Breaking Down “Bicycle Urbanism”: It’s Not About the Bikes

When thinking of “bicycle urbanism,” ultra-fit white men donned in Lycra, super fancy road bikes, or the Tour de France may come to mind. But in both Copenhagen and the United States, bicycle urbanism couldn’t be farther from this initial image. The end goal is more about creating a system and culture that is inclusive and encourages casual cycling. Copenhagen has more bikes than people not because the populace is particularly passionate about cycling or sustainability, but because it is the cheapest, easiest, and fastest way to get from point A to B. A successful bicycle urbanism system means eight-year-olds can ride to school and to play with their friends, adults can commute to work, parents can ride with young kids in cargo bikes or burleys, and seniors can get out in the neighborhood on an adult tricycle. So instead of focusing on the gear—head-to-toe spandex, a fancy bike—bicycle urbanism is more about safety and urbanism. Safe road systems make more people comfortable biking; the urbanism component ensures that cycling around town is interesting and that most destinations can easily be reached by bike.

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My bike! And in the background, an essential component of bicycle urbanism: bike parking!

 

While discussing these abstract principles in the classroom is fine and dandy, our almost-daily bike tours are an essential supplement to see real-life implementations of these principles up close and personal. On most afternoons, our class jumps on our bikes and plays follow-the-leader around the city with an analytical lens directed at transportation infrastructure and public spaces. Cycling around town allows us to form our own opinions of the efficacy of the bicycling system—experiential learning at its finest. By now, we have covered almost every major neighborhood, which has been a wonderful way to broaden my knowledge of Copenhagen.

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Outside the Cykelköket in Malmö – old bike parts for future functional bikes!

Last Wednesday, we changed things up a bit and took the train over the strait to Malmö to do some bicycle urbanism analysis, the Swedish edition. In addition to visiting a cool DIY bike repair workshop called Cykelköket, we explored the modern sustainable neighborhood development called Västra Hamnen. While the cycling component was more an undertone, I still found this place really fascinating. The neighborhood houses about 30,000 people, but is completely innovative in keeping the area visually interesting by including the works of 40 different architects spread out over the site. The interior road network also prioritizes active modes of transport, enabling cars to pass through, but only as “guests.” There are public gathering spaces interspersed to blend public and private space boundaries, which facilitates more social contact and friendliness. And, as you can see in the photos, there is ample green- and blue-space to bring nature into the urban sphere, which improves quality of life in so many ways.

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I could gush on and on about all that I am learning in this class, but I think you get my drift. So much of what I am learning is confirming my passion for urban sustainability and has even gotten me started to research graduate programs in urban planning! But I will say cheerio for now, as I am off to the Netherlands in a few hours for my study tour! I am so excited to experience the Dutch method of bicycle urbanism as exhibited in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, and Houten. So hej hej; I’ll be back in a week!

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