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Want to be like Copenhagen? Think about vacuum cleaners and raging bulls

Posted by on October 30th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Copenhagenize in Portland-1

Mikael Colville-Andersen (L) and
PBOT’s Roger Geller took a spin
before last night’s event.
(Photos © J. Maus)

If Portland wants to push cycling into the mainstream, and reach usage levels similar to European cities, we need to make it easy, focus on the positives, tame automobiles, and do our research to counter anti-bike sentiment. That was some of the advice given by Copenhagenize’s Mikael Colville-Andersen at a sold-out event last night.

Colville-Andersen — who’s on a tour through the U.S. sponsored by the Danish Embassy — joined Mayor Sam Adams for a special reception for the Dreams on Wheels exhibit which is currently on display at the Oregon Manifest Bike Union in Northwest Portland. He started the night out with a presentation titled, Marketing Bicycle Culture: Five Goal to Promote Urban Bicycling.

Colville-Andersen opened his presentation by emphasizing that in his hometown, bicycles are just normal, everyday things:

Copenhagenize in Portland-15

“Our relationship to the bicycle in Copenhagen is much like the vacuum cleaner. We don’t have five of them that we keep polished and well-oiled, there are no vacuum cleaner enthusiasts, we don’t go to a specialty shop to buy one or wear special clothes while we vacuum. The bicycle and the vacuum cleaner are just tools. One of them we clean our homes with, the other we use to transport ourselves around the city.”

Last night, the crowd heard loud and clear that in Copenhagen, there are no “cyclists”, just people who ride bicycles everyday. Colville-Andersen calls them “citizen cyclists”.

Copenhagenize in Portland-13

“A2Bism” in action.

When asked why they ride, Copenhagen residents overwhelmingly (56% in a recent survey) say because it’s easy and fast. To Colville-Andersen, that backs up his first goal, a concept he calls, “A2Bism”, which is simply a concept that if there is infrastructure in place that makes the bicycle the easiest and fastest tool to get from a to b, then a high rate of bicycle usage will follow.

“This is all people want. We’re all homo-sapiens. It doesn’t matter if we’re on foot, on a bicycle or in a car, we just want to get there quick. We’re rivers. We will find the quickest route.”

To illustrate this point, he shared an anecdote. In the 1980s, when Copenhagen was experiencing a boom in bicycling, city officials worried that too many people were riding on the busy main streets. “They thought, we’ve got to stop that, it’s not safe.” Their solution was to direct bike traffic to the backstreet by building high-quality cycle tracks through neighborhoods.

The problem was that the neighborhood routes meant people had to ride 10-15 minutes out of their way to get from a to b. The result? No one used them. “It was a flop. So, the city shrugged and went, ‘fine, we’ll put them on the main streets'”.

Copenhagenize in Portland-18

Mayor Adams and Colville-Andersen
took questions.

The lesson, says Colville-Andersen, is that planners should put bicycle infrastructure where people actually want to go, not where engineers think they should go.

Besides his popular blogs and films, Colville-Andersen owns a marketing firm that specializes in helping cities “Copenhagenize” themselves. He believes that more planners and advocates need to apply basic marketing principles to bicycling in order for it to appeal to the masses.

Colville-Andersen feels that “Bicycles are a multi-vitamin Viagra pill for the urban landscape.” Unfortunately, he says, bicycles are too often marketed in a way that makes them seem “dangerous and sweaty”. “These are not unique selling points that are going to get a lot of people to buy this product.”

He pointed out beautiful vintage bicycle posters and reminded the crowd of how the industry used to sell the product. “It was one of the most brilliant periods in the history of marketing and people all over the world bought this product [bicycles] and used it.”

In an anecdote to illustrate the positive impact bicycles have had on the world, Colville-Andersen shared a light-hearted story about how sociologists have found that bicycles have even improved the gene pool:

“The bicycle provided an explosion of mobility… Back in the day if you were a farmhand or a laborer, rural areas were spread out, you couldn’t get to the next town, it was too far. Bicycles showed up and all the sudden you could look for dates in a larger radius. Your wife radius increased dramatically, so it actually improved the gene pool.”

Colville-Andersen’s second goal is to “always sell bicycles positively”. He compared the marketing of bicycles to that of cars:

“You never hear them [car industry] talking negatively about their product at all. Never. They’ll never tell you that driving is considered to be the most difficult task homo sapiens have had to master. This is actually true, hunting mammoths is nothing compared to driving a car. They’ll never tell you that the level of dangerous hydorcarbon particles in the air are actually higher inside the car than if you ride a bike next to them… They never tell you your risk of head injury is higher in a car than on a bicycle and at no point have we ever seen the car industry promote motorist helmets.”

A key to making cycling mainstream, according to Colville-Andersen, is to address the dangers of the automobile. He equated the car with a bull running around a china shop.

“Someone has let a sacred bull in society’s China shop… We can all agree that there is a bull in the china shop, we can all be realistic and think the bull’s not going anywhere (it’s gotten too big to fit out the door now). So we bubble wrap all the pieces of expensive china and meanwhile the bull just knocked over eight shelves in aisle 9 and took a shit on the floor. It’s strange, we’ve developed this fantastic capacity to completely and utterly ignore the bull.”

Continuing with the bull/car comparison, he said that knowing that there’s a bull in the china shop, people should do something to “limit its destructive capabilities” such as “castrate it to make it calmer, tie it down, or build a fence around it.”

Colville-Andersen’s third goal is to simply address “the bull”, meaning, if cities really want to attain high levels of bicycle use, they must begin to acknowledge that the cars are causing havoc and their power and dominance on the urban landscape must be reigned in.

On a similar note, Colville-Andersen said he dreams about a day when cars have warning labels similar to those mandated on cigarette packages:

“Imagine if we woke up and all the cars had warning labels on 30% of their surface area [that’s the law for cigs]. Imagine what would happen to the mindsets of our population. After two months you’d have people opening their garage, looking at the car, looking at the bike and saying, ‘I’m not going to risk my life, I’m taking the bike'”.

The role of the bicycling “subculture” was also addressed by Colville-Andersen. He feels that in order to “mainstream bicycling” it needs to be re-branded as a “normal, borderline boring transport option.” To do this he feels like cities should “focus less on subcultures”.

Colville-Andersen said Portland is already doing a lot of what he preaches. He gushed about our city via Twitter this morning and said that during our ride last night he “couldn’t stop grinning.” But even though he’s impressed by what we’re doing, he still says we have work to do.

In a Q&A that followed, Mapes asked Mayor Adams if it’s realistic for Portland to reach Copenhagen levels of bicycling. Adams said yes. He pointed to PBOT’s efforts to remove the “real and perceived fear of cars” by creating more separated facilities like the buffered lanes recently installed on Stark and Oak and the cycle track on Broadway.

Adams described the importance of making fully developed bike boulevards. “When they [people riding bicycles] can get on their bike and never have to put their foot down and not have to blow through stop signs…if we can do that we can get to Copenhagen’s level of bicycling by 2030.”

Colville-Andersen said last night that what took Copenhagen 30 years to achieve could be done today in 5-10 years. This is in part because all the (planning and engineering) mistakes have been made and the case for bicycling is stronger now than it has ever been. He also pointed out that to do that it will take “visionary political decision-making.”

Portland is definitely on the right path. Our Bicycle Plan for 2030 is a map to help us reach our goals and there were a lot of PBOT staffers (and other policymakers) at that event last night who are surely still mulling over some of Colville-Andersen’s insights.

— See more photos of the event and a pre-event bike ride with Colville-Andersen in the gallery.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Help Me To Copenhagenize Miami | Slow Bike MiamiPolitical Bicycle Endorsements for the Upcoming Elections - Mikael Colville-Andersen on Bicycle Culturespiderleggreenraincityblog » Blog Archive » Bicycles and Bullsh!tkenny Recent comment authors
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ac
Guest
ac

not rockin’ helmets, huh?

John Lascurettes
Guest

Jonathan, you tweeted:

Going to meet/ride w @copenhagenize author, wondering what he’ll think of my helmet.

So, did you get a reaction? 😉

I like this guy. Wish I could have been there. Nice insights. He gushed on twitter about Portland. Quite the endorsement.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

I haven’t read this gentleman’s blog but I have to admit that based on the sample of quotes listed here, I am not comfortable adopting him as a spokesperson for bike advocacy.

Opinions are great but you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) create your own facts.

Crediting bicycles for a diverse gene pool is just plain foolish.

The rise and fall of expansive pan-European, pan-Asian, and pan-Meso-American, and even multi-continental empires occurred before the bike was invented. Heck, the colonization of the Americas occurred before the bike.

Western expansion in the USA during the gold rush and other emigrant movements was accomplished primarily on foot, via horsepower, and or boat.

And so on…

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Have long term studies, or analysis of past data(cheaper), done to show that “the bull” is as dangerous as we believe it is.
These studies MUST be done by the US government and must collect data from ALL 50 states. Any private publication will be too contentious; conclusions must be obviously applicable to all regions.
Probably better off having US Dept Health & Human Services do this work. Can we trust the federal and states DOTs or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to not be beholden to automotive interests?
A federal institution, like HHS, will be able to their fingers on all the data the DOTs have been sitting on and have no obvious reasons to pull their punches.
How would we get this poisoning of the car culture rolling?

huey lewis
Guest
huey lewis

not rockin’ helmets, huh?

boooring. get over it.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

Don’t get me wrong on this, I think many of his points are valid (but none are especially unique or new).

And I guess I should allow for the idea that the gene pool quote may have been in a context that makes more sense than having it just hang there in this post.

TonyT
Guest
TTse

I came here to write this,

“And the helmet police will arrive in 3, 2, 1.”

But I see it’s the first comment.

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

ac,
no.. he’s not wearing a helmet. in fact, he was going to borrow a bike from Ace Hotel but they require a signature on a form that says you must wear a helmet.. so he refused and got a bike from Bike Gallery instead.

John,
RE: my helmet. No. I didn’t get a reaction, nor did I expect one. Mikael personally chooses to not wear one… it’s not like he’d sneer at someone or admonish them if they chose to wear one.

Tony,
no one is saying to adopt Mikael for anything. he’s simply a voice in the movement. one of many.
as for the gene pool thing. it was just an anecdote for entertainment purposes to try and illustrate a point. nothing serious. just a bit of fun.

Nick V
Guest
Nick V

I may be a tad bitter and cynical but I still think that the main obstacle to having the cycling population of Copenhagen is the laziness and increasingly sedentary lifestyle of Americans in general.

Bike boulevards and facilities might get above-average use in a town like Portland, but in most other towns, I would expect that people would look at those same amenities, shake their heads, and pile into their cars for a four-block drive to the local 7-Eleven.

Dave
Guest

I think a lot of people have a tendency of misconstruing a disdain at the distraction the helmet debate causes from the much more major safety problems (the unrestrained automobile, for instance) as a hatred of helmets.

He’s said (as well as many many others) often, don’t forbid or require people wearing helmets, just don’t talk about them at all.

The more you work to implement road safety measures for bicycles, and the less you talk about them in relation to safety, the better.

peejay
Guest
peejay

There’s nothing implausible about the genetic diversity theory at all. I bet any anthropologist would find it quite believable. Fact is, a lot of human behavior is explained by understanding our inherent laziness. If you have to walk three hours to meet the girl in the next village, the girl at the neighbor’s farm starts looking better every day. It’s got nothing to do with the distances humans will travel to explore new lands.

Michael M.
Guest

That write-up was about the most substantive one could expect from an evening that was disappointingly light on substance. Congrats, JM. 🙂 I was on beer patrol after the talk/q&a (I’ve been volunteering a lot for Oregon Manifest over the past month) and overheard one departing attendee say to his companion, “Well, that could’ve been compressed to about 15 minutes.” I agree, though I think 15 minutes might have been a little generous.

Mr. Colville-Anderson seems to ignore economic realities about the place of the car as transportation in favor of flights of fancy about cultural vacuum cleaners. Especially telling was how he avoided the question about Denmark’s immigrant communities and cycling (he instead talked about Paris and A-to-B … huh?). I guess when everyone is white and comfortably affluent, which it appears from all his slides is how he sees the world, cycling is just dandy … as long as you can safely ignore the rest of the alphabet. I was also disappointed in how Mayor Adams didn’t really address the issue either. I guess Portland and Copenhagen really do have a lot in common with each other, after all.

It’s not as if much of what he said doesn’t mostly make sense, but it’s stuff we know already. And it glosses over the real difficulties and pitfalls of creating and sustaining a transportation network we can all afford and benefit from — not just the expensively attired bankers in Colville-Anderson’s slides.

I was hoping Jeff Mapes would have had more of a role than only moderator. At least he tried to pull something more substantial from both Colville-Anderson and Adams.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Nick V (#9) —

I agree about the laziness and sedentary nature of our population, but it’s not like that’s hardwired into our identity as Americans or anything. I was lazy and sedentary and drove my car thirty blocks to work for years, until I decided that was stupid. Anyone can change, if they have a real motive.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

“These studies MUST be done by the US government ”

The same government that collected the data on jobs created by the stimulus plan, that attributed 129 jobs created, to a daycare that increased the wages and benefits package of their 129 employees?

I would prefer someone other than government work the numbers.

As for helmet use, get out and make it the law, otherwise it’s a personal choice and none of your business. I bet you’re the same people who get upset when you’re called our for riding a bike, another personal choice.

peejay
Guest
peejay

Jeff:

It helps if someone spells out for you how much more it costs to drive that distance, of course. People are lazy and greedy. Or: lazy, greedy, and stupid, so they very frequently work against their own financial interests, until otherwise enlightened.

Matt Picio
Guest

Tony – the gene pool context was that before the bicycle, in rural America, people were typically limited to walking distances when finding a mate. Obviously that’s not quite true, but in the mid-1800s taking the horse and wagon into town (or more to the point, the next town) was an endeavor taking a number of hours. The bicycle made casual trips possible.

It was meant mostly in jest, though like many lighthearted anecdotes there may be a kernel of truth in it. Human health, average height, and other indicators have improved since 1850. While much of that can be explained by the modern concepts of sanitation, germ theory, antibiotics, sterile surgery, etc., it’s certainly not out of the question that greater casual access to prospective mates, and a wider range of them was not a factor.

He never said that it was a major factor, nor the only one, he just said that it improved the gene pool. He’s probably right. In any case, it was amusing and went over well with the crowd.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest
Spencer Boomhower

#9 Nick V,

That makes me think of one slide Mikael put up, that showed the results of a poll: of Copenhagen bike riders, the vast majority rode because it was quick and easy (or something like that) with fitness and environmental reasons ranking far, far below. Really the same reasons Americans will drive four blocks, but in a place where it’s easier to bike instead.

Zaphod
Guest

I found the event to be positive and inspiring. I’d prefer to focus on what it was versus what it wasn’t or what it lacked.

The A2Bism was the most interesting component. Sure it has been said but the simplicity of it is its power.

As a close second was the rebranding and how cycling can be thought of as something easy, stylish, sexy & safe versus sweaty, hard, odd and risky.

My favorite comment by Sam is something I’ve posted on this site several times. I was pleased to see him validate what I have in my head. That is: Non-cyclists, those with no intent of ever riding should wholeheartedly support cycling infrastructure because of its impact on traffic, parking, air quality, etc. [I’m paraphrasing.]

That’s the thing that perplexes me the most in these discussions… you have to be pretty thick and short sighted to not understand this.

Yokota Fritz
Guest

Mikael is in San Francisco today where he gave the same presentation. I really enjoyed it. He’s positive and makes some good points.

BURR
Guest
BURR

@ Michael #12. It would seem that bankers in Denmark are smart enough to recognize that cycling and not driving is the more sustainable and affordable transportation choice…as there is very little that is either sustainable or affordable about our current motor vehicle-based transportation system in the US.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I saw his talk in Seattle the previous night and thought it insightful.

First, an aside. The comment about the impact of cycling on the rural gene pool is in fact backed by actual research. See, for example, “Working-Class Isolation and Mobility in Rural Dorset, 1837-1936: A Study of Marriage Distances” in the journal of the Royal Geographic Society:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/621412

His points about marketing are key and way under appreciated in the US, otherwise you wouldn’t get so many cycling organizations agreeing with helmet laws and the like. Putting helmets on motorists would, in fact, save far far more lives than getting cyclists to wear them. Yet that has essentially ZERO chance of happening. Think about that for a second and then catch his next talk. You might learn something 🙂

The wacky race-related comment is clearly from someone who’s never been to Copenhagen. (Hint, it’s not especially diverse.) Portland clearly can’t simply take what the Danes are doing and directly apply it here. That doesn’t mean we Americans can’t learn from their successes and failures. Marketing cycling to all races and classes is something that other stories on BP have covered.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

***Scoop***

Photographic evidence of citizen cyclists wearing helmets:

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/45886a/

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/45886d/

Shoemaker
Guest
Shoemaker

I love it! I’ll adopt Mikael today.

5 – 10 years to get the kind of infrastructure that Copenhagen has because they’ve tinkered around enough and figured most of it out.

No more studies and agonizing and hand wringing.

Put in a raised divider for the cycle track on Sandy! Clear a lane and put in another divider for the ones on Vancouver and Williams.

Get more aggressive with the down town cycle tracks and I’m liking this already!

Carl
Guest
Carl

This was an excellent presentation. His points didn’t need to be brand new in order to be worthwhile. His power was in the convincing way he relayed them and how beautifully he strung them together. I learned a lot about messaging.

When I read Kunstler’s Geography of Nowhere in high school, it crystallized the ideas I’d been gathering about the way our cites have been growing. Colville-Andersen did the same thing last night for bikes. Bravo.

syd
Guest
syd

Less focus on the sub-culture to me is a key concept. It’s great that Portlanders tend to have fun on their bikes, but the constant attention on the craziness here gets old and also ostricizes a population of potential riders.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

Jon, Matt @ #16, and Greg @ #21,

At the risk of sounding needlessly defensive…

I did not see the talk and did not know the context, which was basically the gist of my follow-up comment at #6. Basically, it sounds like that quote was an aside…

On some level, it isn’t fair for me to judge a discussion I did not attend but I have to admit that I have some issues with the conjecture presented in the quotes, not just the gene pool thing…

For instance, I don’t agree that having riders wearing helmets in marketing implies a lack of safety.

Yes, it is true that the auto industry doesn’t sell helmets but I would be willing to beat that any car commercial that doesn’t show passengers properly seat belted or children in car seats would draw some serious ire.

A lot of this safety is legislated. My youth bouncing around unbuckled in the back seat is ancient history:

There are mandatory seat belt laws in 30 states.

There are child seat laws and restraints laws in every state.

Auto liability insurance is mandatory in 47 states.

Further, there are many safety-focused auto campaigns for cars and related products (every On Star commercial seems to presume you are going to wreck someday).

Bike advertising is varied but I don’t think I have seen any ads that I would view as “negative”.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Colville-Andersen makes a number of valid points. Motor vehicles, particularly in the the city core and neighborhoods definitely need to be slowed down to better enable more walking and use of bikes for transportation.

” Unfortunately, he says, bicycles are too often marketed in a way that makes them seem “dangerous and sweaty”. ” maus article

I guess I don’t see that being unfortunate except where its happening to the exclusion of marketing bikes as the less sweaty, practical means of getting around that he alluded to with the vintage posters. Both marketing approaches can be a positive force in encouraging more people to ride.

That whole “always sell bicycles positively” segment of his in the above article is mysterious to me. Seems to me that bike shops certainly are selling bikes positively (even though they do have helmets available for sale).

I suppose the emphasis on safety…safety equipment, etc., (for whatever reason, implying some kind of inherent, overt danger with activity of riding)…riding in the U.S., compared to the same in Europe might be said to have been excessive to the point of being detrimental to an increase in numbers of people choosing to ride.

Without an infrastructure that allows safe riding, which is typical yet of many places in the metro area, saying that certainly seems premature. Good, safely usable bike-pedestrian infrastructure, and the opportunity to ride it in a unsweaty helmet-less manner go hand in hand.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

I’m really getting sick of the “not a cyclist!” rhetoric. The people so adamant about this are defining themselves as “non-cyclists who ride bikes”, which is B.S.. A person on a bike is a cyclist in the same way that a person behind the wheel of a car is a motorist. If you’ve really got your shorts in such a bunch over fear of being lumped in with the lycra set, you need to stop trying to re-categorize yourself, or in this case, prove what material your shorts aren’t made out of. Nitpicking the label is making an even bigger issue out of what aims to ultimately be a non-issue? ERRRNT! Sorry, try again.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Michael M: I think his point about showing white affluent bankers riding bikes to work was to show that it’s normal there. How many white affluent bankers do you see riding bikes to work in American cities? And as far as immigrants go, that could easily mean American immigrants 🙂 Copenhagen is quite a diverse city.

Hanmade
Guest
Hanmade

Safety is a big issue, not in bike advertising but in perception of the general public. It is a proven fact that the more people that ride, the safer it gets and the perception of safety goes up. This happens by providing the infrastructure for more riders to…ride! I was hoping to hear how much Copenhagen spends on bike facilities (percentage) compared to Portland. That is essential information. We need to increase the spending for bike facilities, plain and simple.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

None of this matters unless you have the infrastructure and the will to support it. Cycling has to be easy, direct, and virtually hassle free to take root with a wider audience. Portland’s plans: Make 25 MPH neighborhood streets with stop signs every other block more “bike friendly”. Yawn! You have a slow and laborious way to travel.

Now, build the Sullivan’s Gulch trail and turn Hawthorne into a bike freeway without cars – now you’ve got something. Now a resonably fit person can get from Gateway, 82nd or Lents to downtown in well under an hour which is comparable to driving. Create something similar on the westside (bore another tunnel?)so bikes become viable. Right now, driving or riding the crowded H1N1 railroad are the only options unless you are quite fit, skilled, and brave.

The alternative? You could build up ala NYC but it would take a century or more just to exhaust the lawsuits brought about when the city proposes tearing down “historic” Laurelhurst, Clinton, or Sellwood to erect another Pearl District type high density condominium neighborhood. How do you control the growth of the suburbs? People keep moving here and Metro will eventually be bought and paid for by the developers who want to build bedroom communities from here to Salem, the Coast Range, and the flanks of Mt.Hood.

Is there the political will to do a radical bike focused transportation makeover? Absolutely not! No mayor or commissioner will ever take such bold steps because they want to stay in office as long as possible. By 2030, we’ll have more bikeable neighborhoods and few more painted lines downtown but another 500,000 new area residents will still fill our major roadways with electric, natural gas, or hydrogen fueled cars while making their commutes.

I like what Mr. Colville-Andersen has to say but the other bull lurking about the china shop is the notion of Manifest Destiny that is encoded in the American DNA. Think that NRA gun nuts are crazy? Wrap your heads around the “from my cold dead hands!” rhetoric that will flow from those middle class folks told that the American dream is now limited to a shabbily built 500 square foot high rise condo and a cruiser bike rather than a house with a yard and two luxury automobiles. Why does no one want to talk about this? All this talk of creating Copenhagen-on-the-Willamette ignores over two centuries of ingrained American idealism that will not simply disappear overnight.

Look to Europe for inspiration but hammer out a plan built on old fashioned American pragmatism.

Yokota Fritz
Guest

@spare_wheel – Mikael gave some statistics about helmet usage in Europe. In Copenhagen I think he said it was in the single digits (though I could be mistaken). He only mentioned it because somebody asked.

@N.I.K. Mikael began his talk in San Francisco by talking about Vacuum Cleaner Culture in Copenhagen, and the various “vacuumist” sub-cultures. He did that to illustrate the absurdity (to Danes) of a “bike culture” and people identifying themselves as cyclists. It’s kind of funny because before the talk started me and a couple of other people were talking about “Which bike should I wear to the meeting?” knowing we’d be in a room with other serious bike nerds and we have to look the part, donchyaknow. (I rode my cheap and utterly non-distinctive garage sale 1990s beater bike).

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

Yoktoa Fritz:

You’re missing it. “Cyclist” is a noun, and not a badge unless you choose to make a big deal of it. Face to face, I’d just as soon ask Mikael why he’d call himself as a “Dane” instead of good ol’ fashioned human being – is he a self-righteous nationalist, or is it just an accurate way of describing one of many arbitrary groupings to which he belongs? It’s preposterous.

Furthermore, why should the smug remarks of Someone Else detract from a particular hobby/interest/fetish/otherwise of yours? Saying, “Nerding out isn’t activism” would be one thing, but 1) he’s slightly poo-pooing bicycle activism, which is still necessary in the US and 2) what’s his next target – stamp collectors who don’t grasp that their externally-weird hoarding won’t save USPS? He’s getting confused about points on which there *isn’t* confusion, or at least, is acting superior by pretending there is. Which is stupid and counter-productive.

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[…] wanted somebody to give Portland cyclists a hard time, so I’ll volunteer. He was in Portland last night to give a similar talk, but nobody biked to the meeting because it was raining there! Mikael went on to explain that the […]

Lisa G
Guest
Lisa G

I like the analogy of the bull in the china shop. I think about that a lot whenever I’m riding on a street with cars parked on both sides and a big SUV tries to push through, often after barreling aroud the corner without noticing there’s someone already in the lane. Their visibility isn’t that good. It seems so ludicrous, having vehicles that big on small residential streets. Unless someone is hauling a large amount of equipment around all the time there is no need to drive something of that size. It’s a symptom of the big disconnect from the natural world, people ensconsed in their tanks rolling down the street; perhaps it is also a symptom of fear. Portland is a city of communities where there is connectivity. The more a community can get together, the better the influence for people to slow down, drive smaller cars and eventually transition to bikes. I’ve been seeing more people bicycling in my small neighborhood. It could be a result of the recession, but I like to think my bicycling household is having a positive influence simply by example.

drew
Guest
drew

Good article; sorry I missed the presentation.
His observations make a lot of sense to me. Bikes have been marketed in this country more as either toys or race machines. That is changing though, with a new emphasis on city bikes.

The bull in the china shop analogy is so perfect. Someday most people will understand that, and look in horror as to this massive health hazard of our age that was somehow invisible to us.

Don’t we remember how hard auto companies fought against installing seat belts, because they would insinuate that cars were unsafe? Seat belt or not, inside the car is the place to be if you want to risk getting a traumatic brain injury (the most common cause). All this helmet emphasis drives people away from using bikes. Using a helmet is probably a good idea, in a car or on a bike, or as a pedestrian. Have a basket full of helmets in the trunk for all the passengers and make sure they all wear them on the way to the drive in. Sheesh what a hassle, lets just cook at home…

chris
Guest
chris

I’m sure Denmark has bike enthusiasts, like racers, mechanics and long-distance riders. The car is a more accurate analogy than the vacuum cleaner. Cars are ubiquitous in the U.S., but we still have carheads. Next time you are in Borders, observe how many magazines are marketed to car nerds.

kdt
Guest
kdt

I first met Mikael in Copenhagen (hanging out at a bike shop), and attended his very similar talk in NYC — this excellent post does a great job of summarizing his points.

He’s got a great, dry sense of humor; and I’d ascribe the ‘gene pool’ comment to that.

I agree that helmets should simply not be part of the discussion. The focus should be on ways to increase the number of cyclists on the roads. Focusing on the dangers of the activity is only good marketing when you are trying to appeal to that tiny sliver of the market that court danger for fun — volcano-climbers, alligator-wrestlers, shark-teasers, those kinds of people.

Michael M., Copenhagen has a significant immigrant community, many of them Muslim. They ride bikes too. They even own bike shops (I bought a bike from such a shop in Norrebro – http://babyloncykler.dk, which also stocks dozens of used bikes). Cycling in CPH is simply woven into the fabric of the community, and it really does cross boundaries of age, race, culture, and gender. The point of including “expensively attired bankers” is to demonstrate that it’s not just the economically-disadvantaged or the eco-conscious who cycle. It’s everybody.

Lazy Spinner, I agree that dedicated, limited-access bike routes are great; but it’s not feasible to run them everywhere people need to go, so you need to tie them in with the painted or separated bike lanes on the ground. Much of CPH’s bike infrastructure is carved out of or immediately adjacent to existing roads. Some lanes are separated by a curb, others are just painted on the pavement. One feature worth considering: many intersections have bike-focused traffic lights that change to green ahead of the regular lights, giving riders a head start.

The other “bull” that needs to be addressed: in the main, cyclists in CPH obey traffic laws. They wait for lights to change; they come to a stop or an “Idaho stop” at stop signs; they ride with traffic. Cyclists in the US need to behave in a similar fashion if we want cycling to be treated by government and by non-cyclists as a viable and respectable transportation alternative.

Afro Biker
Guest
Afro Biker

Ha..there are many parts of Portland where there is hardly any bike infrastructure at all. Try coming out east of I-205 for the ride of your life. Portland has a LONG way to go. But then again we just don’t seem to be as important as the folks in the neighborhoods closer to downtown.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

@drew

But, ironically, it was the auto industry that fought hard in FAVOR of mandatory seatbelt laws back in the 1980’s.

Why? So they could avoid a federal requirement that all air bags be installed in new cars. They didn’t want to take on that expense.

But, of course, air bags did eventually become a federal mandate in 1996.

Yokota Fritz
Guest

@N.I.K. I identify myself strongly as a cyclist, and the room was filled with people with serious bike fetishes. I think in the US this tribal affiliation and the various bike subcultures helps bike advocacy. I was just relating what Mikael said about the Danish attitude.

Like @chris, I think the car analogy might be a better one. To a lot of us a car is just a car, but there’s also a serious car culture in the United States.

Michael M.
Guest

kdt #12 — Useful information; alas, it was not evident in Colville-Andersen’s presentation, nor addressed in response to a question that invited him (and Mayor Adams) to address it. It’s funny that Greg (#21) chimes in with “Copenhagen is not especially diverse” and Paul (#29) with the exact opposite. My point was that, in looking at his slides, one wouldn’t come away with the impression that, as you say, cycling in Copenhagen “really does cross boundaries of age, race, culture, and gender” in Copenhagen. (Age and gender, yes — he made a point of highlighting multi-generational cycling, and there were lots of men and women; race and culture, no.) I don’t think one would come away with the impression, from perusing the BikePortland photo archives, that cycling Portland really does cross boundaries of race, culture, or income status either. Matt Davis in the Mercury made a somewhat snarky, but depressingly accurate observation about Jonathan Maus’s presentation at the David Byrne event (which I didn’t attend), that as JM was extolling the “diversity” of Portland’s cycling culture, there had yet to be a single person-of-color depicted in any of his slides.

The most impressive moment in the whole evening Thursday night was when Adams momentarily dropped the “rah-rah-Portland, rah-rah-cycling” attitude and acknowledged that this city has a long way to go in creating neighborhoods that people could comfortably grow old in, citing his own North Portland neighborhood as an example where services and infrastructure are inadequate. Meanwhile, the city is spending millions on new streetcar lines to OMSI, while Tri-Met is simultaneously cutting bus service to already underserved areas of the city.

I guess what troubles me is that all the planning for better cycling facilities could be — should be — part of the solution. It can’t ever be the whole solution, but it needs to be contextualized with the challenges facing all residents here — not just the white, middle-class and upper-income constituents that seem to be the loudest cheerleaders for cycling. What I’d like to here more about is how does the bike planning receive input of concerns, issues, needs, etc., of the African-American community, the Russian immigrant community, the Vietnamese immigrant community, the Hispanic community, the senior citizen advocates, the GBLT advocates, the disabled advocates, the homeless and low-income advocates. Who were the voices speaking for these people in shaping the draft bike plan that has been released? What kind of input did they contribute and how was it received and incorporated?

I was struck, as a volunteer intersection monitor during the North Portland Sunday Parkways, that the participants were overwhelmingly white and the people in cars I was letting through the barricades were overwhelmingly black, trying to get to and from church. Given that we know, statistically, that there is a much higher rate of church attendance in Portland’s African-American population than in Portland’s Caucasian population, it made me wonder why it is always “Sunday” Parkways? What’s wrong with a Saturday Parkway? It made me wonder how much African-American involvement there was in the planning of Sunday Parkways.

Portland, in so many ways, is still a Tale of Two Cities. I feel like most of the coverage of cycling (which, frankly, is heavily concentrated here on this blog), and most of the promotion and support of cycling, is only addressing one of those cities. Events like the one on Thursday evening simply perpetuate that bias.

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

Michael,

What Matt Davis didn’t understand is that I was referring to the diversity of the types of expression, groups, and types of people in our bike scene in general — from the Lawyer’s Ride to the Bicycle Business League to Zoobomb. I wasn’t talking about race at all.

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[…] Vacuum Cleaners and Sacred Bulls From BikePortland, advice given by Copenhagenize’s Mikael […]

zilfondel
Guest
zilfondel

“He was in Portland last night to give a similar talk, but nobody biked to the meeting because it was raining there!”

Wait, what? Nobody biked to the Portland the other night?

There were at least 50+ bikes locked to that idiotic blue bike rack. By the time I got out, my bike had been moved to the Low Brow Lounge and was leaning up against the parking meter.

Those blue bike racks suck! anyone can walk away with your bike.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to be scared away from deciding to ride a bike because somebody; a bike shop employee, a safety official, a city official, a parent, a friend…mentions wearing a bike helmet.

Bike helmets probably should be part of the discussion though, if for no other reason than to provide realistic information about the level of protection they’re designed, and not designed to provide the wearer with.

Portland has made progress in improving the safety of its bike infrastructure (so have surrounding suburbs), but is anyone reading here going to say that the streets in these areas are as safe, or as bike friendly as the streets in Copenhagen are? I bet not.

It’s not biking by itself that’s unsafe and advises the use of a helmet….it’s the infrastructure that we in the U.S. have had to ride…that we still have to ride, that has people in this county thinking that wearing a bike helmet can be a benefit to their safety.

Make the streets well designed and safe for bikes like those of Copenhagen, and more people here might leave their helmets at home for fun little trips such as Colville-Andersen did, wearing only his drivers cap as he rode around downtown Portland.

A lot of streets in the metro area are not nearly so friendly for riding without a bike helmet as downtown Portland is.

Mr DeJerk
Guest

Many good points. Portland and Copenhagen are different places, with different needs and qualities, so not everything can be taken literally, but the guidelines are great.
I like the points about being a bicyclists. I think a lot of what we see around is part of the process, how this changes are happening in America, and they are natural. The day we will see our bikes as our vacuum cleaners will certainly come, but I don’t see that as a priority, rather than a consequence.
On the notes about controlling cars, there have been many of us advocating this for a long time in Portland. We can’t pretend that just promoting bicycles will be enough without making driving difficult. That’s why I’m no a huge fan of “Sharing The Road”. It’s a silly idea that “we can all get along”, when it is physically impossible.
Anyways, these are my thoughts…

Pat Franz
Guest

Sounded like an interesting talk. I laughed pretty good at the vacuum cleaner analogy, but as much as I like the house being clean, I just don’t get the same feeling as riding my bike… though there are some times, riding my bike is just another A to B chore. Fortunately, those times are rare, and I can usually find something enjoyable about it. The little joys of vacuuming are pretty limited- “Aha! So THAT’S where that went” sort of thing.

I do hope cycling never gets that boring. And somehow, I suspect the people of Copenhagen would rather ride someplace than vacuum, even if it is an everyday thing.

Still, the idea of people cleaning their homes in tight lycra shorts is pretty funny!

BURR
Guest
BURR

+ 1,000,000 to Lazy Spinner’s post #31

Atbman
Guest
Atbman

I agree with the general point that auto manufacturers don’t market their products pointing out the dangers involved in driving and what they do to alleviate/prevent them – “Our cars have seatbelts/airbags to save you from serious injuries!”.

On the other hand, the implied helmet “safety” campaigns say, in effect, “Wear a helment or you will die!” while governments seek to encourage cycling as a safe and healthy activity.