HOW CYCLING CAN SAVE THE WORLD

IT’S THE BOOK CHRIS BOARDMAN PRO­CLAIMED HE’D LIKE TO HAVE WRIT­TEN. AND PETER WALKER’S ANAL­Y­SIS OF THE STATE OF CITY CYCLING IS BROUGHT TO UR­BAN READ­ERS WITH OUR EX­CLU­SIVE EX­TRACT...

Urban Cyclist - - Contents - © Copy­right Peter Walker 2017. Ex­tracted from Bike Na­tion: How Cycling Can Save The World by Peter Walker, pub­lished by Yel­low Jersey Press at £ 12.99.

An ex­clu­sive ex­tract of Peter Walker’s new book, Bike Na­tion, ex­am­ines why big busi­ness is em­brac­ing the bike

Peter Walker’s new book Bike Na­tion takes read­ers on a jour­ney around the world, ex­plor­ing the var­i­ous is­sues and at­ti­tudes to cycling on the UK’s and in­ter­na­tional roads. Guardian news cor­re­spon­dent re­veals the statis­tics that show cycling ex­tends your life; why cy­clists are treated as an ‘out­group’; and why the hel­met de­bate is the wrong de­bate. Walker also fo­cuses his in­ves­tiga­tive lens on big busi­ness and dis­cov­ers why cycling rather than driv­ing can make a city more eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive. Not con­vinced? Over to Walker and the Danes…

Odense leads the way

Di­rectly op­po­site Odense’s Ital­ianate nine­teen­th­cen­tury city hall sits a squat and con­sid­er­ably less el­e­gant box-like struc­ture, nes­tled amid a mass of on­go­ing con­struc­tion work. This is a tem­po­rary in­for­ma­tion bu­reau for peo­ple to learn more about the huge re­con­struc­tion project trans­form­ing Den­mark’s third big­gest city. In­side, the cen­ter­piece is an enor­mous, carved-wood scale model of the city cen­tre, fea­tur­ing ev­ery street and build­ing. But show this to an ob­ser­vant lo­cal and they might soon spot a few dif­fer­ences.

In the world out­side, just north of here, runs Thomas B Thrige Street, named af­ter a busi­ness­man who in the 1890s founded a firm mak­ing elec­tric mo­tors, part of an in­dus­trial boom that trans­formed Odense into the man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre of Den­mark. The street car­ry­ing his name was built in the early 1960s and is typ­i­cal of the ur­ban mo­tor­ways of that era – a rapid, four-lane route built over part of the old city. But on the wooden model, Thomas B. Thrige Street looks very dif­fer­ent. The cars are gone. It is now a tree-filled boulevard for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists, lined with cafés, shops and apart­ments. This is part of a rad­i­cal and lo­cally con­tro­ver­sial plan to more or less ban­ish cars from the city cen­tre. Anker Boye, Odense’s vet­eran cen­tre-right mayor, a some­what unconventional politi­cian who be­gan his work­ing life as a house painter, de­scribes the ra­tio­nale be­hind the five-year, £2.5-bil­lion plan. Yes, he says, en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to cy­cle and walk will bring the usual im­prove­ments to pub­lic health, pol­lu­tion and the like. But the pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion is some­thing less im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous: find­ing ways to keep Odense, a small and rel­a­tively ob­scure city in global terms, eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive. “In this lit­tle coun­try we are one of the big cities, and for gen­er­a­tions we were the in­dus­trial cen­tre,” Boye says. “But that has all changed. In the global mar­ket we’re small. So we’re con­cen­trat­ing on the clever parts of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, like tech­nol­ogy.” Th­ese new in­dus­tries in­clude a Euro­pean cen­tre for test­ing drones and med­i­cal re­search con­nected to the city’s univer­sity. The mayor’s bet for the fu­ture is that with heavy in­dus­try now more or less gone – Odense’s ship­yard build­ing huge con­tainer ves­sels fi­nally closed in 2012 – there is no longer an eco­nomic need for mass road ca­pac­ity to carry trucks and cars. The newer, high-tech firms, he hopes, will be drawn to the city more for its qual­ity of life, par­tic­u­larly lots of green spa­ces and safe cycling. “We no longer need all the cars in the city cen­tre,” Boye says. “More and more in­vestors are com­ing here be­cause they be­lieve in the way we’ve trans­formed this old, in­dus­trial city into a new city. We try to think about peo­ple liv­ing here all their life, and hav­ing a good life here.” A healthy work­force By the stan­dards of most places, Odense is al­ready very wel­com­ing to bikes. With just un­der 200,000 peo­ple, it has al­most 350 miles of bike laneshis col­league­sand 123 cy­clist-onlysay they need bridges.to ex­ploit But this Boye and ad­van­tage to the full. The re­built city cen­tre will see driv­ers obliged to head to ei­ther un­der­ground park­ing garages or park-and-ride sys­tems. A lot of peo­ple, the de­sign­ers hope, will choose in­stead to cy­cle or use a new tram­line. Boye says the fo­cus is also on adding cul­tural cen­tres and cafés, and en­sur­ing enough of the new housing is af­ford­able for peo­ple on lower in­comes. “We know we need to live from pri­vate busi­nesses, so we need to have good con­di­tions for that,” he says. “But we care about the whole life of peo­ple, too.” Odense epit­o­mises a rel­a­tively re­cent shift in the way peo­ple think about ur­ban cycling. For a long time, bike ad­vo­cates tended to be from the po­lit­i­cal left, from green movements, or both. But in the last decade a new set of ar­gu­ments has emerged that con­tend that build­ing bet­ter bike in­fra­struc­ture is as much about boost­ing the lo­cal econ­omy. This is billed as a new model for com­pet­i­tive cities – that they are th­ese days judged less on busy roads than on peo­ple-friendly streets lined with pave­ment cafés. It is, how­ever, about more than just ever-ris­ing GDP fig­ures. As with Odense, this phi­los­o­phy aims to bring about a hap­pier, health­ier, more hu­man-scale city. And at the heart of th­ese changes is cycling. The high pri­est of this doc­trine, you won’t be too sur­prised to know, is another Dane. Jan Gehl,

now in his eight­ies, is an ar­chi­tect and ur­ban plan­ner who is best known for his ideas about live­able cities. Gehl ar­gues that peo­ple are hap­pi­est when they are able to en­gage with their sur­round­ings on a hu­man level. City dwellers, Gehl ar­gues, should feel “they are in­vited to walk as much as pos­si­ble and to bi­cy­cle as much as pos­si­ble”. I met Gehl when he was on a visit to Lon­don in 2013. At the time, the city had yet to build much in the way of safe cycling in­fra­struc­ture, and Gehl was vis­i­bly less than im­pressed by a lo­cal bike cul­ture he de­scribed as ‘for the ex­treme sport en­thu­si­asts, the freaks who think, “It’s a good day if I sur­vive Lon­don, he ar­gued force­fully to me,

WITH JUST UN­DER 200,000 PEO­PLE, ODENSE HAS AL­MOST 350 MILES OF BIKE LANES AND 123 CY­CLIST- ONLY BRIDGES

was be­ing left be­hind in the ‘new set of par­a­digms’ on which cities were judged. “In the past they com­peted on who had the most park­ing spa­ces, or the big­gest free­ways, or the high­est sky­scrapers,” he said. “But now there are many more ques­tions about qual­ity of life and live­abil­ity.” The rest of Bri­tain was also lag­ging in this shift to­wards more hu­man-ori­ented ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, Gehl warned. There were, he noted, three well-re­spected an­nual lists of the world’s most live­able cities, each with dozens of places on them. No UK city fea­tured any­where. “As far as I’m con­cerned, that’s be­cause you have a very, very strong tra­di­tion of let­ting the traf­fic plan­ners rule,” he said. “They are still in a very strong po­si­tion. They think that what you see out here is given by God. It’s not. We are re­al­is­ing that if you have peo­ple walk and bi­cy­cle more, you have a more lively, more live­able, more at­trac­tive, more safe, more sus­tain­able and more healthy city. And what are you wait­ing for?”

We do not want to lose any more

So what were they wait­ing for? In Lon­don, at least, peo­ple were wait­ing for the then-mayor, Boris John­son, to stop build­ing bike lanes marked only by paint, and em­bark on a net­work of bet­ter­de­signed cy­cle routes. This he did, and fairly soon: work be­gan on the city’s first ma­jor sep­a­rated lanes in early 2014. The com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing po­lit­i­cal bat­tle be­hind this process is told else­where [see Walker’s ex­cel­lent book for more], but one el­e­ment in par­tic­u­lar il­lus­trates the chang­ing at­ti­tude of big busi­ness to mass cycling. The two lanes were fairly mod­est by most stan­dards, one run­ning a few miles north to south across the city cen­tre, and another, longer lane bi­sect­ing it east to west. But this was a po­lit­i­cally charged mo­ment. It was the first time a mayor in the city had defini­tively taken small if sig­nif­i­cant chunks of space from mo­tor ve­hi­cles

NEW BIKE IN­FRA­STRUC­TURE IN LON­DON WAS UT­TERLY NEC­ES­SARY FOR THE EF­FI­CIENCY OF THE COM­PA­NIES

and given them to bikes. And this was hap­pen­ing on some fairly ma­jor routes, in­clud­ing along Em­bank­ment and across Black­fri­ars Bridge. Sep­a­rated bike lanes were not en­tirely un­known in the UK. What was to be­come known as the A40, the main road head­ing into Lon­don from the west, was first built in the 1930s with a wide cy­cle track run­ning along­side it. A mini­boom in cy­cle plan­ning in the 1960s and ’70s saw sev­eral places – for ex­am­ple Bed­ford, Mid­dles­brough and Mil­ton Keynes – ac­quire bike lanes, or even whole net­works of cy­cle routes. But th­ese were al­most all com­pletely sep­a­rate thor­ough­fares, or built onto space next to the ex­ist­ing road. They did not re­move lanes from the mo­tor traf­fic. And so when this be­gan to hap­pen in Lon­don, some groups were not happy at all. The op­po­si­tion was rel­a­tively small, but ex­tremely noisy and quite in­flu­en­tial, in­clud­ing the trade or­gan­i­sa­tion rep­re­sent­ing Lon­don’s fa­mous black taxis. Equally out­raged were some Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, whose reg­u­lar drive to work was de­layed for a pe­riod by the con­struc­tion of the east–west Em­bank­ment lane. As well as be­ing the mayor, John­son was at the time also a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment. Some of his fel­low MPs would ha­rangue him on a vir­tu­ally daily ba­sis about the in­con­ve­nience, he said later. The vol­ume of com­plaints rose ever higher, and all con­veyed the same mes­sage: such bike lanes were bad for busi­ness. They might be okay in a Utrecht or an Odense, but Lon­don was a global city and re­lied on the free road move­ment of de­liv­er­ies and peo­ple. The city would grind to a halt.

Cor­po­ra­tions for cycling

Then a slightly sur­pris­ing voice emerged in favour of John­son’s plans. Dozens of com­pa­nies, among them cor­po­rate be­he­moths like Mi­crosoft, Coca-Cola, the bank San­tander, mo­bile phone firm Voda­fone and the su­per­mar­ket Tesco com­bined to form a lobby group called Cy­clingWorks. This ar­gued that new bike in­fra­struc­ture in Lon­don was ut­terly nec­es­sary for the ef­fi­ciency of the com­pa­nies. There was another rea­son, they said: all their staff had a right to ex­pect to get to work safely, how­ever they trav­elled. “We have trag­i­cally lost em­ploy­ees in the past who have been killed while try­ing to cy­cle to or from work,” wrote Unilever, the An­glo-Dutch house­hold goods multi­na­tional. “We do not want to lose any more. Our sis­ter head of­fice build­ing in Rot­ter­dam is sur­rounded by cy­cle lanes and an ef­fi­cient ur­ban tramway sys­tem. We see the ben­e­fits to ur­ban mo­bil­ity and qual­ity of life.” Not all busi­nesses signed up. One ma­jor prop­erty group, which runs the Ca­nary Wharf es­tate in Lon­don’s Dock­lands, se­cretly paid for the taxi driv­ers’ union to make an ex­pen­sive and doomed le­gal chal­lenge to the bike lanes. It later emerged that the com­pany’s main con­cern was that vis­it­ing ex­ec­u­tives would face longer limou­sine jour­neys to and from the air­port. Speak­ing to me as he of­fi­cially un­veiled one of the new lanes just be­fore his may­oral term ended in May 2016, John­son said Cycling-Works had been an im­por­tant move­ment. “I think there’s been a big change in Lon­don, and Lon­don busi­nesses in­creas­ingly un­der­stand this,” he said. “One of the re­as­sur­ing things about this whole ex­er­cise is that, even though we got very heav­ily at­tacked, busi­nesses all the way along the route have pretty much all sup­ported it.” It’s worth not­ing that John­son, while a po­lit­i­cally brave sup­porter of cycling fa­cil­i­ties, is a Con­ser­va­tive, and by no means known as a cham­pion of wider ques­tions of equal­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal change. Dur­ing his eight years as mayor, air qual­ity in Lon­don de­te­ri­o­rated, while a lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude to prop­erty spec­u­la­tion con­trib­uted to mas­sive so­cial changes in many neigh­bour­hoods. Sim­i­larly, it’s hard to ar­gue that com­pa­nies like Coca-Cola and Tesco have an all-per­vad­ing in­ter­est in pub­lic health, let alone a com­mit­ment to so­cial jus­tice. But their in­ter­est in cycling as an eco­nomic force, or even just some­thing they should be seen to sup­port, is none­the­less fas­ci­nat­ing. There are still those in big busi­ness who ar­gue that a vi­brant and com­pet­i­tive city is based around roads choked with cars, taxis and vans. But th­ese are in­creas­ingly start­ing to look like di­nosaurs, cling­ing to a by­gone era.

Odense is seek­ing to at­tract big busi­ness through cycling BE­LOW

ABOVE Ar­chi­tects Got­tlieb Palu­dan de­signed this new cy­cle bridge for Odense’s res­i­dents

ABOVE Odense recog­nises the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of a cy­cle- friendly city

TOP Scep­ti­cal busi­nesses are now sup­port­ing the cy­cle net­work ABOVE Cy­cle Su­per­high­way (CS7) chan­nels over Black­fri­ars bridge

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