Bicycle culture

Ministeriet for Venner af Cykling i Danmark i New Yorks Nytårstale

Perhaps this nytårstale should have come out yesterday, and been given by some more official person, but nevertheless. Godt nytår/Happy New Year! It goes without saying that 2014 was an unbelievable year for cycling and those whose lives it impacts in Copenhagen, New York, and cities elsewhere around the World, setting the stage for even more of a watershed year in 2015. Astonishing may be the best way to describe how cycling innovation has exploded in places other than Denmark and the Netherlands in recent years, and it seems that this growth only becomes more exponential over time. Though these few examples surely do not even begin to scratch the surface of this monumental growth, a few memorable “moments” in cycling in 2014 inspire those whose lives cycling has changed and portend an even more cathartic New Year.

Copenhagen Lighting the Way to Greener, More Efficient Cities

Lighted Bike Path in Copenhagen (photo credit Sofie Amalie Klougart)

Lighted Bike Path in Copenhagen (photo credit: Sofie Amalie Klougart)

For Copenhageners and especially those who live in Frederiksberg, the traffic light right before one rides over Sankt Jørgens Sø, as H.C. Andersens Boulevard turns into Gyldenløvesgade, is almost ALWAYS a stop…to think that one day this could be a thing of the past! These experimental lights would completely revolutionize the cycling commute in Copenhagen and in the other cities that are experimenting with it (including San Francisco and Los Angeles, which, of course, don’t have quite as many bicycles…). Though some of this LED sensor technology would help car drivers as well, this really is another win for the cyclist, who, as one in the article did, could more easily give up the car because the bike is simply easier. And only easier will it get. Such a thing would be great for New York…if we had bike lanes in the first place…

Chileans Design a “bike that can’t be stolen”

Cristobal Cabello, one of the Chilean engineers who designed the "unstealable" bike (photo credit Luis Henao)

Cristobal Cabello, one of the Chilean engineers who designed the “unstealable” bike (photo credit: Luis Henao)

As someone who has had a number (4?) of bikes stolen in Copenhagen and NYC, I’m leery of anyone who says that they’ve “invented” a theft-proof bicycle, but this smartly points out that anti-theft measures have still not really been factored into (at least significantly) most of bicycle design language. These Chilean engineering students seem to have the right idea, in that thieves must destroy the bicycle in order to steal it, rendering the act irrelevant. I do not see bicycle thievery to be stopped any time soon, though. While Denmark may express dissatisfaction with rampant bicycle theft, many young Danes rely on “discarded” bikes around town for transport. Bicycle “theft” is rather ambiguous and over-enforcement could actually disenfranchise some who might not participate as actively in the bicycle economy other than as sharers.

The Netherlands Gets the World’s First Solar-powered Bike Lane

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Though the article does not explicitly state this, I’m assuming that these “solar lanes” are being experimented with as bike lanes because of the weight distribution. This is not necessarily a cycling-specific innovation, but a shining example of the multitude of positive externalities of cycling.

Citi Bike Looks Across River to Jersey City

A cyclist about to get on the PATH train in Jersey City, NJ to NYC (photo credit: Kevin Hagen)

A cyclist about to get on the PATH train in Jersey City, NJ to NYC (photo credit: Kevin Hagen)

In the works in 2014 and to come in the New Year, in fact, may also be an expansion of New York City’s acclaimed/troubled Citi Bike program, this time into another STATE (just right next door). Jersey City has become nearly another borough of New York, with hundreds of thousands of commuters entering and leaving Manhattan daily. It remains to be seen how the two bike share systems would interact (they would be completely separate entities, though likely maintained by the same company), but an expansion would be regardless impressive. Again, bike sharing is just a “gateway drug” to commuter cycling in lieu of driving, but for us Americans (especially New Yorkers) it has been instrumental in changing the transportation fabric of our streets. With the 2014 saving-grace acquisition of Alta, the company that manages bike share systems across the Nation, by the parent company of real estate behemoth Related and gym-rat heaven Equinox, will come the continually sticky traction of the system and cementing of bike sharing in popular consciousness.

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Last, but certainly not least, my “cousin” from Denmark, Morten, took New York City by storm yet again in 2014! We got around town in very un-Danish ways…in part because my bicycle collection has become diminished…but that will soon change. I cannot wait to get back in the saddle (literally) on the mean streets of Frederiksberg when I return to CPH soon in 2015, and of course drudge up some comic fodder for my tiny audience here addressed.

Tillykke med fødselsdagen, Citibike

 

Citibike in the Meatpacking District (photo courtesy Keith Bedford)

This month Citibike turns 1 year old, and the system couldn’t be more hotly contested, following up on what I last wrote. These two articles (whose sources run the gamut in terms of journalistic reputation…ha…ha…) offer a number of suggestions for what to do, most importantly increasing the annual fee (usually for locals), adding public funding to the mix in addition to raising more private funds, and focusing marketing on the tourist and one-off day pass market.

Citibike Fixes: Experts offer suggestions for ailing system

Experts Bullish on Citibike

(Photo courtesy Getty Images, Spencer Platt)

Perhaps what has made the most news is Mayor Deblasio’s rejection of a possible increase in pricing for the annual membership as well as possible public funding for the program. Though he ran on a (naive, pretty ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky) populist/ultra-left platform, it seems strange that Mr. Deblasio wouldn’t seek any kind of public funding for Citibike. The rationale behind his hesitation to increase prices does play into his pandering to the economically disenfranchised (he doesn’t think citizens should pay a CENT more for the service), but this seems contrarian to his denial of public funds for the system.

In Copenhagen, though ill-fated the bike sharing program was successful for some time, and it absolutely relied on public funding from the outset (from the Municipality of Copenhagen) to get itself off of the ground, in addition to the kind of private funding that the public-private partnership of Citibike drew out. Mr. Deblasio is a very inexperienced official (to say the least), but if he wants to create any kind of legacy, at which he has failed since his election, it goes without saying that he should not only look to the successes of his predecessors (Mr. Bloomberg, for one…) but also to the leadership of other successful cities for inspiration. Though New York is an unusual place many thousands of miles away with a completely different history and context, it has, can, and should continue to learn from a city like Copenhagen in increasing its bicycle ridership yet another 80 some-odd percent over the next 5 years.

Newyorkerne er vilde med deres nye bycykler!

Happy Spring, everyone. I would first like to apologize for my long (now entire-Winter) hiatus. I promise that I have a great deal of content that I’ve been saving up to share and that I’m going to be back in full force this Season.

venlig hilsen,

Eric

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A few months ago a Danish friend made me aware of the following article:

Newyorkerne er vilde med deres nye bycykler

Happy Danes do Citibike (photo courtesy: poitiken.dk)

Having marked it planning on sharing it later, I’m disappointed to also share two unfortunate changes that should also be reported…though the article briefly expresses a Danish sense of pleasant surprise at the success of New York’s bicycle sharing scheme, we in NYC have recently learned that the Citibike program is sadly in financial trouble and strangely our new Mayor has rejected several influxes of capital that could save it. The understanding is that the system will continue to operate just fine and attempt to change (and increase) costs to consumers to balance its budget. Across the “pond,” Copenhagen’s own bike sharing scheme was axed by the City Government last year, for lack of funding and, seemingly, interest. The above article mentions some things that were to be implemented in Copenhagen, that were noticed in NYC, but that of course never came to fruition.

I’m not too concerned about “the future of cycling” in New York. I have and will continue to convey the positive impact that the Citibike program has had on the City and how things have already changed for the better, even over the past few years prior. What’s striking here, though, is the stark contrast in bicycle cultures between New York City and Copenhagen that produced, seemingly, the same result for bike share schemes. I’ve written previously on how bike sharing is sort of like a “gateway drug” (to make an ugly comparison); if people are introduced to urban cycling in an easy, fun way, they might increase their use of bikes around town and possibly buy one themselves to use even more. The present situation begs the question, though, as to whether or not, regardless of outcome, these schemes are sustainable, inasmuch as I think that they should be/have been propped up. In Copenhagen, a bicycle culture has existed for far longer than the bike sharing scheme. The bike share program was put in place to perhaps make it even easier for marginalized groups (even tourists!) to cycle around the City. In New York, the target demographic was more broad, with the goal being that everyone should have the chance to easily ride around and see how wonderful it is to cycle in NYC. But is it possible that they have or are beginning to exhaust their usefulness? And that this might not necessarily be a bad thing?

Of course, I cannot speak for a real Copenhagener, but I doubt many natives will mourn the loss of the bike share program that many probably knew little about. Everyone has their own bicycle in Copenhagen. I hope that New York’s Citibike program does last, though, even if only for long enough such that people are finally comfortable cycling around town. If these systems in general are not sustainable in the long-term, their impact has to be huge and immediate, which fortunately I see Citibike as having had thus far.

The many faces of Citibike

Citibike Bros, Fifth Avenue

Citibike Lovebirds, Fifth Avenue

Citibike Tourists, Park Avenue

Map of Current Citibike Stations (courtesy citibike.com)

As the Citibike program continues to take the City by storm, our biking culture has become much more diverse in its demographic, its core customer. Much as you would see a grandmother from Aalborg next to a hipster who lives in Nyhavn, now we New Yorkers are seeing many different types of people swiping their cards and hoisting themselves onto our blue metal tanks.

Though Manhattan is typically rife with tourists on bicycles, they’re mostly hidden in Central Park, where they can rent their vehicles and take oh-so-pleasant-that-runners-want-to-maul-them tours of our fair garden. With the ubiquity of the Citibikes around Manhattan and Brooklyn (see above), it provides exactly what Citibike’s planners wanted: a truly new way to explore the City of New York for the Citibike Tourist (Italian, Australian, or otherwise). And much more than 59th – 110th Streets.

The Citibike Lovebirds. Ever the romantic, given Brooklyn, Queens, or Lower Manhattan resident takes his girlfriend around town, showing off his knowledge of the built environment and its nuances. When did he move here? Last month. But his new girlfriend (who doesn’t know that yet) is enamored of the tidbits he’s able to spew out, after having spent ten years reading Emphemeral New York and dreaming about moving here after college.

Finally, the Citibike Bros. It’s safe to say that commuter cycling in New York and throughout most of the US is a less-than glamorous activity. I may use the term “bro” loosely, but he and his buddies may be found at 2nd Avenue in Midtown or the Lower East Side on a given evening (pick your poison). With the advent of this program, it seems at least to me that the slicked-back-hair toting, fitted-button-down-shirt wearing entry-level financier is less opposed to the ease of this mode of transportation. I mean, it was this easy when they were at Cornell, Penn, and Harvard, so why not shake things up a bit in Manhattan. And of course using the beloved program and not having to lock up one’s own vehicle means that one never has to say…dude where’s my bike?

 

Spinning class on Citibikes

Photo courtesy: Sara Krulwich, NYT

Metropolitan Diary: Spinning on a rent-a-bike

I simply wanted to share this quick, hilarious slice of life in New York: impromptu spinning classes being given on the Citibikes of our cycle sharing program! I don’t know if Bycykler København is quite as happening…