That’s Mejah Mbuya and myself at the Velo-City cycle conference in Denmark.
Mejah is from Tanzania, and runs an environmental NGO ‘Baiskeli ni Suluhisho la Mazingira Endelevu’ or Bikes for a Sustainable Environment in Dar es Salaam. He was one of 1,100 delegates at the three day long conference that took place in a venue in central Copenhangen. I was pleased to hear that the Irish Embassy in Dar es Salaam had helped him out with his work. I spoke at a plenary session on Friday morning, and described how cycling is undergoing a renaissance in Ireland.
Many of those attending were from campaigning groups who find it hard get political support for their work. I described the dark days of the early nineties when it was hard to get political support for investment in cycling initiatives. Theses days things have improved, and although we’d all like more funding for improving cycling infrastructure, we’ve moved light years ahead of where we were twenty years ago.
I talked about how the Danish Ambasssador to Ireland had kicked off the ‘Dublin Cycle Chic’ fashion show under the dome of Dublin’s city hall last week. Watching models cycling bikes between the pillars of the Ryal Exchage would have been unthinkable when I was first elected as a city councillor back in 1991.
There was a good crew over from Ireland to learn and share experience with the Danes and delegates from around the world. Mike McKillen was representing the Dublin Cycling Campaign, Damian O’Tuama was there, the National Transport Authority was represented, and there were a group of engineers from the firm Roughan O’Donovan. Cllr. Andrew Montague who championed the 30 kph speed limit in Dublin City was also in attendance. Interestingly he tells me that the 30 kph limit in Dublin’s city centre is up for review at the end of the Summer, and there may be challenges to keeping it in place permanently. The enforcement in Dublin is laughable though and I was in a taxi recently that sped into the zone at 3 times the legal speed limit. Pinch points or road narrowing measures are crucial to making it work, as well as a stronger commitment from the Gardai. The narrowing of roads at the entrance to many towns around Ireland where the speed limit is reduced works well, and its time something similar was put in place on the Liffey Quays. In Dun Laoghaire the 30kph areas haven't been criticized, although allowing cars back into the town's Georges Street seems to me to be a retrogade step.
While in Copenhagen I met up with Jahn Gehl . He’s one of my urban design heroes. He magically described heading out on his bike for a meal to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary, and how he and his wife with a combined age of 136 years were able to cycle across the city centre of Copenhagen and back in safety after an evening out. He also described how his mother-in-law cycled until she was in her eighties long after she lost her driving license, and when she finally stopped cycling, used to wheel the bike rather than use a Zimmer frame. Sweet!
Niels Torslov from the Traffic Department of the City of Copenhagen answered my queries about traffic management in the city and spoke about bicycle traffic congestion when 37% of journeys are made by bike. Interestingly they have a 40 kph speed limit in much of the city, something that we should consider in Ireland for built-up areas. I also promotes the Danish approach to cycling and met with the Traffic Mayor for the city of Denmark Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard , one of 11 assistant Mayors who share responsibility for the running of the city. He’s elected for a four year term, and I spoke about Green Party’s proposals for a directly mayor in Dublin, rather then the existing system of a revolving door every twelve months.
Lise Bjorg Pedersen from the Dansk Cyklist Forbund explained many of the Danish cycling initiatives that the DCF has contributed towards, including the publication of an online cycling guide that answered many of my queries about cycling. Finally the Cycling Embassy of Denmark is a brilliant title for a great network of organisations that spread know-how and enthusiasm for cycling around the world.
What did I learn from the conference, and from cycling the streets of Denmark?
1. Large volumes of cyclists contribute to calming the traffic.
2. The Danes favour running the cycle lane beside the footpath, rather than outside parked cars. This helps less confident cyclists.
3. New infrastructure that prioritise cyclists such as an over-bridge over a motorway can attract a lot of commuters out of their cars and on to bikes.
4. The attention to detail in laying paving slabs and cobbles helps clearly in showing cars that pedestrians and cyclists have priority at junctions.
5. Small 'curve radii' at junctions put manners on faster drivers and slow them down.
6. An increase in car use has put pressure on Danish engineers to revisit existing schemes and improve them, generations after they were first installed.
7. Mindset is half the battle. If engineers don't ride a bike and understand cyclists they can't design decent cycling facilities. After a whistle-stop stay in Denmark I understand better the need to 'Copenhagenise' our towns and cities.
Here's a sixty second video-clip I took on the streets of Copenhagen.