We’ve been celebrating the wrong cities as bicycling paradises. We’ve been spruiking high bike modal share stats, forgetting these typically reflect major inadequacies in public transport. We’ve been celebrating the stoicism of people waiting at lights in the rain, as though most wouldn’t prefer the roof of a bus in that moment. We’ve been photographing bottlenecks that locals despise (the shared space behind Amsterdam Centraal and the approaches to bridges in Copenhagen, for instance), forgetting that these only exist because cycling is being pushed out of the way of bigger, more “important”, routes for machines in those cities.
It was David Byrne from Talking Heads who said the real cycling paradises are the car free historic centres of Italy. Spend a day on a bike in Ravenna or Vicenza then tell me you would rather be in Amsterdam! The only problem with those city centres is they are small.
Oslo is not though, and it is in the process of becoming car free. Already so many streets here have been blocked to cars with bollards and boom gates that as a cyclist you can pick your way through the city in bliss. Still, there is much more to come. Dust from road wear killed 200 people last year. They have no choice but to ban cars in the city, first using bollards, then by removing all parking and charging tolls. Ultimately it is likely that cars will be banned altogether.
The bicycling paradise coming about in the process is not so easy to present to the world. Olso will never boast a high percentage of commuters on bikes, and wouldn’t want to—not when they have a train and tram network that puts Amsterdam’s and Copenhagen’s to shame. Neither will it ever provide visiting bike lane aficionados with opportunities to photograph hundreds of cyclists waiting at the lights in the rain. The routes into town have underpasses so cyclists do not have to stop, while the city centre, by going car free, is leapfrogging the need to build bike lanes.
As car-free-Oslo rolls out, there will be very few challenges for traffic engineers to solve with curb treatments or paint. Speed and safety will have been achieved. The challenges will be architectural, and to do with making cycling as convenient and comfortable as the mode it’s replacing: the car.
Meet the dynamic duo teamed up to take cycling in a direction its advocates never dared to imagine. Together, Kari Anne Solfjeld Eid and myself are Hoi! Oslo, as in “listen up Oslo”, or, “hey everyone, look at Oslo instead!”
Kari Anne is a user experience designer. You know those people who made the internet so easy to use that we used it? That’s Kari Anne. If a bicycling advocate were given her job they would tell all internet users to go away and learn Java and HTML, the way they tell non cyclists to toughen up like themselves. Never give a cyclist a say in bike planning! That’s my advice.
I’ve known I wanted Oslo as my main base since the announcement of the car free centre, their 2 billion Euro commitment to a commuter bike network and the appearance of FutureBuilt projects swapping out garaging for bike access. Then a year ago, I started getting calls to do work here.
We had a launch party for Hoi! here last week, attended by reps from government, embassies and an encouraging array of design firms actively backing our initiative. This week we’re making our splash with the architectural and urban design community by hosting a workshop at Oslo Urban Arena.
Surfing conditions and ongoing projects mean I won’t be relocating from Australia just yet. Still, I have made a substantial commitment in monetary terms to spending more time here, with my purchase this week of a Norwegian Rain coat. It will be a few years until we reach our goal of making cycling in Oslo utterly soft, so I have an excuse in the mean time to buy a few clothes.