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About this book

The bicycle enjoyed a starring role in urban history over a century ago, but now it is back, stronger than ever. It is the single most important tool for improving our cities. Designing around it is the most efficient way to make our cities life-sized—to scale cities for humans. It is time to cement the bicycle firmly in the urban narrative in US and global cities.
Enter urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen. He has worked for dozens of global cities on bicycle planning, strategy, infrastructure design, and communication. He is known around the world for his colorful personality and enthusiasm for the role of bike in urban design. In Copenhagenize, he shows cities how to effectively and profitably re-establish the bicycle as a respected, accepted, and feasible form of transportation.

Building on his popular blog of the same name, Copenhagenize offers vivid project descriptions, engaging stories, and best practices, alongside beautiful and informative visuals to show how to make the bicycle an easy, preferred part of everyday urban life.
Copenhagenize will serve as inspiration for everyone working to get the bicycle back into our cities. It will give planners and designers the ammunition to push back against the Automobile Age and convince the skeptics of the value of the life-sized city. This is not a guide on how to become Copenhagen, but how to learn from the successes and failures (yes, failures) of Copenhagen and other cities around the world that are striving to become more livable.

We need to act in order to save our cities—and us—from ourselves. Copenhagenize shows the path forward.

Table of Contents



I have spent the past decade staring intently at urban cyclists in cities around the world and closely examining the role of the humble bicycle on the urban landscape and in the finely woven social fabric. All of the thoughts and observations that have welled up through that time have reached a critical mass, and this book, I suppose, is the vessel into which they flow.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 1. The Life-Sized City

I have a strange suspicion that we’ve been hacked. As people. As societies. We have been led to believe that big is best. That growth is good. For so many years that you can easily call it a century of living with the Cult of Big. Certainly regarding the economy. You can’t mention the economy without mentioning growth. But I’m not an economist. I work in urbanism. In cities.And the same thing applies. Cities have to be bigger. Broader. They have to sprawl into the distance as far as the eye can see. That is what makes a city great and good. Or so we’ve been told for many, many years. Buildings have to be taller, shinier. Reaching for the sky. Breaking world records. Monuments to engineering and, quite possibly, phallic symbols for the male-dominated industries that design and build them. Roads and motorways have to be longer, wider, go farther. More capacity, improved flow, reducedcongestion. It’s one of the saddest ironies of urbanplanning that the only thing we have learned from a hundred years of traffic engineering is this: if you make more space for cars, more cars come. It’s sad if you think about all the kabillions of dollars we’ve thrown at this for the past century.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 2. Bicycle Urbanism by Design

Here’s the baseline. We have been living together in cities for more than 7,000 years. By and large, we used those seven millennia to hammer out some serious best-practices about cohabitation and transport in the urban theater and the importance of social fabric. We threw most of that knowledge under the wheels of the automobile shortly after we invented it and have subsequently suffered through a saeculum horribilis in the urban context. Our overenthusiasm for technology and our human tendency to suffer from short-term urban memory loss have further contributed to our zealous disregard for past experience.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 3. The Bicycle’s Role in Urban Life

The bicycle, since its invention, has had an amazing transformational effect on city life. The rising number of cyclists in our cities may seem new to many, but the parallels to the first rise of the bicycle in the late 1800s and early 1900s are important to highlight. To be honest, reading a book like Bike Boom: The Unexpected Resurgence of Cycling, by Carlton Reid, is absolutely the best way to get into the subject of the rise of the bicycle in history. I want to cover the role of the bicycle in our cities and our societies. While it may seem glaringly obvious to some, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding, which is regrettable now that we’re trying to figure out how to weave the bikes back into the spectacular urban fabric.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 4. The Redemocratization of Cycling

After those 7,000 years of urban democracy, we have suffered 70-odd years of transport dictatorship in every corner of the globe. Our streets were expropriated in favor of what we now know to be a flawed transport form in our cities. The bicycle, that most democratic of inventions that had transformed human society in such spectacular fashion, was declared persona non grata and exiled to suburban driveways, parks, fragmented stretches of infrastructure, and remote country roads. It was oppressed, humiliated, and ridiculed, but despite best efforts it could not be eradicated. Bicycles remained hidden in garages, in summer houses, and in cellars, like dusty but sturdy musical instruments awaiting a new orchestra, without ever knowing when it would arrive. Cycling is like music—you will never be able to rid the world of it.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 5. Taming The Bull in Society’s China Shop

It’s a fine metaphor: society as a china shop. A stylish, brightly lit room with a diverse selection of lovingly crafted and valuable porcelain. It’s been in business for 7,000 years, but a century or so ago someone let a bull loose inside. If you actually owned a china shop and someone actually let a bull inside, you would be rather dismayed. Don’t you think you would drop everything and channel all your energies into getting the bull out?
Mikael Colville-Andersen

The Learning Curve


Chapter 6. Copenhagen’s Journey

With good reason, hundreds of delegations come to cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam every year to study and learn from the cities’ consistent efforts to make the bicycle a respected and equal transport form and solve all manner of traffic and societal challenges. Copenhagen wasn’t always Copenhagen—and that is so incredibly important to remember. Mistakes have been made, both large and small. This city was as car-clogged as anywhere else on the planet through the 1950s and 1960s. From a cycling peak in 1949, we took the on-ramp to the motorway of two decades of dismantling the city to make space for cars. A great deal of the bicycle infrastructure we had built was removed in the race for automobile space.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 7. Climaphobia & Vacuum-Packed Cities

As I write this, I’m in a vacuum-packed tube hurtling through the air high above Europe. At this point I’m pleased to be vacuum-packed. I’m grateful that a few generations of designers and engineers have perfected the technology to allow me to avoid the −70°C (−94°F) temperature outside this aircraft and to sip a coffee while penning these words. I remain amazed that this is possible. Like the American comedian Louis C.K. would have it, “You're sitting in a chair in the sky! You’re like a Greek myth right now!”
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 8. The Arrogance of Space

When we describe cities, we have a tendency to give them human character traits. It’s a friendly city. A dynamic city. A boring city. Perhaps, then, a city can be arrogant. Arrogant, for example, with its distribution of space.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 9. Mythbusting

Anyone who knows me know that I am an idealist with a company and not a businessman with ideals. If I were the latter, I would have figured out how to monetize mythbusting. How to make €1 for every time I have to sigh, roll my eyes, and bust a tired, uninformed myth about urban cycling? While time-consuming and often frustrating, it still, however, appears to a necessary part of the narrative we’re trying to cement in the public consciousness around the world. It’s interesting how uniform the misconceptions about cycling are, regardless of where in the world I hear them. It’s equally interesting to sometimes hear them coming from people who cycle, not just people who don’t.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 10. Architecture

It is of vital importance to identify our shared strengths and weaknesses on our bicycle urbanism journey, but also to pay heed to the various allies who are often, in fact, our antagonists. Traffic engineering is one, but so is architecture. To many people, this may seem odd. Isn’t architecture much the same as urban planning? Unfortunately, the divide is greater than it should be. The obsession with pretty buildings—inherent in architecture—all too often doesn’t extend to an understanding of the space around a building.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 11. Desire Lines and Understanding Behavior

Yep. You’ve heard it before. You might even have said it or at least thought it. Those damned cyclists. As bicycles return to our cities, many urban dwellers are trying to figure out cyclists, those urban autists. By and large, the primary focus is on behavior, but with an overwhelmingly negative focus that clouds all the positive aspects of having a cycling population in a city. We are conservative herd animals, governed by laws and moral codes. It is easy to look at a low-income neighborhood with a high crime rate and list possible reasons for people breaking laws. Lack of opportunity, few jobs, a faulty education system, policymakers who fail to work on improving the social fabric, a system that neglects the poor, and so on.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 12. A Secret Cycling Language

We have to see in order to understand. Observing cyclist behavior, especially when so few people have been cycling on any useful scale, is paramount. After so many years of seeing it, I can’t unsee it. Not just the fascinating observations of the Desire Line Analyses but the subtle, poetic details all around me.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 13. A2Bism

I know exactly what you want. It’s the same thing that I want. Indeed, it’s what every homo sapien who has ever lived wants: a direct line from A to B when we’re transporting ourselves. Humans are like rivers carving through a landscape—we will always find the easiest route. This is the most basic principle in transport planning. I call it A2Bism.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 14. The Art of Gathering Data

From my professional point of view as the CEO of an urban-planning company, living in a city that is unrivaled in the world regarding the amount of data it gathers is both a blessing and a curse. Actually, it’s like an addiction. While my company harvests its own garden of data, the City of Copenhagen feeds us with an inexhaustible variety. When we have to use the City’s data in comparison with other cities’ data, it is always a letdown. “That’s all you have?!” Followed by a sigh. Copenhagen has developed a strong municipal culture of collecting data over many years—collecting it and also learning how to interpret it and how to use it going forward in planning. Not to mention using it to convince skeptics. The City has a website onto which they make all the data freely available. It is currently only in Danish, but the list is long. You can see pretty much everything: where things like fountains, kindergartens, or garbage cans are located, which zones street vendors can operate in, where chargers for electric vehicles can be found, or where the city has current urban-planning projects underway.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

The Toolbox


Chapter 15. Best Practice Design and Infrastructure

If, as I have said, the bicycle is the most important and powerful tool in our urban toolbox for making cities better, it’s high time that we took a long, hard look at the blueprints. Our greatest advantage is that we possess them. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when this particular wheel is round and has been rolling for more than a century.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 16. Prioritizing Cycling

Yeah, so, we have the blueprints. We can design and build the macro infrastructure. It’s right there for the taking. But before we drop the mic and exit stage left, there are a number of important elements to consider. By definition, cycle tracks do prioritize cycling, of course, but let’s get into the details about what else we can and should be doing.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 17. Design & Innovation

I will always boldly declare that everything we need in order to design a bicycle-friendly city has already been invented. All the macro-inventory is in place and ready to use. That doesn’t mean we’re done and dusted. We have an ocean of opportunity to tweak, adapt, or improve. Strangely, though, it was wasn’t really happening. We were content with the status quo in mainstream bicycle cities and ignorant of the need for it in others—until 2006, when Klaus Bondam swung open the door to Copenhagen’s mayoral office and started work. The bag of money he brought with him for cycling was more than a financial boost—it was a catalyst for innovation. It changed the question. City employees were handed an espace libre to think completely out of the box on a scale never before seen in Copenhagen or anywhere else since the 1930s. I was hired by the City on a variety of projects back then, and, man, I can tell you that the energy in the City’s Bicycle Secretariat was electric. The greatest brainstorm in the history of urban cycling was underway. So what were the results? Let’s run through the highlights.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 18. Cargo Bike Logistics

Bicycles, like so many finely tuned string and wind instruments, are rewriting the score in our cities. What we see happening now is that bicycles are finally getting some serious accompaniment from a solid and dependable bass section. Cargo bikes.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 19. Curating Transferable Ideas

Two of the major themes in this book are “everything has been invented” and “copy/paste” in order to redesign our cities for the better. However, it might be relevant to highlight an important disclaimer and to squeeze in some thoughts about what is transferable. There are some unique aspects to a cycling life in Copenhagen and Denmark that may not be applicable to other cities or countries.
Mikael Colville-Andersen

Chapter 20. Communication & Advocacy

Let’s cut to the chase. We have, in our possession, one of the greatest products in history. An innovative, game-changing, life-saving, illness-preventing, city-improving product. I’ve been describing it as a tool, but for many people it is a hobby and a passion, for others a lifestyle. In this chapter, let’s focus on the bicycle as a product. Like all products, it needs customers. In order to get customers we need to talk about it, spread the message, market it. This chapter considers two important aspects of that task: increasing the number of bicycles in our cities and how to speak to the potential cyclists. With such an amazing product you would think it would be a piece of cake to get people on board, but there are still flaws in the techniques that are being employed.
Mikael Colville-Andersen


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