When a city has a style of bike lane named after it, it’s clear that city has a reputation for being bicycle friendly. Copenhagen is that city, and it owes a big part of this recognition to journalist, film director and blogger Mikael Colville-Andersen.
His blog, Copenhagen Cycle Chic, began in 2007 as a way of documenting what was happening with cycling in the city at the time. It involved, essentially, snapping people casually doing their thing on bikes. But that was the beauty of it. Casually was not the way most of the world was cycling.
Now, from taking pictures of people doing things on bikes that would irk our mums and lawmakers (no helmets, talking on phones, listening to music, smoking, laughing), Mikael has branched out into consulting, sharing with other cities his views and observations on how they can better promote cycling as an everyday means of mass transportation.
This Saturday, he’ll speak in Melbourne, a city that has some of the strictest cycling laws in the world, as part of State of Design Festival.
MH: Many readers would know about the blog, but how did this develop into lecturing and consulting?
MCA: Cycle Chic became became so popular that I started taking many other photos of cycling Copenhageners, so I started Copenhagenize.com. At the same time people were starting to ask questions about infrastructure and related topics, so I quickly became well versed. That morphed into public speaking and I've now been all around the world as the Danish Bicycle Ambassador with my talk.
The blogs have been a great inspiration to people and now, with Copenhagenize Consulting, we're working with cities and towns to get them geared up for Bicycle Culture 2.0.
It’s funny; in the past 30 years no one came knocking to hear about what we were doing in Copenhagen and now, thanks to the blogs, the world is beating a path to our door.
Indeed it’s the consulting that is bringing you to Melbourne as part of the State of Design Festival. But no doubt the camera will be joining you?
I always have my camera with me. Two, actually. So I'm sure I’ll take some shots of cyclists and infrastructure.
Be prepared, there’s a lot of dressing for safety and practicality going on – and guys who dress for the Tour de France to ride along the beach.
That’s your biggest hurdle: rebranding cycling for ‘citizen cyclists’ and mainstreaming it to remove it from the subcultures.
Up until recently the lycra was the mainstream; maybe it still is in some parts. It’s not all bad though: there are plenty of everyday riders wearing everyday clothes. And between the vintage Australian bikes from the late 70s/early 80s and the explosion of customised fixed and single-speeds, there are a lot of attractive bikes out on the streets.
Yes, I've followed the developments from afar. There’s lots of promise but Melbourne is still light years behind cities like Paris, Dublin and Barcelona – three of many who have exploded onto the emerging bicycle-city scene in no time.
Your ]State of Design Festival event](/melbourne/event/cycling-talk-and-forum) is Four Goals for Promoting Urban Cycling. Can you elaborate?
Everyday cycling for citizen cyclists was the norm all over the world, at least up until the Second World War. And especially over the past three decades the only real branding of cycling in many countries was as sports or recreation. We need to rethink how we're branding and selling urban cycling. We need to remove the geek/gear factor and make it mainstream. My four goals are the four things we need to do to make it work in our cities.
Significant efforts are being made, but others counteract. You may know we just got our bike-share system, similar to those in cities such as Dublin, Paris and Montreal. But Melbourne is the first city to introduce it that has compulsory helmet laws, making it almost useless to visitors. But even for locals, unless you carry your helmet, it’s still not really viable as a form of hop-on, hop-off transport.
The helmet law will be the major spanner in the works. I can't see the system working to any effective level. Interestingly, Mexico City and Israel both repealed their helmet laws when they launched their bike share schemes. The laws were discouraging cycling. Even the Northern Territory repealed their law for the same reason.
Oh? Meanwhile, the fine for not wearing a helmet here has just gone up from $60 to $160!
Punishing cyclists is bad branding of urban cycling and certainly no way to encourage the bicycle as a feasible, respected and accepted transport form. Just look at Sydney or Perth. Same laws, but they're not enforced. The result is a larger boom in cycling than Melbourne.
I’m interested in hearing more about the ideas behind the argument that compulsory helmet wearing isn’t actually a positive thing.
The ideas form the foundation of helmet policy in most European countries. Even promotion of helmets is discouraged and the “failed” helmet laws of Australia are always mentioned when talking about promotion or mandatory laws. You killed off cycling and have little to show for the laws.
Well I hope a councillor attends your talk. And maybe a hospital surgeon. I’m sure they’d give some good arguments for helmets, and then we’d have a debate on our hands! You certainly don’t hear the other side of the argument very often. Still, I think Melbourne’s doing pretty well compared to a lot of cities, so it’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I lived in St Kilda in 1990 and again in 1993. I hear it’s a lot different now, so it’ll be fun checking it out.
Four Goals for Promoting Urban Cycling is on Saturday July 24, 2pm. BMW Edge, Federation Square.