With Spring finally here, I’m sure a lot of you are impatiently waiting for cycling to pick right back up after some downtime this winter. But with this warmer weather also comes a great opportunity to reflect on questions regarding our cities’ liveability and cyclability, and the relationship between these two.
How vital is a city’s cyclability, really? Should a city be cyclable in order for it to be liveable? And if it should, why exactly is that? These questions are important ones, prompting us to examine what we have been taught over the years.
These questions are also foundational, not only because they help us gain a deeper understanding of the kind of cities we want to inhabit, but also because they help us project our vision of a better, greener, and more inclusive urbanity into the future. They give us the opportunity to concretize the kind of cities we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.
For the launch webinar of the first season of our Brunch & Learn series, Climate Reality Canada was very excited to receive Michael Wexler as a guest speaker. He is the Montréal director of Copenhagenize Design Co., a small consulting firm that pushes for bicycle-friendly cities through planning and design, communications, and research and education. Copenhagenize’s focus is on changing the transport paradigm by making bicycle-friendly cities the norm across the world. For a few noontime minutes in late February, we were delighted to have Michael come and spread the gospel on bicycle-friendly infrastructure.
One of the things that stood out throughout Michael’s short presentation was how refreshingly unforgiving he was—inspiring, while still remaining direct and honest. Michael relied on history and statistics to show all of our viewers the many benefits city-dwellers begin to experience when our cities are adapted to the bicycle. A particularly interesting point he made was that, not so long ago, our cities were bike-friendly—something we seem to have forgotten with the advent of the automobile.
Michael’s main point was also that bicycles democratize our streets. This concept can seem kind of ludicrous to the uninitiated. We rarely, if ever, think about our city streets through the lens of democracy. But are car-centric streets really democratic and being utilized to their full potential? Perhaps there is another lens we can look at our streets through—one that is not only more inclusive, but great for the environment, too.
Copenhagenize’s goal is to help us do just that: flip the transportation paradigm so that we can begin to see our city streets through this more inclusive and green lens.
As Michael demonstrated, it is possible, and it all boils down to a matter of perspective. Essentially, instead of asking ourselves how many cars would be able to move down a given street, we should instead be asking ourselves how many people would be able to do just that.
This shift in perspective changes the way we view our streets, resulting in an expansion of their capacity to be home to a variety of different modes of transport. But for this shift to take place, we have to create an environment for people to be able to prioritize other modes of transport such as the bicycle.
Simply put, if you make it preferable for people to ride their bikes, they most likely will. Michael demonstrated that Copenhageners, for example, ride their bikes because it is fast, easy, a source of exercise, and cheap—not, perhaps surprisingly, because it’s great for the environment.
But the added benefits of better cycling infrastructure—such as decreased urban traffic congestion and air pollution, and increased social connectivity, to name a few—don’t hurt either.