March 06, 2017

Copenhagen Does Toronto

Seeing a world-renowned planner like Copenhagenize's Mikael Colville-Andersen speak at last month’s Winter Cycling Congress is one thing. But twice in one month? That happened when he spoke in Toronto on February 27, 2017 during the Ontario Good Roads Association summit. Following Colville-Andersen’s “Getting Cycling Right” keynote was a panel he participated with Straphanger and Sacré Blues author Taras Grescoe and Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. After Albert Koehl and Bart Hawkins Kreps wrote their takes, here’s mine covering some points that may have been missed.
Panel discussion with Colville-Andersen, Keesmaat & Grescoe
Burlington MPP and Share The Road Co-Founder Eleanor McMahon kicked off the keynote. She recalled Share The Road’s beginnings from a tragedy when her husband OPP sergeant Greg Stobbart was killed while riding his bike. Some of her work included lobbying for the 2009 Greg’s Law on driver suspensions and repeat offenders, organizing the first Ontario Bike Summit, establising an all-party cycling caucus, and developing #CycleON. McMahon reminded participants they need to change the conversation before putting in one line of infrastructure. She was followed by Cycle Toronto executive director Jared Kolb, who talked about his trip to Copenhagen in October – which he recommended sending all councillors there to some laughter – and how too many plans get ignored in Toronto.

Instead of focusing on one city such as Almetyevsk, Russia, the keynote covered basic design principles. He started by claiming he was just an ordinary guy who likes to ride a bike and how that evening felt like an echo chamber. Until cars arrived in the 20th century, streets were considered the most democratic space in human history. The auto lobby used public relations to decry jaywalking; leading to crosswalks and playgrounds. Considered as the biggest paradigm shift ever, it is gradually being reversed with a former Paris mayor saying cars no longer have a place in large cities.
Colville-Andersen consistently emphasized the need to change the conversation to moving people (and logistics), in which bike campaigns are a waste of time until you make biking (and walking) trips direct and driving more difficult. (see above graphic) Since 51% of goods can be transported by cargo bike, this could be facilitated by building depots outside of city centres – ideally at ports – so cargo bikes can do deliveries around town. The need to move people exposed the space wasted by automobile oriented infrastructure; especially a slide on sneckdowns which Colville-Anderson called the Edward Snowden of urbanism! Another example of arrogance of space involved wide traffic lanes, which Calgary and other cities narrowed to accommodate cyclists.
Sneckdowns - the Edward Snowden of urbanism!
Colville-Andersen recalled the broken chair analogy when discussing design, given many urban cycling networks – including Toronto’s – are disconnected. He ridiculed the placement of bike lanes in the door zone and steered clear from sharrows. Regarding bi-directional bike lanes – a Montréal staple – he believed they are only acceptable on motorways with 70 km/h or higher speeds and are fully separate. (see below) He emphasized the need to ensure proper care and reliability of beautifully designed things such as cycling infrastructure, and that it already existed as far back as 1915. Finally, a 2.3-metre wide cycle track can move four times as many bikes (5900/hour) as cars (1300/hour).
Simple bicycle planning from Copenhagenize
Colville-Andersen refuted the political arguments against cycling given even Copenhagen’s right understand thanks to data. He encouraged participants to listen to kids with his own once asking “when will the city fit me?” He recalled a kids’ urban workshop where they suggested making cars ugly, limiting cars to 15 km/h, and glass roofs to keep everyone dry. While glass roofs may be unrealistic, Copenhagen adjusts signal timings in inclement weather to help cyclists get home faster, as well as implement a green wave so cyclists never hit a red light. While many cities insist on statues, the keynote concluded with him saying bicycle infrastructure is the best monument.

During the panel discussion, Jennifer Keesmaat cited finding the money is the easy part (e.g. over $1 billion to rebuild Gardiner East), but the hard part is identifying what we believe in. Taras Grescoe, who wondered how Canada could adapt from Copenhagen, pulled no punches by saying there is no need to study bike lanes. Grescoe called out Toronto for being too timid even before Rob Ford – a unique to Toronto hesitation (?) – and cited Montréal’s culture changing BIXI launch of over 5000 bikes in 2009 across that city, compared to Toronto’s 2000 bikes which are limited to downtown and subway lines. Despite Grescoe’s calls to be bold, Keesmaat believes Toronto needs to build constituencies and they haven’t reached the tipping point yet, while calling out Montréal’s over-built infrastructure.
Toronto's cycling network can resemble this broken chair
Having biked in Amsterdam and other European cities, I was curious to find out the difference between Dutch and Danish infrastructure from the Danish perspective. Per Colville-Andersen, both countries have similar best practices, but many Dutch cities have become “lazy”. While the Dutch have good examples including bike parking, Copenhagen is easier to copy and paste elsewhere.

In September, Colville-Andersen’s “The Life Sized City” will premiere on TVO. Until then, here’s his final quote which hit home. Getting from zero to five percent mode share is really hard. Getting from five to fifteen percent is a piece of cake.

The Life Sized City - Promotional Trailer from Copenhagenize on Vimeo.

Let’s talk!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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