Saturday, 11 August 2012
So, we've made it to Copenhagen! In some ways it's an advantage that we're staying out of town (in Gentofte). The suburbs are quite different from the city, where metropolitan rushing seems to be the order of the day. In fact mobility in Copenhagen altogether seems more frantic than the likes of Bremen. The wide cycle paths don't simply cater for large numbers. They cater for different styles - and speeds - of cycling.
Don't be fooled by the excellent Cycle Chic movement. Large numbers of Copenhagen's cyclists, chic or otherwise, seem to be in a mighty hurry to get to wherever they are going. Maybe they have taken the point that cycling is quicker than driving in a city to heart, and are desperate to prove it with every last heave of the pedal. The funny thing is, this speed cycling is not restricted to the helmet and lycra brigade. Today, for example, we were doing our usual 15 kilometres per hour pootle along the coast, on a lovely sunny day (it's my birthday, all the more reason to pootle), when we were overtaken by a frantic, bell ringing lass in her 30's, sitting more or less horizontal with head right down between her handlebars. Only they were dutch style handlebars, the grips a good foot back from her nose.
Could this strange (in our eyes) cultural phenomenon be simply a result of our having spent too many years in small, provincial Darlington, the "quiet town" of 1970s fame? Or is said birthday (shit, 59!!!!!) a watershed in the ageing process, when suddenly everything and everyone around you seems so young, fit and fast (ok, drop that last remark when applied to the young of Darlo)?
Maybe the Copenhagen Cycle Quick movement is related to the thousands of joggers we've also spotted around the city. There seems to be a positive plague of jogging going on here, and not just in the obvious places like parks and waterfronts. We sat outside our hotel last night here in quiet suburban Gentofte until just before midnight, and the two wildly exciting events were either a bus passing or a jogger jogging on the main street. But then I suppose hectic metropolitan life doesn't stop for silly things like sleep, so maybe we should expect such sights, even in Gentofte at midnight.
As for the serious stuff, cycling infrastructure, well we've done the videos, both in the city and out here in the suburbs, and we'll be editing them together over the next few weeks. Having cycled in to Copenhagen from the countryside, and before that from Germany, there are interesting comparisons to be made between the German rural/urban and Danish rural/urban approaches, and we'll be aiming to do that with the video material. Suffice to say right now, Copenhagen still has its car-centric legacy (motorways going right into the city, traffic jams, appalling noise) in many areas. But this simply illustrates the historical urgency of the pro-cycling policy. Much had to be done, much has been done, and much more is and will be done. And at its core, this involves taking space from motorised transport and using this to create substantial cycling infrastructure to a high standard. A standard, in fact, that needs to accomodate we pootlers, the cycle chic of the city, and the permanent rush-hourers.
Video report to come!
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Sunday, 5 August 2012
Today started wet, developed into cloudy, ended sunny. More solid cycle paths along country roads, with variable provision in the villages.
After 3 days of such wide open spaces, it then came as a bit of a shock to arrive in Kühlungsborn.
Ah well. It got us out of the hotel and away from this iPad!
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As I blogged yesterday, the cycle infrastructure development strategy relies heavily on the concept of sharing with pedestrians in villages. Our first stretch along the lake took us along a separated cycle path like this one between each village. As we approached a village, in this case Wickendorf, the path merged into a shared pedestrian/cycle path. As we left the village, the cycle path began again. There were odd pedestrians using the cycle path between villages, but this was expected and didn't cause either party any problems.
There were odd exceptions. The village of Dorf Mecklenburg had no pavement to share at the edge of the village, so both pedestrians and cyclists were on the road until the village centre, at which point it was assumed that cyclists used the road. This also happened to be the one stretch where were overtaken by two speeding cars, complete with loud disco glop blaring out the windows.
The stretch before and after said village was glorious. A long cycling-only country lane took us through wooded stretches and open fields, as we descended gently towards the sea. Then we caught our first glimpse of Wismar's shipyards in the distance.
The sun was out for much of the day, but as with most of this summer in Germany, it was interrupted twice by thunderstorms, once in the early afternoon, so a perfect time for a lunch stop..
..and later again after we had arrived at our hotel, and were parking our bicycles in the hotel garage.
All in all, a wonderful easy day of cycling. Today we'll be pootling along the coast to Kühlungsborn, an old seaside resort, on the Baltic Sea route.
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Friday, 3 August 2012
So as planned we take the train to Schwerin, along with 14 other bicycles. Here we are in the cycle wagon, somewhat full and, contrary to German stereotypes, most bikes have been placed in the wrong space. You book a space for your bike on inter-city trains in Germany, but we found ours were already occupied when we got on the train, so had to take someone else's.
Once in Schwerin we decided on an afternoon ride around the large lake; very pretty, and a rather famous grand castle at the start. After 30 kms the rain closed in, so we had a fast peddle back to the hotel.
As for cycling infrastructure, cyclists are fairly well catered for on the tourist circuit. Once in Schwerin, things are a bit less so. But in both cases an obvious strategy has been developed. Bearing in mind that the town was until 25 years ago part of the GDR, in that short time a fair amount has been done for cyclists, but based on this expedient of simply converting pavements to shared use cycle/pedestrian routes. The main road into Schwerin has this all the way down into town. As does much of the lake circuit, for example when passing through villages.
But the expedient works for two reasons. First, pedestrians expect cyclists. And second, motorists are trained to give way to both pedestrians and cyclists at junctions. It's not perfect. There was a strategy in place for developing cycling in Schwerin, but it seems the town council have ditched it in May. The German link suggests a familiar experience - politicians apparently listening to local cycling representatives, then suddenly ditching the whole discussion.
Be that as it may, Schwerin has its positive points. There is certainly a strong cycling culture here, there are still trams running as I write this after midnight, and the town centre's pedestrian heart is more fully pedestrian than Darlington. Yes, there are cyclists (though not during peak hours, sadly), but perhaps more interesting is the way in which buses travel through the pedestrian area.
These phenomena - motorists giving way and slow buses- are no god-given behaviours. They are deliberately fostered by political will. The other side of the coin? I leave that to you, the reader, to describe.
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Thursday, 2 August 2012
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Well, after all the travelling around Europe with our film, it's time to have a proper cycling holiday. And what better way to spend a week than cycling through northern Germany and Denmark to Copenhagen.
We're travelling with two good friends who live in nearby Lillienthal, and will be deliberately restrained about the distances we cover on the bikes. Lazy sods that we are, we'll happily take a train when time is tight or weather is crap. In fact we decided to get a head start and take a slight detour by train to Schwerin (B) tomorrow, thanks to the cheap tickets available here, and the easy booking of bicycles. Schwerin is the same size as Darlington, so it will be intriguing to compare traffic and cycling provision.
Then to Wismar, (C) and a few days on the Baltic Sea to Rostock (F). A couple of days will be spent as I try to reconnect with some people from the Amber Film I helped make there 25 years ago. Then a ferry to Gedser (G), a bit of pedalling north, and at some point in the same day a train up to Roskilde (I). Between there and Copenhagen we might just do a bit exploring around the north coast. Then it's back to Bremen on a train (yep, cheap tickets again). So this will be no great feat of sporting achievement a la Olympics, but rather a gentle pootle along proper cycle paths.
We'll be recording the trip, of course, but what we'll be interested in is the standard of signposted infrastructure in Germany and Denmark. There's an ongoing programme of long-distance cycle route building going on here, and standards are generally very good. Even so, there have been cuts in the budget, from 94 million euros in 2010 to 60 million euros this year. Denmark, on the other hand is, outside the well-documented story of Copenhagen, an unknown to us. Some of the official cycle routes we explored on google street view looked distinctly British in nature, ie no cycle path on a busy road. The picture here, for example, is on one such official route, between Praesto and Faxe.
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But there's nothing like seeing the real thing for yourself, so with iPad in Ortlieb bag we're off tomorrow!
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Beauty and the Bike's screening in Prague in 2011 coincided with a critical mass ride organised by local NGO Auto*Mat. Here we celebrate the great work of that organisation, and meet some of their enthusiastic young members.
Prague is one of the most car-oriented cities we visited on our tour of the continent, in many ways even more of a nightmare than the UK. Auto*Mat combine engagement with local authorities through the production of cycling-friendly urban development proposals for the municipality, with direct action and participatory events like these monthly critical mass rides. Thousands regularly attend, making them an incredible celebration of a few hours of cycling/skateboarding/scootering on car-free streets. Amazingly, the majority of those take part will bring their bikes in a car or by public transport, rather than risk cycling in ones or twos. It's that dangerous.
One feature of the Critical Mass Ride that really caught our eye was the presence of a number of young people from Danish Embassy. Unlike officialdom and their many hangers-on in the UK, who look down on such street actions as an obstruction to traffic and generally the preserve of the unwashed hooligan, the Danes celebrated the bicycle alongside their Auto*Mat friends by joining in with an official presence, both on the ride and later by joining in the speeches at the ride's destination venue.
Visit Auto*Mat's English-language web presence, at http://www.livable-cities.org/en/prague/prague-about-us/ to get an idea of their work. Or if your Czech is up to it, try http://www.auto-mat.cz/ for the latest news from Prague. Auto*Mat are part of a thriving movement for change in Prague. If you ever visit the city, try ditching the usual tourist crap and instead explore some of the great local projects in and around the lesser-known urban areas. For a useful overview of such initiatives, check out the Urban Garden website.
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
At last, our next production is off the ground! After two years of touring with our film, we are back in Darlington to start the pre-production phase of the official follow-up to Beauty and the Bike. We start with a casting session for our short drama on Saturday 14th February. Here is our press release:
Local film production cooperative Darlington Media Group are seeking local acting talent to star in the follow-up production to their widely-acclaimed documentary Beauty and the Bike. The production team will be filming a short drama for the big-screen later this year, but are now seeking out 3 local women and one local man for the lead roles with a casting session on Saturday 14th April, starting at 2pm, at their media workshop base at Darlington Arts Centre.
Beauty and the Bike, filmed largely in Darlington in 2009, has been screened in towns and cities across the world, from Vancouver to Prague to Melbourne, as well as extensively throughout the UK. It won the public prize for best film at last year’s Bicycle Film Festival in Germany, and is still getting tens of thousands of hits on YouTube. Darlington Media Group’s new film will dramatize some of the many stories to emerge from the experience of women trying out cycling in their everyday lives. Producer Beatrix Wupperman explained:
“We need to cast for the film now, as we want to have 4 confident cyclists by the time we start production. Some of the scenes will involve dialogue whilst riding a bicycle, and they will need to have plenty of time to practice. With this in mind, we are going to give the 4 actors a dutch bike each to use regularly between now and our shoot”.
The storyline for the new film is still under wraps, but will involve a lead role based on the dual personalities of a famous cycling twitterer from the town.
Anyone between 24 and 40 years old interested in taking part in the casting should contact the producers by email, at email@example.com, or by telephone on 07967 972092.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
|The meeting of local residents last night on Humboldtstraße|
Last night saw what for me was a remarkable sight - a local authority anticipating the digging up of a road by one of the utilities (in this case water to renew a main sewer), and actually planning to take advantage by developing plans for infrastructure improvements when the work is finished and the road needs relaid. What's more this is the Viertel in Bremen, an area of the city with higher than normal cycling rates in a city that averages 25%. Our local mayor Robert Bücking, who chaired the event, represents the Green Party that recently won 45% of the vote in our district at last year's election. Both local government policy and popular will were heavily weighted towards cycling-friendly improvements.
Local utility company HanseWasser will begin work on renewing the main sewer that runs beneath Humboldtstraße in April, and last night's meeting was called to discuss local authority proposals to convert the street into a Cycle Street following completion of the works. Humboldtstraße has a problem that is increasing in Bremen - cycle paths built in the 1980s that are deteriorating, whilst the numbers of cyclists using them continues to increase. Figures released at the meeting last night show that somewhere around 4,000 cyclists use the street daily, a number that is equal to the number of motor vehicles. Humboldtstraße is a residential street, with a series of small local shops dotted along the its 800 metre length. Though no arterial road, it is often used as a handy alternative link between the main city hospital and the city centre.
One principle argument for Fahrradstraße is objective safety. Especially at junctions, cyclists are more visible on the main road when compared with the cycle path. In Germany, cycle paths and pedestrians have priority at side junctions, so any accidents involving a cyclist/motor vehicle collision will almost inevitably be due to the driver failing to see the cyclist. Such collisions are less likely to occur if the cyclist is out on the road. Of course this argument is used regularly by vehicular cyclists in the UK and USA, who have amassed considerable evidence to argue their case. But unlike these studies, the Fahrradstraße discussion last night was primarily concerned with quality issues. How would cyclist priority on the street work in practice? Is the 30kph speed limit respected by all users? What happens at night when there are few cyclists? Clearly on-road cycling here will be quite different to the average UK or USA road.
But most interesting of all, concerns from the audience, and women in particular, revolved around subjective safety. Many said they feared any kind of mixing with motorised traffic, and predicted they would instead cycle on the widened pavements promised in the plan. Others questioned whether the role given to cyclists - to calm motorised traffic - was fair on small children or the elderly. Here, the "experts" from the local authority, the ADFC (German Cyclists Federation), and even one local politician who explained her surprise when she was shown the statistics about Fahrradstraße safety, were unable to reconcile their objective statistics about safety with the subjective feelings expressed by members of the audience.
Yet subjective safety is a widely recognised and important concept. In this case, it raises the question about the "feel" of the street for users, and to what extent it is more of a space for slow moving traffic - pedestrians and cyclists - than for fast, or potentially fast-moving motorised vehicles. Many in the audience felt that giving Humboldtstraße continuous priority over all side streets will only encourage reckless driving, despite the speed limit. Humboldtstraße runs in a straight line from one end to the other. These criticisms seemed to suggest a wish for a street design that better stated the intentions of the planners to "tame the motor vehicle". One woman suggested taking motorised traffic out of the street altogether. Perhaps here there are even some lessons for Bremen from the UK after all.
It is gratifying that the public debate last night hardly touched on issues of convenience for motorised traffic. Pretty well all who attended agreed on the aim of making Humboldtstraße a better living street by reducing the dominance of the car (although that pesky issue of parking space remains a popular demand). But if our local authority is to properly address residents' concerns, a range of options from Fahrradstraße to Fussgängerzone (Pedestrian Zone) should now be explored. As one attendee said last night, Bremen is going through a deep cultural change, from car-centricity to liveable streets. But the journey from one to the other is not a simple one, and mistakes could be made on the way.
In a deeply democratic country like Germany, this debate will continue for some time to come here in the Viertel. We'll let you know how the proposals develop.
Friday, 27 January 2012
Cycling Embassy of Britain is asking cycling policy activists to contribute to their debate about infrastructure this weekend, and we are happy to help as much as we can.
There is a very interesting and successful example in Britain, in the city of Hull: Here they dared to take considerable space away from cars by re-organising dual carriage ways: “The project involved reallocating road space on seven busy roads within the city through the introduction of cycle lanes. This was achieved by removing one lane of traffic in each direction which was then replaced by a cycle lane and parking bays.” They also allowed cyclists clear priority at junctions. That was not expensive but they were able to raise the number of cyclists considerably by 100 % in the same year as its installation and to reduce accidents by 55%.
The quality of these cycle lanes is not necessarily the best. But the point of this example is the amount of road space that has been taken from motorised traffic and reallocated to cycling. The allocation of road space is a key factor in any infrastructure development, and as cycling advocates are well aware, the UK’s track record on this is pretty poor. Here in Hull we have an example that shows that even in the UK reallocation of space is possible.
If you want to read more and see pictures, look at this short paper by Hull City Council and Cycling England about one of the roads:
There is also a report by SQW Consulting to Cycling England from December 2008, where they compare five different projects in England but Hull gets the best results:
The Hull project is described on pages 30 and 48 to 50, and for a better assessment of the results see page 39.