For me Australia’s Radio National is like coffee in the morning, brushing my teeth before bedtime, and leather soled shoes. So I’ve been especially chuffed on those times when they have called me. This time it is to do an interview with Marianne Weinreich of the Danish Cycling Embassy who would be packing her bags right now, I suppose, for the Sydney Rides Festival where she is the drawcard.
Clover Moore and Fiona Campbell have fought like trojans to make Sydney a place I now visit with my folding bike… in fact a place I’m happy to visit! As far as I am concerned the city of sydney municipality has already been “Copenhagenised” (yes, Mikael’s term has achieved the status of “Hoover”, another brand name that these days is used as an everyday verb). Sydney has cycle-tracks along streets that must funnel all modes of traffic because there aren’t enough parallel streets to alternate car streets and bike streets. Or maybe there are? I’ll return to this later.
I would be asking if Sydney should even be talking about Copenhagenising when Copenhagen is looking to the Netherlands for ways to move forward. Ask any bike buff just back from their Grand Tour of bike cities and they will tell you cycling in Amsterdam seemed more carefree and natural. They can’t tell you why, but they hardly saw cars!
Here’s why they saw more cars in Copenhagen. Consider Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard. For decades it has been the approach to one of just 3 bridges across the Sydhavnen river, a river cutting Copenhagen in half. For much of its length that Boulevard is gathering pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and people in buses with their eyes on that bridge. The way Jan Gehl speaks, funnelling all modes has been a matter of giving every citizen, regardless of habitual mode choice, the same “image of the city”—something Kevin Lynch said in the 60s was good for social cohesion. But Gehl comes at urban design from the same point of view as Lynch and Jane Jacobs, that is, with a pedestrian-eye-view of the city.
From the standpoint of bike network planning the same funnels that provide photographers with photos of hundreds of bikes leaving the lights on cycle tracks protected from cars to their left, and that have given us that wonderful idea of a “green wave”, are in fact just compromise solutions to the problem of a city that went up too fast. Copenhagen has an impermeable street grid, mainly due to its rapid growth in the late 1800s when rather huge perimeter blocks went up all at once. That impermeability has been exacerbated by the city’s river and lakes (Sortedams, or whatever they’re called) that haven’t had enough bridges.
However, that is now changing. The city has completed its task of fixing curb details. The bike budget these days is going on bridges. Bike/pedestrian bridges.
Every new pedestrian/bike bridge crossing the river will steer cyclists down quiet back streets that formerly only residents knew of. It will also take bike traffic away from Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard and other such funnels that cars and trucks will continue to use. Chagrining the ghost of Kevin Lynch, cyclists will have their own image of the city—that being the central thesis the book that I wrote: Cycle Space. Copenhagen is becoming more like a Dutch city with a tartan-like pattern of separate car streets and bike streets. A car street in the Netherlands has door zone bike lanes so that cyclists feel like the guests. A bike street has bollards. There are cycle tracks too, but they’re not so iconic or a blanket solution.
So with Copenhagen being Amsterdamised, and god knows maybe heading to a bike modal share of 60% in the city, shouldn’t Sydney be looking to Amsterdam too? I appreciate that for political reasons it’s best to keep the message as basic as shitting, and that Copenhagen has more allure, but long term a bike strategy is more likely to stick the better it works.
In a North/South direction Sydney city centre has many parallel streets. Every second street could have bollards to kill the through-traffic. In the East/West direction it gets a new through-site-link for pedestrians with every new building. That is because developers are given a floor space ratio (FSR) bonus for providing such links; in other words, instead of only being allowed to build 10 times more floor space than they have dirt space, they can build 12 times, by dancing to council’s tune on such matters. The trick then for council, would be to give developers a greater bonus again if that link were fast and easy to use on a bike.
But the real boon to cyclists will come with pedestrian bridges: Barangaroo to Balmain, Blues Point and Balaarat Park; Balmain to a new bicycle city on Goat Island; a bridge across Johnston’s Bay to the old car port earmarked for apartments. Further East there are crossing points as short as 300 meters.
Sydney will never be flat, and it is stuck with basement car parking heading to China beneath all its towers, but it could be a city of pedestrian bridges with a fine grid of no-through-roads running North/South and bike alleys running East-West.
For the sake of balance, the city of Copenhagen, and Copenhagenize, better promote the image of cycling. The Danes took the Bauhaus, so have the design flair. Amsterdam’s problem is their poorest aren’t cared for so as well as the poorest in Denmark, so they suffer a lot more from bike theft. Sydney’s advantage over both is that all of the buildings have lots of garaging that can be—and already is—being made into bike parking.
As for Duncan Gay’s plan to push on with the Americanisation of Sydney… well, we all know where that leads: