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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

  • Avatar
    ac October 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    not rockin’ helmets, huh?

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    John Lascurettes October 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    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.

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    Tony Fuentes October 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    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…

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    Anonymous October 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    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?

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    huey lewis October 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    not rockin’ helmets, huh?

    boooring. get over it.

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    Tony Fuentes October 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    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.

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  • TTse
    TTse October 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I came here to write this,

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

    But I see it’s the first comment.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) October 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    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.

    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.

    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.

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    Nick V October 30, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    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.

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    Dave October 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    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.

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    peejay October 30, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    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.

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    Michael M. October 30, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    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.

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    Jeff October 30, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    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.

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    Anonymous October 30, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    “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.

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    peejay October 30, 2009 at 3:30 pm


    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.

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    Matt Picio October 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    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.

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    Spencer Boomhower October 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    #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.

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    Zaphod October 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    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.

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    Yokota Fritz October 30, 2009 at 5:02 pm

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

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    BURR October 30, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    @ 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.

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    Greg October 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    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:

    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.

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    spare_wheel October 30, 2009 at 5:33 pm


    Photographic evidence of citizen cyclists wearing helmets:

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    Shoemaker October 30, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    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!

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    Carl October 30, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    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.

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    syd October 30, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    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.

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    Tony Fuentes October 30, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    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”.

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    wsbob October 30, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    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.

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    N.I.K. October 30, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    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.

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    Paul October 30, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    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.

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    Hanmade October 30, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    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.

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    Lazy Spinner October 30, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    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.

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    Yokota Fritz October 30, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    @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).

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    N.I.K. October 30, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    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 […]

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    Lisa G October 31, 2009 at 12:26 am

    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.

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    drew October 31, 2009 at 2:35 am

    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…

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    chris October 31, 2009 at 3:49 am

    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.

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    kdt October 31, 2009 at 6:58 am

    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 –, 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.

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    Afro Biker October 31, 2009 at 7:17 am

    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.

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    Tony Fuentes October 31, 2009 at 7:18 am


    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.

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    Yokota Fritz October 31, 2009 at 10:36 am

    @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.

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    Michael M. October 31, 2009 at 10:57 am

    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.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) October 31, 2009 at 11:45 am


    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 […]

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    zilfondel October 31, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    “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.

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    wsbob October 31, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    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.

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    Mr DeJerk October 31, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    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…

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    Pat Franz October 31, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    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!

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    BURR October 31, 2009 at 11:30 pm

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

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    Atbman November 1, 2009 at 5:44 am

    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.

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    Vance Longwell November 1, 2009 at 10:04 am

    If you say that we need infrastructure to be safe, and I ride out there and don’t have a problem, what am I supposed to conclude?

    When you say that bikes aren’t being marketed right, yet I can link to 100 bicycle models made for the express purpose of cashing in on this fad, right down to the Sky Yaegers and her ilk, what-say-you-now?

    A photograph on this site recently depicted a guy holding a protest sign. The sign was not readable except for the phrase, “No Cars”, clearly visible. In the comment thread accompanying the photo is a comment questioning where all the bicycle vs. car mentality comes from.

    An editor of this site supports groups that advocate for government mandates designed to interfere with our freedom of choice. These editors hold the position that cars are bad, until they need to get to a bike show in ‘Vegas, or a weekend trip to the Oregon coast. Then cars are a useful tool. Apparently, if you are poor and want to use a car to ascend the economic ladder then you need regulated. But if you’d like to use your car purely for recreation, then you are a-okay.

    The entire country of Germany would likely fit within the borders of Oregon. An entire country. Tell me, is it way off-base then to presume Copenhagen may be fairly small? If so, doesn’t this also imply a dense traffic network? Well, isn’t a bicycle particularly suited to this? So, maybe the fact that bikes get used more in Germany has something to do with that, and not anything inherently good about choosing a bike to get around, or the quality of people we are when judged by our choices?

    “Why don’t you move there.”, used to be particularly ignorant, and specifically insulting. However, with today’s world an international move is hardly more of an ordeal than an interstate domestic move. Europe has had a bikey rep for awhile. They even have this big race over there every year through France, that some of you may have even heard of. So, chances are when you moved to Portland from Southern California, you did so knowing that biking was better in Germany.

    Now you folks are always going off about subsidizing others’ choices. What about this one? If you are going to move somewhere to bike, why not go to the place you know to be more bike-friendly, rather than moving somewhere and trying to make it that way?

    If biking in Copenhagen suits you, bye. I like things just the way they are here and I’ll fight you tooth-and nail. At least in Germany you would face less resistance, eh?

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    spare_wheel November 1, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I know its completely selfish but I kind of like it exactly the way it is *now*. If we had cycle tracks would I be able to scare the bejeesus out of drivers as I blow by them? Would I experience the rarer but even more poingnant joy of having drivers pull over when they spot my rapidly approaching blinking tri-newt? I’m willing to bet that CPH is safe enough that illumination at night is not even required. I also wonder whether it is illegal to take the lane in CPH when there is an adjacent cycle track? I suppose I would be OK with this if it came with a serious investment in infrastructure…but I would not like it.

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    Mary November 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    “I’m willing to bet that CPH is safe enough that illumination at night is not even required.”

    We just got back from biking in Copenhagen for a week, including going to an international bike event, and talking to a lot of people about cycling. Bike lights at night were not required until fairly recently, according to one source, but now it’s illegal to bike at night without front and back lights. There are cheap little blinkies for sale all over — grocery stores, bike shops, etc.

    “I also wonder whether it is illegal to take the lane in CPH when there is an adjacent cycle track?”

    I’m pretty sure it is, but the bike lanes were very nice, and I certainly didn’t feel any desire to get out in the car traffic.

    An earlier post mentioned the law-abiding nature of Danish cyclists. We were really impressed by it. I saw one guy run a red light in the 6 days that I was biking around the city. There’s a Danish left turn that requires going across the street, lining up with the bike lane, and waiting for the light to turn green for the crossing traffic. There was one busy street that had a special left turn lane crossing in front of the stopped cars, but otherwise everyone did the less-direct Danish left turn.

    We saw quite a lot of helmets, many of them the “Nutcase” brand that is also popular here in Minneapolis. I had been planning to buy a Danish Yakkay helmet with a cover that looks like an ordinary hat. When I tried them on, it looked like a small kid in an adult hat — kind of silly.

    We did run into one of the Danish bike video guys who posts on YouTube, and we talked with some other bike folks about the push to expand the bike path network. There has apparently been more backlash from drivers in Copenhagen than I would have guessed from what I had been reading. The really wonderful network of trails that has been proposed from the deep suburbs into the city center didn’t look like a sure thing. We rode the Vestvolden circle route that follows an old fortification line around the city. It was lovely and historic, but it included unpaved sections, poor signage for foreigners, tricky road crossings, and one bridge with a lot of steps. (Not that Minneapolis is free of those things.)

    Another thing we noticed (in contrast to the Netherlands, where we have done more riding) was that nobody was riding two on a bike. It seems that it’s illegal in Denmark, except with a proper child seat and with kids 7 and under. There were some Trail-a-bikes, some bike trailers, and a lot of Christiania, Nihola, and Winther bakfietsen. The Danes don’t like calling them bakfietsen, I guess, because they feel that they originated in Denmark, not the Netherlands, but I never did figure out what they DO call them. We even rented one (a Winther trike with a nice big compartment for carrying a folding bike, a wet spouse, or a picnic), and it was a lot of fun.

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    Michael M. November 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Actually, Jonathan (#43), I’m pretty sure Matt Davis did understand what you were talking about, though of course I can’t speak for him. I took his remark as a commentary on what “diversity” means to a cycling advocate, vs. what it means to the rest of the world.

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    Shoemaker November 1, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I have spent enough time running with the bulls. I don’t like having to run the risk of being gored by them just to go about my business in town.

    I spend as much time encouraging my friends to ride as I do worrying about subjecting them the the Festival of the Bulls once they’re off on their own.

    Check it out on wikipedia: “Unlike bullfights, which are performed by professionals, anyone may participate in an encierro.”

    Read the full definition and tell me that doesn’t sound like someone’s morning commute.

    I feel like I’m running with the bulls when taking the lane and riding on a lot of the shared infrastructure.

    I’m in favor of all improvements: cycle tracks, shared boulevards, trails, whatever. Can we give the city some more support on the bike master plan? I’ve heard they’re hearing some good support, let’s make sure that the message of overwhelming support for improvements is loud and clear!

    I am so thankful that we are not opting out of our terribly underfunded bike and ped infrastructure, but bringing in new ideas and making changes to policy and funding.

    I’m now hearing all the time about people visiting visible examples of proven success and also inviting people who worked to make those success stories possible here to brainstorm.

    It looks like people are choosing to stay and fight instead of taking flight. Hey, it’s the carbon sensitive thing to do, is it not?

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  • […] comes to States and BikePortland reports on their talk in Portland, […]

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    Mr DeJerk November 1, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Vance # 51:

    Not trying to speak for anybody else, but it seems to me that the anti-car sentiment is more anti-carcentric culture, rather than the car as a machine. There could be a place for cars in people’s lives, but many of us feel we gave away too much of our freedom, safety, etc to something that not always benefits us.

    Also, in terms of “freedom of choice” (which, per se, usually means “the only freedom we allow you to have”), isn’t exactly that free. I pay, against my will, so we can have all of this infrastructure for cars, so gas can be sold for prices much lower than they cost, etc. Also, the power of persuasion that the auto and oil industries have, with their huge investments in every aspect of our culture invalidate the idea of “freedom” when it comes to choice.

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    wsbob November 2, 2009 at 2:05 am

    Infrastructure for biking needs to be made safer for all the people that aren’t as experienced and tough at riding a bicycle in the existing traffic infrastructure nightmare, as a ‘lance longwell’ type person is.

    I’d venture to say that almost no street snarl is likely to keep someone like that from riding; someone that’s fit, assertive, experienced, and not put off by getting a little sweaty or dirty doesn’t need any cozy Copenhagen easy street bike infrastructure to induce them to leave the Civic at home and hop on the commuter bike for 5-7 block trip to the grocery store and back.

    What about all the other types of people? The people that would enjoy a little exercise to break up the day but whose duties don’t allow them to exert a lot of energy dodging cars and fending off some of the people driving that happen to be irritable and impatient?

    For those people, which may well represent a large, untapped ‘bikes as transportation’ part of the population, it’s worth it to invest in safer, inviting, less stressful bike infrastructure.

    It’s very unfortunate that so little of this type of bike infrastructure is developed into the design of relatively new suburban development. The numerous residential developments west of Portland, in and around Bethany, seem to me to be examples of this. Going back no more than about 10 years, developers and planners virtually started with a clean slate there; almost no existing buildings with the exception of a house and a barn here and there, widely spaced by acres and acres of fields occupying the majority of the remaining area. This land could have been surveyed and built up a variety of ways incorporating miles of wide bike-pedestrian routes not directly attached to motor vehicle roadways.

    After millions and millions of dollars, have been spent, the most this area can boast for bike infrastructure along key roads such as Saltzman, Kaiser, Bethany, are painted off bike lanes that are a little more generous in dimension (maybe 5-6 feet rather than 4)than the usual mandated bike lane additions to existing roadways. This is not the kind of bike infrastructure that will cause people to grab the bike and take to in droves.

    Especially with ‘clean slate’ developments, highly functional, safe and appealing bike-pedestrian routes could easily be central features linking residential areas, retail, school and church amenities of such developments.

    ‘Easy’ that is, except for the money…which I would imagine, given traditional ideas on investment speculation, developers and the loan institutions that provide them with the funds to proceed…are for the most part, highly reluctant to devote any more than the absolute minimum required square foot of land to safe, enjoyable bike-pedestrian infrastructure.

    This is kind of planning and urban design largely dooms many people residing in these areas to car dependency.

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    la otra November 2, 2009 at 8:20 am

    I just put some spiffy stickers on my vacuum cleaner!

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    Vance Longwell November 2, 2009 at 8:42 am

    wsbob – you’ve taken a similar position with me before, to no effect. I am 40 years old. I smoke at least a pack a day. I haven’t trained since before I started messengering, you know, in the late 80s. Add to that I’m on at least a 26lb tank most times, and a 28lb MTB (w/nobbs) all others. Add to that I subsist on about 500 calories, or less, a day.

    I am not a strong rider. I’m pretty slow too. And it’s not just that I feel I don’t need your silly bike-lanes (Metaphor for all infrastructure.), but I actually believe them to be excessive, “over-kill”, as a solution.

    I believe with all my heart that if you support specialized infrastructure for bicycles it is out of a desire to manifest some other agenda. Maybe you are reconciling a personal insecurity. Maybe you think the highly visible nature of the stuff somehow legitimizes your lifestyle choices. Maybe you are attempting to interfere with other users and their modes choices.

    Whatever it is, I know it’s not because you’re scared. Worse still, if you are that scared it’s totally an irrational fear and I’m never going to support legislating people’s irrational emotions. Would you like me to link to the pictures on this very website of school children doing what you say is so fear-inducing? Or can we drop the whole, “I’m so scawed!”, program now? School children man.

    You think it’s kool. Admit it. You don’t have any more rational arguments for it, than you do against it. It’s, ultimately, just something you desire and it bugs you to be told no. It’s not like you all are the first to enter into F.U.D. in order to bring about your wishes. You would be the first group as neato as bicyclists, though, to be so committed you can’t change course.

    Infrastructure under a friendly regime = meh, who-cares? Infrastructure under a hostile regime = you will be lucky to even ride your bike in public. Plan for the future, and at least avoid giving them the rope they’re going to hang us with.

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    Matt November 2, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Nice Article Jonathan. I wish I could have been there to here him in person.

    The main problem I have with this kind of conversation is that Colville-Andersen is basically presenting to, and talking with a bunch of folks who have already drunk the bike infrastructure kool-aid. It would be much more interesting if this kind of presentation could be given to planners and residents of surrounding communities that might not be drinking the kool-aid yet. One earlier commenter mentioned the lack of bike infrastructure east of I-205 (within Portland). I’d add to that tigard, tualatin, beaverton, anything S. of the springwater and so on….. you get the point.

    Portland can always keep improving it’s bike infrastructure and make it better (which is great), but until connections and infrastructure are improved in the areas surrounding Portland’s core, Portland will be in a kind of masturbatory bike bubble.

    Just my 2 cents.

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    Brad November 2, 2009 at 11:17 am


    Developers are in it to make money. They will only follow whatever mandates are imposed on them by the local government at the time. In other words, they are not interested in building little Amsterdam because a handful of Portland area bike wonks want them to. By the way, Bethany is a very easy and nice area to ride compared with most of Portland. Fewer cars, better sight lines, few stop signs, two shopping areas, good connections to mass transit – you can get around by bike quite safely and efficiently.

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    Kt November 2, 2009 at 11:54 am

    This quote really struck home with me:

    “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.”

    That’s one of the things that really hit home with me while working on the Tigard Bike Map– how efficient are these routes at getting people to actual destinations, not just getting people off busy roads??

    I seem to look at the project as a facet of my commute– if it’s more efficient for me to take a certain road, then I’ll take it.

    Infrastructure is great– but not if it’s in an out-of-the-way pocket, or takes me away from my destination rather than toward it, etc. There are a lot of great lower-traffic, slower-speed side streets out here in Tigard, but I don’t use them because they aren’t efficient and aren’t convenient, and have difficult connections at either end, don’t go the way I’m going, etc etc etc.

    Safer, inviting, less stressful bike infrastructure, sure, that’s great. But don’t stick it out of sight, out of mind.

    Now, for the helmet issue: I don’t care what you wear on your head, just like I don’t care what you wear on your body or what kind of bike you ride. Just, please, ride WITH traffic, not against it. That’s all I ask.

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    Sixty November 2, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    We attended the event the other night and rode in despite the rain… I came from Canada where most cyclist have retired their bikes for the season due the cold.

    It was a light hearted discussion but really did point out that we, as North Americans have not yet reached a point where cycling is considered to be a perfectly normal activity for sane adults.

    Getting the details down and plans worked out to improve and change existing infrastructure is gritty work and not very nice fare for a social evening.

    The A to B’ing here has been very enjoyable and interesting… I’ll be coming back.

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  • Can we share the road in London? November 2, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    […] cities such as Copenhagen where cycling is seen as the norm there is no “us” and “them” everyone just cycles but […]

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    wsbob November 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    “…By the way, Bethany is a very easy and nice area to ride compared with most of Portland. …” Brad #62

    Brad, the question your statement raises in my mind is ‘easy and nice area to ride…for who?’ For someone like yourself? That’s fine. What about all those other people that might ride, but are not prepared to deal with cars whizzing by right next to them at 25-35 mph? Or having to wait several minutes, multiple times, for lights to change at major motor vehicle roadway intersections while hundreds of polluting vehicles pass by?

    The entire area incorporating the relatively new suburban development of Bethany could have been designed with bike-pedestrian infrastructure far better than what was produced, that would likely have presented to many people, a way of traveling to do their shopping, pick up the kids, get their hair done, go to church, that they otherwise never consider.

    My own needs and abilities are such that I really don’t need particularly well designed bike infrastructure. It’s not for someone like myself that safe, well designed bike infrastructure is really needed. I don’t represent the vast segment of society that might be mobilized to do some short, day to day travel chores, if routes existed for them that were safe and pleasant to ride. It’s for them that this better stuff is needed.

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  • […] titula “Want to be like Copenhagen? Think about vacuum cleaners and raging bulls” (Quieres ser como Copenhagen? Piensa en aspiradoras y […]

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    Brad November 2, 2009 at 2:28 pm


    Life is a risk. We simply cannot design our thouroughfares to accommodate EVERY possible individual that MIGHT use them. Many elderly people and new drivers are uncomfortable driving amongst higher speed traffic. Should be build additional “senior lanes” so they feel safer?

    I’ll admit that the so-called solutions offered by our various road building agencies are far from ideal. But how much longer should we deliberate the perfect model that fits all riders? If people are too afraid to ride because some faster cars share the same street, then they will likely also cite rain, cold, wind, fog, dark, no showers at work, fitness, safety from assault, street gangs, and possible alien abduction as reasons why they don’t ride bikes more often. Their loss! But we shouldn’t build lots of expensive separate bike infrastructure, especially in the suburbs, to encourage these people to start pedaling. Where is the guarantee they will use it? No one has ever quantified how many of the “interested but concerned” would actually become committed year round bike users if we spent tens of millions to build a bunch of Eurotracks. (Which will probably also get used by power walkers, runners, moms with strollers, dog walkers, and all manner of other nervousness inducing elements.)

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    Andrew November 2, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    “…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…” kdt #38

    Apparently Østerbro is a lawless melee compared to Norrebro as people are constantly blowing traffic control here. However, there wouldn’t be enough room for all the cyclists at peak hour, so I’m glad they do.

    Another contributor to Copenhagen’s success in increasing bike usage: ~180% tax on cars. Ouch.

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    El Biciclero November 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Disallow or charge permit fees for residential on-street parking.

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    peejay November 2, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    El Biciclero:

    I agree, even if it means I might have to pay for my seldom-used car to sit out in the street, while my bikes stay comfy in the garage.

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    wsbob November 2, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Brad, I think it’s our loss…a loss to all of us if more people do not make a transition to other than motor vehicles for every chore of the day away from home. ‘Perfect’ is not the objective for new infrastructure that’s on the table. Infrastructure that’s safer, more inviting and comfortable to use, sounds like what is on the table.

    Life is a risk…there is no guarantee that if something is built, people will use it. I would tend to think though, that especially when planning a new development, incorporating safe and good bike infrastructure into the design is likely to be less expensive and better than retrofitting already built communities. And if it really turns out, as it very well could be…to be easier, safer, and less stressful…even possibly more enjoyable than jumping in and out of the car for numerous short trips, people are likely to go for it.

    Retrofitting is where the money, when it’s available…is going now. Some of the problems with creating effective bike-pedestrian through that process become clear as this effort goes on.

    I know what happens to some seniors that are afraid to drive…or can no longer maintain the abilities and skills necessary to travel today’s congested streets and roads; they stay home, or rely on someone else to drive them around. Good, non-motor vehicle dependent infrastructure would help some of them stay active longer. Then of course, there’s seniors that fail to recognize their inability to drive any longer; the availability of better bike-pedestrian infrastructure might induce them to take that route rather than try drive.

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    kenny November 2, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Perhaps simply putting dedicated bike lanes with a small wall or buffer on every major street (Powell, Division, Hawthorne, MLK, etc) would be familiar to folks and attract a more everyday biking community. We do concentrate on trying to shove people out of the most familiar and direct routes instead of creating a safe lane next to the major streets. Combined with the calmer bike boulevards and lesser traffic based roads I can see Portland meeting these goals.
    I can see myself biking down 52nd from Harold in a buffered lane to Powell, making a left onto a dedicated lane. This seems mainstream, and also a great way to connect to future street cars.

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  • […] (From BikePortland.  Thanks to Ron Richings.) […]

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    spiderleggreen November 5, 2009 at 9:58 am

    I love how Mikael Colville-Andersen gets everybody fired up. If he was just saying something we all take as a given, we’d just jawn and move on. Instead he provokes, which causes an uproar. Wonderful!

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  • […] stuff. But having a finger on the pulse, I’m willing to give it a shot. Not least because I was just in the States on a lecture tour and ‘over there’ everyone is keen to make political endorsements, so here […]

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  • […] Just recently he was in Portland, arguably the United States’ most bike-friendly city, and if Portland can still learn from Mikael’s lecture, then certainly so can we in […]

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