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Designing urban spaces for cycling

Q and A with Mikael Colville-Andersen an urban designer and mobility expert

by Marie-Josée Kelly

 Photo: Thomas Rabsch
Photo: Thomas Rabsch

Mikael Colville-Andersen is an urban mobility expert and the president of Copenhagenize Design Co., a world-renowned urban cycling consulting firm that advocates for more bicycle friendly cities by way of safe and reliable infrastructure.

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He has been keeping busy in Montreal this past week, working on his upcoming TV series “Life-Sized City”, presenting his famous keynote “Urbanism by Design” at Concordia University and speaking at the fifth annual Winter Cycling Congress.

Can you start by telling us about Copenhagenize Design Co.?

What we do is advise cities and governments all around the world on how to become more bicycle friendly through coaching, planning, communications — everything we do revolves around the bicycle. It all started when I began to notice that my street photography blog at the time, copenhagencyclechic.com was getting all this attention. Elegantly dressed Copenhageners on bikes just hit the internet running. I came up with the word Copenhagenize and started to explore why people thought this was interesting.

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This morphed into work with the City of Copenhagen and then I realized that in a short time, cities around the world are going to want to know how to use this. We started working with different cities in 2010. Everything you measure regarding the bike as transport in cities comes out as a massive win and that’s why Copenhagen continues to invest. As human beings, all we want is to get from A to B the fastest way possible; if the infrastructure is there, people will use it.

What cities are Copenhagenize Design Co. working with right now?

We’re working with Paris, Strasbourg, Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Detroit, Long Beach, just to name a few. We’re starting to see politicians emerge that just get it and they’re the first movers. I’d like our work to go faster, but it is accelerating. Now America is jumping on, the momentum is there, it’s not going to go away.

Besides the political drive, are there other obstacles to making cities more bicycle friendly?

The biggest hurdle for me is traffic engineering culture. Traffic engineers are still learning what they did in the 50s and 1960s, nothing has changed. Many of them are coming to me and saying: “no one’s ever asked me to solve a different problem, we’ve just been given the same problems we’ve been given for the last 70 years, you give me a new problem to solve, I am your man.”

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We have to change the question from “how many cars can we fit down that street?” to “how many people can we get down that street using all of the things we’ve invented, using public transport, bikes, and cars?” There are other ways of doing things now, we’re modernizing, traffic engineers are slow to modernize but as soon as they get on board, they’re going to help us.