We could have all the benefits of Copenhagen cycling if we just, you know, dressed a little nicer on our bikes, if we just marketed bicycling as an activity by, um, looking more like a fashion plate.
Mikael cites a lot of statistics (if, for example, you go over to Copenhagenize, you can see a running total of bicycle miles ridden in Copenhagen up to the moment) and makes a number of frankly good points about the Copenhagen environment. He talks about all the bike infrastructure that's being implemented in Denmark, and he spends no small amount of time addressing the fact that cycling is so much a part of the Danish lifestyle that people who do urban cycling in Copenhagen don't think of themselves as "cyclists". To what does Mikael attribute this great example for the rest of the world? To the fact that the Danish cyclists dress well, with a sense of style, (and that the men wear suits). Mikael asserts that bicycling's lack of status (outside of Copenhagen and -maybe- Amsterdam) is due to the fact that we just don't dress well enough.
Mikael, excuse me for saying so, but I think you have your cause and effect either reversed or at best very muddled. Your fashion premise is a fiction. An amusing fiction, and one that we might all like to imagine ourselves in the midst of, but a fiction nonetheless.
I've been pretty tough on Mikael so far this post, (and I beat up on him a little in a previous post) but I will certainly concede that in his talk he does make some interesting and (mostly) valid points about the "values inversion" of the way that cars and automobiles are marketed:
- Which is truly more "liberating", an auto or a bicycle?
- Which is truly more dangerous, an auto or a bicycle?
- Which is truly sexier, driving a car or riding a bike?
- Should automobiles have warning labels like cigarettes?
But the promulgation of "cycle chic" is just wrong as primary policy. Why do I say this? Two reasons. One, it's an effect, not a cause. And Two, because there are bicycling advocacy groups who will buy into it because it's easy. "All we have to do is increase our marketing budget and find some good-looking models, and our urban cycling problems will diminish!" Excuse me, but this is reductionist malarkey.
Over the past couple of years, I've spent enough time in Europe, in Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, to see the truth about why urban cycling in these places is different from the US. The truth of it is, what make cycling work in Copenhagen (and Amsterdam, Basel, Berlin, Brussels, Stockholm and elsewhere) is the combination of two components:
- Motorists' near-universal respect for bicyclists*; and
- Bicyclists' near-universal respect for traffic laws.
- bicycle safety education (best if done in public schools from an early age);
- enactment of laws that protect bicyclists in a reasonable way; and
- consistent and fair enforcement of those laws.
Postscript: Am I guilty of taking Mikael too seriously when he is intending to be 100% ironic? Hm. It is a possibility. But if Mikael really wants to get the substantive good news out about Danish cycling, there is certainly a lot of it that he's bypassing. Consider this excellent report (PDF) from the English reports pages of the Danish Road Directorate. (It's from the year 2000, but is the most recent paper on this topic.) In a (partial) defense of Mikael's "marketing" position, there is this quote:
It is important to link soft policies (campaigns, instruction etc) with hard policies (infrastructure, taxation etc). The combination of hard and soft policies is necessary in order to achieve a big change in travel behaviour, both regarding transport mode choice and road safety.Notice that the quote does mention "campaigns" but in the same breath talks about education as well as "hard policies". In fact, the report is such a good report and so well researched and balanced, and give such a good picture of the real policies that need implementing that it somewhat reinforces my picture of Mikael as being reductionist. And mind you, the source of this document is the Danish highway department. Consider how different the US would be if we had our highway departments actively researching and promoting cycling! As just one example, consider the chart below and the story it tells:
But hey, all of this doesn't mean I'm not a curmudgeon :)
*There are exceptions to this, especially in the UK which for some reason tracks the US more closely.