Safe cycling as a driver for sustainable mobility with James Theom
How to Copenhagenize a city
James Theom explains what it means to Copenhagenize a city, and how he’s working with TUMI to bring cycling infrastructure ideas from Denmark to Cuenca, Ecuador.
Cities all over the world are built in a way that prioritizes cars over people, whether those people are moving on foot, on bikes or on public transport. Even in a city like Copenhagen, Denmark, where bikes outnumber cars and are used for 62% of commutes, cyclists are only allocated about 7% of the space. Cars are used for 9% of commutes, yet they get 54% of space.
If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the resurgence of the bicycle to get around as a safe mode of travel. But more than that, cities and people are encouraged by the ease and fast pace of cycling in a city, not to mention the environmental benefits. To accommodate the new swell of cyclists, cities have built new infrastructure to keep riders safe.
“That solves the immediate problem now of more people cycling due to Covid 19, but at the same time it sets up a framework to ensure that cycling is an everyday choice for mobility into the future,” said James Theom, director of Copenhagenize Design Company that works with cities looking to establish the bicycle as the norm for urban transport. “Cycling isn’t only about dealing with the current crisis we have on hand, it’s about making more healthy and sustainable cities, and that’s something that’s timeless.”
Theom and his company support the TUMI COVID Challenge in Cuenca, Ecuador which will enable safe and inclusive cycling infrastructure in the city — in other words, this project will “Copenhagenize” Cuenca.
“We’re not trying to make every city into Copenhagen; that would be incredibly boring,” said Theom. “But what is fundamental to the work that we do is the idea of knowledge transfer, looking to other proven models around the world and adapting to the local context.”
That could be something large like a network of cycle highways accommodating commuters from 20 kilometers away, or smaller solutions like a pulled back stop line that puts cyclists physically in front of motorists that makes waiting at a red light that much safer, which is actually something Theom and his team are trying in Cuenca.
“The pulled back stop line is so important because we see in all contexts that the most dangerous situation is when cars or trucks are turning right at an intersection and they catch the cyclist in their blind spot,” said Theom.
Another simple implementation that Cuenca will see is painting a stripe through the intersection that highlights to motorists where to expect cyclists. It’s similar to a zebra crossing for pedestrians, but for cyclists.
One of the challenges they face in Cuenca is the narrowness of the streets, which makes it difficult to squeeze in cycling infrastructure into the pre-existing right of way.
“To tackle that, the key thing to do is to question the status quo,” said Theom. “We need to step back and understand why cars have been given so much space in our city streets.”
For policymakers and urban planners who want to advocate for more and safer cycling infrastructure in their cities, Theom said it’s important to constantly collect data and analyze it from the very beginning so you can start to build up an arsenal of talking points that can directly address criticism.
Local, relevant data is far more persuasive than stats from other cities. You want to be able to say, “We were able to move X number of cyclists per hour,” or “We built this infrastructure and it only cost $X compared to other modes,” or “We built this bike lane in this corridor and now cycling has gone up X%.” You can also note the health benefits of having a large swathe of the population exercising regularly and decreasing air pollution.
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