Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Copenhagenize urban cycling index 2011

I  do not want to brag too much about it, so it will be a pretty quick post, i.e. no deep analysis, whatever that means. Others have done it already.

This year, Montreal made the top 10 and is actually the only North American city there. Which is totally normal. This place is definitely not receiving all the credit it deserves.

In the top 20, only Portland, San Francisco and New York join Montreal which is pretty fair, even though I am surprised a bit not to see Toronto somehow... It probably failed to make it based on the political atmosphere. Vancouver, the only other Canadian city with some potential did not make it either. Now that's totally understandable as Vancouver's bike culture is totally controlled by its sub-cultural groups. My assessment last time I went was that it had a very nice recreational network and culture but nothing utilitarian. Plus, the helmet law kills it all.

It is always unsettling to see cities the size of Portland ganged up with the New York's and the London's of this world. Why not include Davis, Lyon or Bordeaux then? Aren't smaller cities more cycle-friendly by default anyways? And what about the position (i.e. political, economic etc.) these cities hold within their region and with respect to other cities, in other words is Portland's status in the West coast (see I am being nice, I am not even comparing it to the entire US, just to the West coast) the same as say, Paris' position within France, Barcelona's position within Spain, or London's place within Britain? Why compare apples to oranges?
[Dodging and running for cover]
Ok, ok... Whatever.

Now, the big scoop (to me) is Barcelona, right after Copenhagen, ahead of Tokyo and Berlin. Who would have thought? I spent one year in Spain about 10 years ago and I do not remember seeing even *one* bicycle anywhere. Rather, I quite clearly remember being honked to get the fuck out of pedestrian crosswalks  a.s.a.p. so asshole motorists could rape red lights full blast under the police's absolute placid gaze. Ok, I was in Madrid (ahem... oops... Dodging!) and it was way back then, so I am well willing to accept that within 10 years, with no dominant sub-culture to control the cycling practice, you can achieve such great results in getting normal people to view cycling as a safe  and valid option. I just need to go check that out, it must be quite a sight.

I am *very* skeptical of Paris being more cycle-friendly than Montreal but hey, it's been a little while that I have not properly cruised this particular scene so I'd need to go back to get a better (i.e. updated) assessment. I'll see if my sister decides to haul her soon-to-be-born baby around, something she would definitely do in Montreal. Yep. These are the real-assed, non-bullshit tests. It's either pass or fail so we'll see.

"cities marks for their efforts - or lack thereof - towards reestablishing the bicycle as a feasible, accepted and practical form of transport. Cities were given between 0 and 4 points in 13 different categories, with a potential for 12 bonus points awarded for particularly impressive efforts or results. In short, a maximum of 64 points could be awarded."
The 13 categories of criteria are as follows:

- Advocacy
This is one area where a lot of North American/Anglo-Saxon places fail, thinking they are well represented by their cycling organisations while a lot of these are very often working actively against cycling's best interests. Other advocacy efforts, such as Critical Mass events, usually only antagonise non-cyclists instead of generating the inclusive type of sympathy that Cycle Chic has been able to do in way less time than the other have had. Others, such as the constant push for always more cycling sports events, only concern those already interested, with the majority of the population not giving a flying fuck, i.e. useless advocacy in terms of urban cycling.
Vélo Québec on the other hand is as mainstream and as non-confrontational as you can get, keeping a soft-assed balance between sports (its roots) and urban cycling, with heavy involvement into infrastructure issues, all the while being the "voice of reason and moderation". This is not to the taste of a lot of Montreal's advocates (including me) but results in Vélo Québec being taken seriously by the authorities and being systematically invited to committees, panels, consultations etc. Their opinion is always heard and taken into account which is *not* the case of the other groups. May hurt but those are the facts.
Superior advocacy is one that associates stakeholders coming from outside of the cycling family, such as pedestrians, urban planning etc.because it gets more traction and generates better and concrete results. We'll see how this new adventure works out.
- Bicycle Culture
North American bike cultures are heavily dominated by sub-cultural groups such a the sports-lycra pack, the green ecolo tribes or the "kwoool" messenger infatuation thing. Yet, Montreal is not. Or not anymore. There are more normal people on bikes than sub groups. One only needs to cruise our lanes and paths to see that.
Oh, and hipsters are part of the normal population, like it or not. They're a marketing designated niche consumer group. That does not make them a sub-cultural group. Let's not do them this favour, it would be too much of a stretch.
- Bicycle Facilities
"Are there readily accessible bike racks, ramps on stairs, space allocated on trains and buses and well-designed wayfinding, etc?"

- Bicycle Infrastructure
We have bike paths dating back from the 1980's. The de Maisonneuve bike path, i.e. Claire Morissette bike path, which crosses downtown, is the busiest in North America with one million trips a year and countless jams at rush hour. That's what *mainstream* means. Of course, more, much more actually, needs to be done, but this would require a change in administration, hopefully coming in 2013. Our network is highly fragmented, starting and stopping randomly, does not cover certain neighbourhoods and insufficient in the downtown area.

- Bike Share Program 

Well I will not comment this one. Pretty obvious.
I will just say this: montrealers are so proud of their Bixi program that sometimes you would think they created the concept. Totally *NOT* the case. Bixi is a Vélib copycat. And Vélib is a copycat of a Lyon program. Which itself is a copycat of an older La Rochelle program. And those got their idea from somewhere else. Etc.

- Gender Split - Perception of Safety

 These two go together.
Anyone biking in Montreal will tell you there are as many women cycling as men. I see 50% women or even more on the streets. I have an extremely hard time understanding how the stats get the 1/3 or 29% female share. This does not square with the reality one can easily observe.
Maybe it is just a time delay issue, i.e. I am observing the 2011 scene with my eyes, while studies coming out even this year actually date back to 2010, 2008 or even prior.
Women being the canaries in the cycling mine, wherever you see them cycling en masse means the place is and feels safe. Better, whenever you see mothers hauling babies, parents trailing kids etc. you know you've got a winning proposition. 
- Modal Share For Bicycles - Modal Share Increase Since 2006
Officially, we are in the 2% modal share, which is an absolutely mystery to me. I really feel we are in the 10-15%.
My take is that it depends on what we call "Montreal" for the purposes of statistics. As well, there must be some sort of serious time delay between what we observe in the streets as of today, and the realities at the time of the stats gathering. See the gender-split issue above.
- Politics - Social Acceptance
On that subject, we are in a bipolar situation where everyone and their mama thinks cycling is cool, nice and a good thing. We are all happy and proud to be citizens of such a bike friendly city. Cycling is normal. You're not weird for being a cyclist. People in business attires and high heels galore. Some companies even encourage their staff to cycle.
Yet, the minute someone wants to touch a particular street, affect a specific light, update certain rules, those same people get up in arms against the changes, bitching at the cycling integrists, invoking pedestrian security, motorist security (?), mass bankruptcy in the local businesses and other similar nonsense.
We have to see how this evolves as well.

- Urban Planning - Traffic Calming
Right now, we are at zero. No budget, no political courage, no this no that. 

Ok, well...
Finally this ended up being a bigger analysis than planned. Anyways, we have to see which direction things go. We are at a tipping point where if the good decisions are not made on time, we could actually regress on the cycling front.
The current administration is not one that can handle this. They are not really interested and there is never any money  in their coffers (anyone guess where that money went?).
Once the broom is swept in 2013, maybe then we will be able to give a dynamic impulse to cycling in this city.



  1. Dang, first time checking into this blog and it's putting my hometown down!

    Regarding why Portland is on the list, I think it's for two reasons: because Colville-Anderson would get crap if he didn't (or so he says), and just to see how it would fare compared to other World Cities. I see your point that Portland, Oregon is at best a mid-sized regionally important American city that really isn't in the same league of SF or NYC. But it has been touted as "America's #1 Bicycling City" for way too long (and I'll freely admit that.) So it was a way to see how it would rate with all those other towns.

    Regarding Vancouver: I find it interesting that you wonder why it wasn't included, yet at the same time think Portland is too small to rate. While Vancouver is much more important in a regional/national/global scale, has a larger metro area and a denser core, when you look at the cold numbers, the cities themselves (and by that, what is within the borders of The City of Portland or The City of Vancouver) are practically the same: 578,041 for Vancouver, 583,776 for Portland. I understand that metro population is more important, but most improvements in bike infrastructure, etc. happen at the city level, not regionally (at least in North America).

    Vancouver has plenty of room for improvement, sure, but it has gotten better over the course of the years I have visited. They have started to put cycle tracks in the downtown core, which has been an area lacking serious infrastructure (besides the mostly recreational Seawall path.)

    And I understand why followers of cycle chic don't think that highly of the "ecolo" types, but could it possibly be expressed in a way that doesn't denigrate them? Like them or not, a lot of those folks were city/utility biking during an era when it was not cool to do it.

  2. @ Adventure!

    - "it's putting my hometown down!"

    No, come on, there no putting Portland down, it's impossible, you and I both know it's the USA cycling Mecca. But it should still be allowed to "constructively"-criticise based on facts, which is what I am trying to do.
    Never been there, by the way, I don't even have any solid grounds for negative comments.

    - "Regarding Vancouver: I find it interesting that you wonder why it wasn't included"

    Oh no!! I perfectly understand why it was not included. I mention it because some people might wonder, especially with the whole Velo-city Global conference it will be hosting next year. Yet, Vancouver is still in a minor league compared to other places, really.
    The place I was kind of wondering about was Toronto. Been there but I don't know the cycling scene so much. So I was thinking out loud.

    - "I understand why followers of cycle chic don't think that highly of the "ecolo" types"

    Are you sure Cycle chic followers don't think highly of the ecolo type? I have not seen or heard anything to that effect. A lot of them are actually pretty ecolo as well.
    What people don't like at all is the "holier than thou" attitude that *some* have, the whole "I am saving the planet on my bike" thing that actually turns people off more than anything else. And THAT is counter-productive as they often achieve the opposite than what they initially intended.
    This is the problem with *some* ecolo-type, nothing personal about them.

    - "a lot of those folks were city/utility biking during an era when it was not cool to do it"

    True and I think we collectively owe them a big one there.
    However, for all the time they have been in control of the scene, they have FAILED at increasing substantially the cycling ranks, and this is a hard cold fact.

  3. I would put Vienna above Dublin and Budapest as far as cycling friendly cities go, but everyone gets different impressions of these things.

    And I too am surprised about the Spanish towns included, though things could very well have improved.

    You have a point about small towns. Cambridge, UK is probably one of the most cycling-friendly places on Earth, but it would be ridiculous to include it. Portland OR is a bit larger though. After all, is Montreal all that huge? I mean, the central part, where people cycle. I have not been in Montreal since 2005, and I remember the city center being smallish. I also do not remember seeing all that many cyclists there, but of course that was 6 years ago.

  4. @ Velouria

    Change can creep on you very fast. My sister does cycle in Paris and finds it very safe. My memories of it is jams upon jams from hell. As she is not crazy, and is actually more conservative than me, *something* must have happened.

    "After all, is Montreal all that huge? I mean, the central part, where people cycle."

    Now that's an extremely deep question. It all depends what [insert city name of choice] means to you. I have a whole post on it and it makes or breaks a discussion, in the sense that you could argue for ages with someone wihtout even talking about the same thing.

    Stricto sensu, "Montreal" is quite big actually, both in terms of area and in terms of population. Much bigger than Portland or Boston (though it all depends on what "Boston" means, but hey, I am using Wiki here).
    Even the cyclable area is pretty big, especially compared to a lot of the other cities mentioned. Your perception has to do with the fact that what we call "downtown" for tourism purposes, is only the business district which is kind of small. But the "liveable" downtown or really, "Montreal" goes from NDG/CDN on the West all the way past Parc Olympic, and Old Port to the Met. That's more than one hour of solid cycling all without exiting the cycle network. All in town. I am yet to see that anywhere except northern Europe.
    The Claire Morisette path, that crosses downtown, is the busiest in North America right now.
    Then again, the more familiar, the more comfortable you are with a place. But still...

    Since 2005, A LOT has happened in this place. You should visit again in all seriousness. It is not the same place anymore.
    And THAT's the reason I am well willing to believe Barcelona #3, despite my own previous experience of Spain...

  5. Oh, I forgot to mention:
    I don't think Montreal is up to par with the London's and the New York's of this world either, it is way too small a city as well, yet the position it has within the country compensates for it.


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