Dispatches from Utah: Why wide streets are unpleasant


One of Salt Lake City’s “saner” downtown streets with one travel lane each direction and left-turn lanes where needed. There’s one light rail lane in each direction. A bicycle priority lane is marked in the two travel lanes. 

Possible extended title: They have so many persistent disadvantages even after several (but weak) mitigation attempts

Preface: Utah law says that people driving automobiles must yield for pedestrians in or approaching crosswalk (stop if in a school zone and the school zone light is flashing). Drivers and bicyclists in Illinois must stop to let people cross the street, in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

If you read my last “Dispatches from Utah” post you remember that I took a ride on the inaugural Frontrunner South train from Salt Lake City to Provo, Utah. Then my laptop died and things got hairy. I’ve been back in Chicago for over a week now. Riding the trains, both light rail and the commuter rail, was one of the transportation highlights of my trip. The second was walking a couple of miles from one TRAX light rail station to my family’s home. This walking experienced was then followed by a driving trip to meet my cousin at a “local” Thai restaurant. (When your city is as spread out like Salt Lake City, and less dense than Chicago, your definition of “local” is expanded.)

I drove for 20 minutes to meet him. I drove down Salt Lake City’s State Street for a majority of the way. It’s 102 feet wide, with 3 lanes in each direction, a center turn lane, parallel parking on both sides, and sidewalks. There are no bikeways. Many of the city’s and region’s streets are like this. I had an immediate problem: I was driving southbound but the restaurant was on the northbound side of the street. Under no circumstances did I feel safe slowing down and turning left across 3+1 northbound lanes into the restaurant’s parking lot – I didn’t even know if this was legal. I couldn’t even see the addresses of the buildings on the opposite side of the street. After passing the approximate address, I turned left at a signalized intersection and then did a full roundabout drive through a neighborhood for 3-5 minutes before coming back to State Street, now driving on the same side of the street as the restaurant.  Continue reading Dispatches from Utah: Why wide streets are unpleasant

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Danish History: How Copenhagen became bike-friendly again


Jens Loft Rasmussen and Mai-Britt Kristensen.

When I visited Copenhagen last July, I was wowed by the seamless bicycle infrastructure and the many car-free streets and plazas. But the Danish capital wasn’t always a pedaler’s paradise. In the postwar era the city pursued American-style, auto-centric urban planning, but the 1973 oil crisis caused Copenhagen residents to rethink their transportation priorities. Over the course of several decades they rebuilt their city into the sustainable transportation Mecca it is today. As efforts to reallocate public space from cars to greener modes gain momentum in Chicago, Copenhagen’s story is an encouraging one.

While I was in town I stopped by the headquarters of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and met with director Jens Loft Rasmussen and project manager Mai-Britt Kristensen. Over coffee and Danish pastry in their office’s lovely courtyard, they told me about how Copenhagen succeeded in changing course and what lies on the horizon. Jens also offered a bit of advice to Mayor Emanuel for creating a bike-friendly Chicago.

Continue reading Danish History: How Copenhagen became bike-friendly again

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Danish Modern: Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s Mikael Colville-Andersen


Mikael Colville-Andersen with his kids Felix and Lulu-Sophia.

[This article originally ran in Urban Velo magazine.]

As “The Pope of Urban Cycling,” Mikael Colville-Andersen is one of today’s leading bicycle advocates, but also one of the most controversial. He’s known as the kingpin of the stylish cycling movement via his award-winning photo blog Copenhagen Cycle Chic. The site mostly features candid photographs of attractive, well-dressed women on wheels, for a largely female readership. For his day job as CEO of Copenhagenize, a nine-person transportation consulting firm, he travels to cities around the world, advising politicians, planners and advocates on ways to emulate the success of the bike-friendly Danish capital.

Mikael’s blogs have a global following—Cycle Chic has inspired some 150 spin-offs in other cities. He’s also a sought-after public speaker who gave the keynote address at this year’s Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference in Long Beach, California. But he’s not without his critics. His outspoken opposition to helmet promotion troubles many North American advocates. And at least two female bike bloggers have critiqued his Cycle Chic aesthetic and rhetoric as being sexist, elitist and counterproductive for encouraging regular folks to ride.

In July I visited Copenhagen for the first time and, as advertised, it’s a biker’s paradise with mellow traffic, grade-separated bike lanes on all major streets and good-looking, stylish people on classy Dutch cycles everywhere you turn. I met up with Mikael, a bright-eyed, energetic man, at his flat in Frederiksberg, a town completely surrounded by Copenhagen. We sipped cans of Carlsberg as his young kids Felix and Lulu-Sophia practiced soccer and picked flowers in their lush back yard. Mikael and I discussed his views on helmets, the differences between Copenhagen and Amsterdam, why he’s underwhelmed by Portland, and why bikes should be marketed more like vacuum cleaners.

Continue reading Danish Modern: Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s Mikael Colville-Andersen

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Bringing a bit of Copenhagen to Chicago: two north side aldermen discuss their recent trip to the cycling mecca


48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly, 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, and Active Transportation Alliance staff member Lee Crandell stand in front of a crowd of over 60 local residents to discuss a recent aldermanic trip to Copenhagen.

Earlier this year, three Chicago alderman along with two staff members from the Department of Transportation traveled to Copenhagen to learn about the city’s cycling infrastructure. Last Thursday, two of the alderman who took part in that trip – Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward and Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward – held an event at the Swedish American Museum in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood to discuss their experience. They were joined by CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly, one of two CDOT staff members whom accompanied the aldermen to Copenhagen. The other was Bicycle Program Coordinator Ben Gomberg.

Scott Kubly began the presentation by discussing the history of Copenhagen’s cycling movement and describing some of the infrastructure elements that have allowed cycling to become so successful in the city. Kubly said that his biggest takeaway from the trip was that the city wasn’t always a bike utopia.

“If you go back as recently as the 1970s, it was very much a car-culture,” Kubly said. “They were building freeways. There was a time when all of this fantastic public space that we saw was dominated by parked cars. They’ve spent the last 30 to 40 years incrementally improving their infrastructure.” Continue reading Bringing a bit of Copenhagen to Chicago: two north side aldermen discuss their recent trip to the cycling mecca

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Alderman Dowell goes to Denmark


Alderman Dowell with 3rd Ward bike campers.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]

3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell wasn’t always a bicycle-friendly politician. But she says a recent visit to bike-crazy northern Europe opened her eyes to the potential benefits of cycling for her South Side constituents.

Dowell’s Near South district includes parts of Bronzeville, Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas, and the South Loop. Last February, as part of Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build one hundred miles of car-protected bike lanes within his first term, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) proposed installing protected lanes along Martin Luther King Drive in her ward. But local church leaders opposed the lanes because they feared they would impact Sunday parking and because they felt the white posts used to delineate the lanes would detract from the aesthetics of the historic boulevard, says CDOT project manager Mike Amsden. As a result, the project stalled.

Continue reading Alderman Dowell goes to Denmark

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Grid Shots: Copenhagen cargo bikes


A woman pedals her “short john” cargo bike across the world’s busiest bike intersection

According to Mikael Colville-Anderson, there are about 40,000 cargo bikes in the municipalities of Frederiksburg, where he and his company, Copenhagenize Consulting, live, and Copenhagen, the city where I’ve been for 5 days now.

And Saturday we held the 4th annual Danish cargo bike championships, or “Svajerløb” (pronounced zvy-uhh-loob). I participated in the Team Relay race with my friend Brandon Gobel and two Danish locals, Micha and Lasse (he cofounded the Bicycle Innovation Lab here).


A woman pushes her trike across the sidewalk in a shopping neighborhood. 


One trike among many bikes parked near a Metro station and indoor public market. 


Two Bullitt bikes outside the Larry vs. Harry workshop. 


The City of Copenhagen found four families in the Vesterbro neighborhood who wanted to securely store their cargo bikes on the street in this pink container shaped like a car. Each family has a key to their separated compartments, and the door lifts up. The City plans to build more. Each takes up 1 American car parking space, or 1.5 European car parking spaces. Gobel and Colville-Anderson are on the left side of the photo. 

See more photos from my Cargo bikes in Copenhagen set. This was an unplanned edition of Grid Shots.

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