaviour of the cyclists, mapping every single desire line that every single one of those people did. And then we started looking at it differently, we sat and we watched it so often and it was really, you know, it never got boring. It was discovering new stuff all the time.
One of the things we noticed is like this guy is riding through a pedestrian crossing. That’s illegal and we actually have changed the conversation in Copenhagen, even there people think “Oh, those damn cyclists!”, right? You know, breaking the law, you know, rogues of the urban landscape and we actually found out that only 7% of the cyclists on this intersection, we have done several other studies, we just did 9 intersections in Amsterdam for the City of Amsterdam. Only 7% broke or bent a Danish traffic law. We divided them into two categories, we called them the “momentumists”, because when you are on a bycicle, you want to maintain your momentum. If this was legal in another EU city, we kind of said that’s ok, right? And the 1%, the “reckless”, we called them, these are the ones who blew through a red light, rode on sidewalks, which we don’t think it’s cool, because pedestrians need their space, but really, 1% did something stupid. And I even asked like the most bicycle friendly politicians in Copenhagen, I’m saying “Guess, how many people, out of these 16,000?” [Answer] “Oh, 25,30%”. Even like people who ride every day, and I’m going “Dude, it’s like 7% and really, it’s only 1%.” This has changed the conversation, which is really good.
This guy, though, he’s breaking the law, we noticed and, you know, you don’t have to be an anthropologist to maybe assume that if you’re in the public space and you are doing something illegal, you might, as an animal, as the animals that we are, you might want to make yourself smaller, you know, to make, so that the flock around you, doesn’t notice your bad behavior. This is what we are kind of assuming, but we noticed that, whenever somebody enters an illegal zone, they change their human form, they actually made themselves bigger, like this guy, he actually, everybody was rising up, you know, you have your standard position when you ride your bike, whatever that may be, whenever they entered an illegal zone, they rose up and they kind of looked around with a goofy look, like kind of “Sorry”, apologetically looking at nobody but everybody… “I know, I know! I’m just, it’s two more metres, I’m good.” And as
soon as they hit the other side, poof, they assume the position and just went on. So they were actually being incredibly considerate to the rest of society, they were apologising for their behaviour and really, this, nobody, there’s no little old ladies running or jumping out for their lives, it was really like watching paint dry. Nothing dramatic happened. It was a whole bunch of people interacting very well and being very considerate to each other.
250 hours, we love data, and we’re all into that, 250 hours of human observation, there’s no computer program in history that can give us so many results and observations. We also found a lot of data, we mined data out of it, what time of day were they bending the traffic law and all of these different things. Absolutely fascinating.
So even though, we know how to build infrastructure and cycle tracks and everything, it’s all been around for about 100 years, we still see shit like this showing up in cities. I’ve promised never to mention which city that is, it’s on the continent. You know, this is an example of somebody, ah… an engineer who knows nothing about infrastructure, told top down to make space for bikes and it’s, you know, it’s like squeezing bicycles into the matrix. The matrix is perfect, we don’t need bikes but here’s a bit of space, you know, I’ll put up weird bollards, I’ll take away space from pedestrians but I’m going to ignore all that fantastic space off to the left. Because, that’s a street, we can’t touch that, right? This is no regard for design, the human experience, logic or safety. You know, and we see this all over the world. You have like in America also in this country, you have like bike lanes on the wrong side of parked cars, you know, we know about a 100 years, you put it along the curb, you don’t put them between the door zone and moving traffic, you know. If you do that is the greatest way to protect the paint jobs in the parked cars. You put some squishy cyclists in between there, right? Crazy things like sharrows, you know, this is, we know better, and still, stuff like that gets done.
Sam [Martin], this is where I’m going to tease you a bit, sorry, because we’ve done that on Twitter as well. Lots of fantastic visions of the future, ever since the automobile was invented, really, it sort of launched this whole vision of all these futuristic things that could happen and, you know, the idea of elevated cycle tracks, you know, leading people, this is like an idea, that’s like from the early 1950s and whatnot. I think, really, if we ever met again, in 2030, the streets, if the cities are doing it right, it’s just going to be a bunch of people on bikes and walking and taking public transport and just wanting to go to a cool café and it’s going to be cities like what Paris is becoming, what Copenhagen and Amsterdam is. I really don’t think the Blade Runner visions of our cities, I really, if it hasn’t happened yet, in 100 years, of really a lot of people dreaming it up, I don’t think it’s going to happen. We know what works, we have 7000 years of experience. What we like to work with is also design and really the idea is what if we just used basic design principles to plan our cities, instead of only relying on engineering. What if we design bicycle infrastructure, like we design smartphones, toasters, every product that we have in our home. You know, when you are designer, you work with the four types of pleasure for example, you know, it’s Physio, Psycho, Socio, Ideo. What if we design infrastructure based on stuff like that. I think that would be amazing. And really, it’s how all of the infrastructure has been designed in the past. See, like when designers, they think about the human being at the other end of the product. Whoever designed my smartphone was thinking about me, my 7 year old kid, my 86 year old dad, they want to be, they want us to have a nice feeling with that product. The company that they are working for makes billions, but that design team, they just want me to feel good holding this thing. And it does feel nice, actually, to be honest. But I’m, you know, it is, that’s design, it’s a human to human experience. Engineering is a human to computer model experience and then, the humans who actually have to use it aren’t really considered very often. You know, chairs, the most iconic designed object in history, we have chairs from the neolithic period, you know, people designing them. If we can all react to designs like this, and go, “Oh, it’s a shopping trolley, oh, but it’s a chair, I see what he did there.” “Oh, it’s an octopus, but it’s a chair.” You can like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter, like none of you have these in your living rooms for your guests to sit on, right? You know, it’s just sort of interpretation. Yeah, basically, there’s the London cycling map right there, if we’re going to use this metaphor of chair design and bicycle infrastructure, there’s the London cycling map, you know, it works, this guy showing us it works, look you can sit on it, but it’s kind of not really connected, there’s lots of really sharp edges and whatnot, it doesn’t really look very confortable to use. The point is that really, none of us have six of these around the dining table, you know, for our guests to sit over. You know, all people want is just a damn chair, you know, you all came in today, you found a seat and you sat down right? You didn’t have to interpret the design or intentions of the chair… “I see what he was trying to do, yeah, you know, where’s the on/off button?” You didn’t have to worry about disappearing from under you in the middle of my talk like a lot of bicycle infrastructure in London, you just sat your asses down, it was easy and it was intuitive. Imagine of riding a bicycle in a city or walking in a city was as easy and intuitive as that. That would be the goal really. And it is possible because it happens in other places.
Design is powerful when we use it correctly. The seductive power of the objects can transcend other important issues like price or performance, do we need that smartphone we just bought, no, but we have it, it’s nice and shiny and we want it, well, we have been seduced by it. This kid has been seduced by design, Design is powerful when we use it correctly. to choose all the cars to race and my kid spends about 5 hours a year in a car, just because we live in Copenhagen, we don’t need a car, so, we don’t talk about cars, you know. How often do you talk about Icelandic literature? It’s probably not very often, it’s kind of like that for cars. It doesn’t enter the conversation. So we’re going through all the cars, you know, and he’s going “Oh, daddy, cool car!”, scrolling, right? “Oh, cool car.” And I said, what is he reacting to? And I noticed he was reacting, every car he was reacting to was pre 1975, back when car design was cool. This kid has no relationship with cars is recognising cool design, that’s how powerful good design can be. The seductive power of objects can transcend issues like the weather, this is not the best day to be riding a bicycle in Copenhagen and yet 80% ride all winter. They know that the design will work even in a suboptimal day like this. They know that the city will be along within 15 minutes and the cycle tracks will be cleared of that snow and the ride home will be smooth and silk. They have been seduced by that good infrastructure designed to use it. The design improves behaviour everywhere in the world, like I said, even in Copenhagen, but probably more here. Those damn cyclists, bloody cyclists, you know, like there’s some kind of subspecies of human or something. They’re just homo sapiens, right? And, you know, breaking the law and all those things that people say about cyclists, I say “No, those cyclists have not been given decent infrastructure.”
Even worse, none at all. You know, people react to design, positively or negatively with their behaviour, you know.
If they are breaking the law on their bicycles or jaywalking. My God, or whatever, it’s simply because the design doesn’t work and you have to fix that first, give them best practice infrastructure, if you want, they will behave, they will want to look around, sorry, walk around in city all day looking for opportunities to want to look around, sorry, walk around in
city all day looking for opportunities to break the law. “Oh, there’s a window!” Cool! No, I just want to go home. You know, none of us want to break the law, the 99.9% just want to live a normal life, right? So if they are breaking the law, it’s the city’s fault. Basically, that wasn’t even a joke, but thank you for laughing.
Everything we need to design a bicycle friendly city, really all aspects of a liveable city were invented at least 100 years ago. 7000 years of experience, sure, we don’t have to die of the black death, the plague anymore in our cities, thank God for that. You know, we have better sewage that we had and, you know, London in 1142, but, you know, basically, we have a lot of experience. Urban anthropology for 7000 years, you know. Now we are trying to overcomplicate things with technology because we have it. Let’s invent this! Do we need it? No, no, shut up! We are going to invent this, we are going to make this, you know. It’s, we should really just look at what people want, homo sapiens have been around for a while, we kind of figured out what they want. And that is why anthropology and sociology is a really important element in urban design. In Copenhagen, for example, in Denmark, we have 100 years of experience, in London, the first cycle track like Copenhagen style was put in 1933. This is no new thing, new funky thing I’m telling you about here, it’s, you know, Manchester, 20% modal share for bikes in 1949, you know, this used to be a great cycling nation.
The design, Danish design is a thing and we know that, after 100 years of experience, if you just keep doing stuff and making mistakes, you end up with best practice. There are only 4 types of bicycle infrastructure in Denmark. You take your bike on a train, you go to some some other city that you don’t know and you can’t pronounce, and you get off the train, there’s a cycle track, you know it’s going to take you, it looks the same like the last city, everything is very uniform, is way finding, it’s safety, it’s ease of use. And this is how is ended up after 100 years, you know, the Dutch also have their kind of a system but Denmark it’s just like poof, really beautiful Danish design and it works.
Oh, I can talk for hours about microdesign, I never mind macrodesign, you know, you have like little desire line, this is legitimised by the city, by a little ramp, you have manhole covers that are ramped up to the curb to provide a ramp to the bike racks, little human decisions made by somebody along the way, to make life a little bit easier for people in the city. A little ramp in a backyard, you don’t need a ramp to get up that curb in that backyard but somebody went out there and done. Nobody knows who it was, I’ve asked, I tried to find the person who did that, it just appeared. You know, anonymously user generated design. We play around in Copenhagen, we put like handles on light posts, to see if people would use them while, you know, because we don’t want to get off our bikes at the red lights so, it’s a thing, you are going to understand how people think on bicycles. “Momentuism” is very important. So they are holding on to it, you know, and then they are also using it to propel themselves into motion, right, we didn’t count on that, it was a little brilliant added bonus. The garbage cans for cyclist to see if they would figure out what they were and they did and they just throw away the same stuff as pedestrians, you know, banana peels, newspapers, coffee cups, cigarette packs, it’s all the same in Copenhagen. The city now has railings and footrest for cyclists at 18 locations so people can just hold on or put their foot there so they don’t have to get off the bike and the text here says “Hi, cyclists! Thank you for cycling in the city! Rest your foot here. Thank you for cycling in the city.” Because it’s pretty good what they do. This is the approach, making a little fragment of the day a little bit better for a small portion of population. It’s important for us, at this conference, to listen to people talking and learn things, but really, really, have to listen to the greatest minds if you really want to take this seriously, this development for better cities. The greatest minds like Lulu-Sofia. This is my daughter, she’s 7 now, I call her the world youngest urbanist. I’ve written articles about her on our blog and it started about when she was 3 and a half. We were on our cargo bike in Copenhagen, going to the hardware store I think, as we do, and we were stopped at a red light. She’s 3 and a half, ok, like her world is very narrow, when you’re 3 and a half, and she looked over at the light, and we were stopped, and she was “Daddy look”. It was like Mickey Mouse was standing there. She said “There’s two people on a motorbike.” She just never considered the fact that two humans could sit on a motorbike and she was 3 and a half. I was surprised how shocked she was. And I go “That’s cool. We’re two people on a bike, too. We’re talking, we’re friends, we’re going somewhere. That’s what they are doing.” “Yeah, but you know, it’s just amazing.”
We continued on, we went to another red light and I realise, in retrospect, she had been studying the urban theatre, looking for other examples of two people doing this, two people doing that. We get to this red light and she sort of went “Daddy, cars are silly.” I said “OK, why are cars silly?” And she sort of went “Daddy, cars are silly.” I said “OK, why are cars silly?” And she This 3 and a half year nailed that anonymity of car culture, the social exclusion of automobiles, two people walking, two people biking, there’s lots of people on that bus and I can’t see how many people are in that car. And that frustrated this one homo sapiens that she couldn’t see the other homo sapiens in that form of transport.
The other thing she offers up, I write them down constanly, these stuff just come out of her mouth, we don’t talk about it, I just let her speak and it’s like… “Wow, I am going to make money on that one.” “That’s really nice, eat your cornflakes.” “Yes!” Now, one of them, we were walking around the city, and, in our neighbourhood, and we were just waiting at the red light holding hands like this and she was just looking around and she looks up at me and she says “Daddy, when is my city going to fit me?” It was a beautiful line, you know, you are like a little kid, you spend your life like starring at grown-up asses all day, you know, garbage cans, basketball hoops, you know, talk about a big city. So she felt like her city didn’t fit her. And she wanted to know when it will happen. I said “You are going grow, look at your brother.” And she was like “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”, like she kind of knew that, but she was just frustrated, right? And that’s really made me think and I thought do I feel like my city fits me? And I started thinking at the others, lots of streets in Copenhagen, you know, walking, cycling, yeah, oh, but there’s also streets where I don’t, I come to other cities, you know, and I, even more so, I don’t feel like these cities fit me. The goal, really for us, this is what we call in our company, the life sized city, you know, everybody should feel at scale with the urban environment, you can also stand on, it doesn’t all have to be low, houses, you know, and little balloons everywhere, I mean, have one happy day and, it could also be Times Square now, which is completely free of cars and they just put in benches… where total chaos in New York, the capital of the civilised world and now people are in there just eating ice creams. “This is nice, yeah!” They’ve transformed Times Square, so you can feel that scale, you can feel like New York fits you there, not everywhere in New
York, but you know, that’s a good example, it doesn’t have to be quaint little villages. The life-sized city is a goal. So what can kids do? I thought, this Lulu, she’s rocking it, so I went into Felix’s classroom, when he was in the third grade and arranged with the teacher for a little urban planning kind of job and I went in and I said “Hey, there’s this thing called like urban planning, urban design, never mind, I don’t want to
confuse with all that. What I want you to do is redesign the roundabout outside your school.” It’s a really badly engineered roundabout and they use it like five, six times a day in our densely populated neighbourhood and you know, it’s chaos in the morning when people are going to work and everything. And I said “redesign it, make it safer for cyclist, it’s not dangerous, it’s Copenhagen but still, make it safer for cyclists, you know,
better for pedestrians and hey, while you’re at it, try to think on how to get people out of cars, right, and change their mode of transport. “See you later, see you next week.” And the teacher took over. Oh, and they embraced this, these kids, they divided up in teams, they went on site visits and, you know, they didn’t take notes, they were only on third grade, so they did drawings, back in the classroom, discussing and the teacher was absolutely astounded by their enthusiasm. As was I. They made a huge model out of milk cartons, see up there, redesign of the intersection so we went back in and said “Right, what
did you figure out, kids?” And it’s stuff like this, one kid said “Why don’t we just make cars ugly? Nobody would want to drive them.” Like, seriously, who would drive an ugly car. And I said “That’s brilliant, that’s rational, you know, it’s logic.” Some of the ideas they had were why isn’t the speed limit 15 km/hour, nobody told them anything about anything. This is stuff they figured out themselves, they have no way of knowing that the average speed for cycling in Copenhagen is 16, and I just said “How do you know that?” “I don’t know, just feel slow” And it was brilliant. Then they had fences, ideas of fences to separate the cycle tracks, not necessary, but they are thinking like this. Light signals at the roundabout, one way streets for cars it was an idea they came up, everything for making cars difficult. Was what they, as the users of this roundabout, that’s the important thing, they are cycling in there everyday, walking there everyday. This is what they thought was an improvement for the street. They had one idea of glass roofs to cover all the cycle tracks in the entire city and all the streets so they will never get wet in the snow or the rain again. On their model up there, they have like a cupcake cover plastic thing, saying tunnel, glass roofs please. Again brilliant, we understand that logic, especially on a day like today in London. You know, but really, these kids inspired me to do so much, you know, we all have this rationality and logic, we just kind of screw it up with thinking too much and overcomplicating. You know, the glass roofs, funny idea but it exists, in Copenhagen, we have the green waves on all the arteries leading to the city center. If you ride your bike 20km/hour, you’ll hit green all the way into the city center. It reverses in the afternoon to get you home again. It’s kind of like a tale wind, a technological tale wind. In the Netherlands,
they are testing on a lot of, in three cities, are testing rain sensors on the crossings, where bikes cross a busy road and if it’s raining, priority crossing the road than the cars do.
They are just sitting there listening to their priority crossing the road than the cars do. They are just sitting there listening to their radio, in the heat and this just gets people home quicker, prioritising them. It’s the same rationality that these children are telling us we should use. The last person of the greatest minds is, he is probably one of the greatest pedestrians and cycling advocate in the world, but he died
in 1347 so he’s not going to know that. William of Ockham, “Occam’s Razor” is a principle attributed to him, used in mathematics and stuff like that, but it really is, this is what it is “Simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.” If you choose the simplest solution on the table in front of you, you probably chose the best one. We use it every single day, we’re doing projects and whatnot, we say Occam, ok, yeah, wait a minute, we just cut through the bullshit and we just find the best rational solution for the homo sapiens who we are working for. This is really for us important. But this begs the question “What would the streets of our cities look like if our main consultants were five year-olds, 3rd graders, teams of young design students and a 13th century religious dude?” Basically. Seriously. I think they would be beautiful. I think they would work better than they are working now. If you look at how many people are still killed and injured by cars around the world, 35,000 people, a 9/11 every single month in the European Union, alone. They would be safer than any single point in the last 100 years so if you are worried about that kind of stuff, then we know what to do.
Monuments. At the very end here. A lot of us work in different projects and in different aspects and sometimes we will work on a very specific bicycle, cycle track on one street and one North American city, completely overcomplicated process, but that’s their process, so we have to suck it up and say “Oh, yeah, it’s interesting” All it is, it’s one simple cycle track, you know, and we work on different bits and pieces in architecture, you know, I’m going to do the door frames of this building whatnot, but really, when we talk about liveable streets and liveable cities, it’s really important to consider that everything we do is monument building. The greatest monument in Denmark is a little naked green woman on a rock in the harbour, right, the little mermaid. Completely inappropriate, you know, wonderful
fairytale, completely inappropriate monument, I think for a city that’s as cool as Copenhagen. I think the greatest monument that has ever been erected is the bicycle infrastructure network in Copenhagen and Danish cities. Same thing applies in Dutch cities, it’s an open source monument, anybody can build them. They are rising all over the world, in cities around the world, the Mayor of Paris is building his monument and the people of Paris are helping him. We are all the architects and the designers of these modern urban monuments, changing cities going back to the future and using what we know to make our cities better.
This quote is my favourite, about cities. “Cities are erected on spiritual columns. Like giant mirrors, they reflect the hearts of their residents. If those hearts darken and lose faith, cities will loose their glamour.” A 900 hundred year old quote about cities more true today than ever before. That is the job, building monuments and making the hearts of our citizens shine. Thank you!
One of the leading global voices in urban planning and focused on re-establishing the bicycle in the urban landscape, Mikael regards the bicycle as the most important tool in our urban toolbox for rebuilding liveable cities. Known as the Danish Bicycle Ambassador, Mikael was born in Fort McMurray and grew up in Calgary, so his perspective is simultaneously global and local.