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Mikael Colville-Andersen: Bicycle Culture By Design

Instead of the flying cars and aerial freeways promised by 1980s sci-fi flicks, the most effective transportation systems of the 21st Century are going back to the future — back to the humble bicycle.

From Dublin to Paris to Rio de Janeiro, more and more leaders are boldly building “seductive” bike infrastructure that will make cycling networks the urban monuments of our generation.

That was the take-home message from Mikael Colville-Andersen — Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador, CEO of Copenhagenize Consulting, and originator of the phrase Cycle Chic — in his keynote address to the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference this morning.

“We’re going back to the future,” he said, “but we have to define what kind of future we want to go back to.”

Charting that future starts with less data maps and more attention to design. Design is the universal language understood by mayors, engineers and everyday citizens across the globe, Colville-Andersen suggested. “We all think and breathe design in our daily lives,” he said.

A good designer doesn’t just crunch numbers or stare at schematics; she considers the desire and pleasure of the user. Likewise, a good city planner doesn’t sit in a room with maps, but goes out to the streets and watches the way citizens want to interact with their public spaces. “Design begins with a need,” Colville-Andersen explained. “People first, then construction and then engineering.”

That’s why predictable, protected infrastructure, like Copenhagen’s cycle tracks, are winning the “space race” in cities across the globe — and having an immediate and massive impact. Better catering to residents’ comfort and ease can make cycling irresistible. “The seductive power of well-designed infrastructure can even transcend important issues, like weather,” Colville-Andersen said, showing a photo of Copenhagen cyclists pedaling in the snow. And, not only are people getting out of their cars; they’re more likely to act like model citizens.

“Good design breeds good behavior,” Colville-Andersen emphasized. When you get 400 bikes through a single light cycle, like they do in Copenhagen, you’re much less likely to see those scofflaw riders charging through a red, as is common in the U.S.

Of course, Denmark isn’t the only model. A well-design network of protected cycle tracks has boosted bicycle mode share in Seville, Spain, from zero to 7 percent in the past five years alone. And major leaders are making bold announcements about their intentions to go back to the future of bicycling. Colville-Andersen shared a stunning quote from the mayor of Paris: “The fact is that automobiles no longer have a place in the big cities of our time.”

Like the Statue of Liberty and the (small, but iconic) Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, stripping away the auto-centric design of the 20th Century will be the triumph of the 21st. “This is the modern legacy that we’re going to look for in cities,” Colville-Andersen said. “It’s not going to be the biggest and baddest urban cities; it’s going to be cities that are nice places to live… This is the legacy we can all work toward. All 800 of us in this room are the architects, the designers of 800 different monuments. This is where we start establishing our legacy.”

Read more about Colville-Andersen’s work and writings at


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