Category Archives: Spain

Should we be Copenhagenizing Cape Town?

I just got back from a week in Seville, Spain at the Velo-City global bicycling conference. Velo-City began as a european bicycling conference in 1980 and was held bi-annually since 1987. As of last year, it became an annual event and opened its doors to presenters from around the world.

This is great progress. However, to what extent are issues in Africa relevant to those in Europe? Can Cape Town learn from Amsterdam or Dallas learn from Copenhagen? How much is “knowledge sharing” between such radically different contexts valuable?

At this year’s event, I spent a lot of time hanging out with the few folks who had made the trip up from the lovely “country” of Africa since it is a part of the world which is still a bit of fuzzy territory for me. Most of these people were from English speaking countries in southern Africa, and many of them were ex-pats themselves working on various bicycle related projects.

It became rapidly clear, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the issues people are addressing in Africa are in a completely different universe from those in Europe.

In the global north, cycling is seen as a means of urban transport which is promoted mainly by city planners as a means to reduce motorized transportation for health, “liveability”, and environmental sustainability. Most of those of us involved in this movement are well educated and generally reasonably well off as are most of those actually cycling. Most people have access to other means of transport such as busses or cars and are choosing the bicycle, perhaps in addition to other modes.

By stark contrast, African projects were dealing with people (often women) who were typically rural, poor, and do not have access to other means of transportation. The goal of many of these projects is to give people greater mobility, thereby decreasing the amount of time necessary to access basic needs like jobs, water, food, etc. Most people working in this sector come from international development, not urban planning.

This contrast was perhaps starkest in the fourth plenary session with Kayemba Patrick from ITDP in Uganda and Joaquin Nieto from the International Labour Foundation for Sustainable Development discussing economic benefits of cycling.

Nieto spoke about how European bikeshare programs create jobs for cities (largely through what I would consider to be high degrees of inefficiencies in redistribution and maintenance). Patrick spoke about how getting access to a bike reduces the amount of time women in rural Uganda have to spend getting water and access to economic opportunities. They were then engaged in a discussion afterwards where it was clear that neither one of them really had any idea how to find any sort of common ground.

Another strange pairing was between Marie Kåstrup from Copenhagen and Gail Jennings from Cape Town speaking about women and bicycling. Kåstrup spoke about the “cycling girl” narrative in Denmark where woman and cycling are portrayed as soul mates, which logically and intuitively serve as icons for the national past time of cycling. In Denmark, almost as many women bike as men. Jennings talked about how woman are sexualized in their portrayal next to bicycles, with images of women in tight mini-skirts sexually pumping air into tires. In Cape Town, most cyclists are riding for sport- not transport- and about 75% of cyclists are men. Very few women ride bicycles and to do so is to ask for censure at every turn.

The point here is not to get into discussions about the specifics of these issues (I refer you to the people mentioned for those details). My point is more to question what we hope to gain by bringing people together from different contexts and what can be learned from “European best practices” from Copenhagen, Amsterdam or anywhere else.

There is a growing cadre of professionals who would like you to believe that a bicycling culture is something that can be readily “transferred”. It’s easy. Simply find somewhere that lots of people ride bicycles, copy the infrastructure and policy that “worked” there in your home town and then stand back and wait for people to start riding.

But guess what? What works in Copenhagen may not work in Cape Town.

What I heard from many people coming from the global south in particular was that they didn’t really care much about what was going on in Europe. What they wanted was to share knowledge between cities in the global south. South African cities probably have more to learn from cities (and rural areas) in India than from Europe.

The same is likely true in the global north. Gas guzzling Dallas came to Velo-City to learn how car-centric Seville has seen increases in bicycling from 0.5% to 6.6% in the past three years. Dallas planners won’t be making any trips to Copenhagen, even though Danes bike 37% here in the capital city.

A Velo-City global venue may still be useful but we still need to do some thinking around how, exactly, it is useful. In the meantime, we need to be facilitating venues for the sharing of knowledge between similar cities and working to develop context specific solutions from a deep understanding of local needs, not trying to make Cape Town into the next Amsterdam.


The new Citröen C4: so “green”, even bicyclists like it

I saw this amazing commercial when I was in Madrid last week. It shows a new Citröen that is suggested to be so “green” that even bicyclists follow it. The dialogue in Spanish translates to:
“the new Citröen C4, zero CO2 emissions each time it stops”
“the new Citröen C4 with micro-hybrid technology”
Of course, there is no mention of how much emissions it is spewing when it is moving, not to mention minor externalities like congestion, dominance of urban public space, harassment of those same bicyclists, traffic injuries and deaths (including those of the happy cyclists portrayed in the ad), promotion of a sedentary lifestyle, and the tremendous waste of resources in the production and waste processing of cars. It reminds me of going to a sausage restaurant that has a happy pig with a knife and fork as a logo, seemingly eager to eat itself.

Mikael blogged about this over at Copenhagenize some time ago. Apparently, it was shot in Copenhagen last summer. The completed version that he posted was a full minute and featured cyclists inhaling deeply and excitedly at each traffic light. This is an edited version where they have cut it down so it just looks like the cyclists are following the car, but are not so anxiously inhaling.

I don’t imagine the ad ever played here in Denmark. Possibly because there are not that many Citröen cars on the streets here but also because I suspect that the concept just wouldn’t work. Danes would probably see through the hypocrisy quickly. It is quite ironic, then, that the ad is shot in Denmark where no one will buy the car but marketed in Spain, where no one rides a bike.

How long until people figure out that just swapping out the motor only makes a car slightly less bad, not “good”? All cars are emissions free when they are stopped. Let’s work to keep them stopped- stopped from ruining our cities, polluting our environment, and killing millions of people. Buying a new C4 is doing just the opposite.
Here’s the C4 being as emissions free and green as possible on the streets of Madrid: by being parked. No bicyclists in sight.
Thanks to Laura for translation.

Can we copy the Copenhagen model?

There’s a rather interesting debate going on on a Madrid bicycling blog about how replicable the Copenhagen segregated bike lane model is in other places. I’m reposting my comments to the feed since they are fairly generally relevant around this hot button issue:

Studies suggest that bicycle lanes may be more important to attract new, inexperienced cyclists who primarily fear for their safety. Experienced bicyclists seem to be more concerned about speed (eg, signal timing) than safety.

As cycling rates in Copenhagen have increased in recent years, safety has increased but the perception of safety has decreased. This is probably due to the fact that increased numbers of cyclists are a primary reason for a reduction in accidents due to increased visibility of cyclists. However, the perception of safety has gone down because cyclists in Copenhagen are more afraid of other cyclists on the bike lanes, not other cars (which are largely ‘tamed’).

Cyclists in the global south (India, Brazil, Cuba, etc.) are typically what are called “captive” cyclists who bike because they cannot afford other options. Cycling is tied to status and wealth. As these societies develop, you see people transitioning to higher status transportation options, especially motor scooters.

Bicycle lanes that have been developed in places like India and South Africa have largely failed, perhaps due to the informality of traffic rules and regulations leading to heavy encroachment of lanes from motor vehicles (see previous posts on this blog).

I think we need a different model for these cities than what might work in the global north. The Copenhagen model works in Copenhagen, but I don’t think we can just “copy/paste” it across the world and expect the same results.

The blog is in Spanish but if you aren’t already using Google Translate and Google’s Advances Search functionalities, you are probably missing out on most of what is happening on the internet outside of your own country since Google searches filter away hits that are not in your language and outside of your country in order to increase speed and “relevance”.