– Watch videos below –
In light of Portland’s ongoing love-affair with Copenhagen, and the fact that Mr. Bicycle Copenhagen is in town at this very moment (prepping for the big event tonight), I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the transportation legacy of our respective cities.
I’ve heard local planners discuss how Copenhagen really started their march toward being the world’s top bicycle city after a fuel crisis in the 1970s (the idea being that, they’re only a few decades ahead of us). Niels Jensen, senior traffic planner with the City of Copenhagen, reinforced that idea during a recent panel discussion in Portland when he credited citizen activism in the 1970s (a response, in part, to a post World War II car boom and resulting fuel crisis) for sparking a renewed commitment to bicycling by Copenhagen’s politicians and roadway engineers (he also told us Copenhagen built their first cycle track over 100 years ago).
However, adding fuel to the idea that Portland and Copenhagen’s transportation legacies are rooted in very different histories are two videos that have traveled widely around the web. The videos show how traffic looked in each of the cities in 1937 and 1939.
In the Copenhagen video from 1937, scores of people are seen riding bikes, in much the same way they do today. In the Portland video, shot in 1939, cars dominate.
The Portland video was dug up by local historian Dan Haneckow. (It’s interesting to note that the videos are accompanied on his blog by artifacts from the Portland Traffic Safety Commission who warns people of the perils of traffic — “Speed Kills!” is one of their mantras.)
Here’s one of the Portland videos (shot at Sandy Blvd and SE 28th/33rd):
And here’s the video from Copenhagen (evening bike rush hour begins at about 6:30 mark):
So, while Copenhagen did have a bike renaissance in the 1970s, they were able to draw on an old and rich legacy of biking to get the public support and political capital to do it (it was key, said Jensen of those protests in the 1970s, that many Copenhagen residents remembered how great biking was in their youth and they demanded a return to those days).
Portland can’t draw on a similar legacy. Our decision makers and elected officials did not grow up riding a bike comfortably and efficiently around a city (rubbing shoulders with their well-dressed peers).
This isn’t to say Portland will never make great leaps in bike mode share, but rather, we should keep the immense task of ahead of us in perspective. One thing’s for sure, we’ll never get there by dipping our toe in the water. It’s either dive right in or get out of the pool.
— Learn more about Copenhagen and how Portland does — or doesn’t — stack up when Mayor Sam Adams and Copenhagen’s Bicycle Ambassador Mikael Colville-Andersen take the stage tonight.