Don’t be ridiculous

Sorting through my files from Malmö I came across this gem.

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What it looks like when bikes outnumber cars

I couldn’t resist posting this video I took at the intersection of Gyldenløvesgade / Nørre Søgade in Copenhagen on Nov 28th at 4:00 pm.

Can you help me guess the bike-to-car ratio for this single signal phase?

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A brief reflection on a month to remember

I knew it would pass quickly, but I had no idea just how fast the time would “speed” by. Perhaps it was the intense schedule, or the few hours of daylight, or the effect of moving from one country to the next, or the constant feeling that I was behind on my blog posts. But, as I remember the many faces of people I had the privilege to meet in Munich, Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Malmo, I realize just how much I’ve learned in such a short period of time. When you have the right guide(s), it is incredible how intimately you can get to know four cities in just four weeks.

Sure, it will take some time to process all the observations and thoughts swimming about in my mind. But even now, I realize this experience has impacted me. It has opened my mind to four totally different worlds. I didn’t discover any utopian dream lands where cars, trucks, bikes, buses, people and places coexist in perfect harmony. No, I found something better – real places where lessons learned (both good and bad) have shaped the urban streetscape. Places where people have spent decades testing solutions to move people in a way that not only gets them around efficiently but also gets them to stay.

Thank you to everyone I met during my travels, all those who followed this blog (especially those who shared their comments), the German Marshall Fund, and most of all my supportive family. All good things come to an end…but I hope this will prove to be just the start.

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Rolfsgatan: Ode to a livable street

The first thing you should know is that this street would probably not be built this way if it was built today. The southern end of Rolfsgatan is a picturesque two blocks in Malmo’s South Sofielund neighborhood with decorative pavers and ornamental light posts lined by quaint single-family homes. This historic neighborhood was built in the 1920s on what was then the outskirts of town.

Today, if you were to place a pin directly in the center of Malmo, it would land somewhere close to South Sofielund. This proximity offers a very strategic advantage to residents making it possible to reach any other place in the municipality by bicycle in less than 30 minutes.

Rolfsgatan is a very narrow roadway – only 14 feet including on-street parking on one side and a skinny 3-foot sidewalk – which makes it awkward to maneuver a car along.  It exemplifies a street built at a human-scale for movement at a human-pace. It serves as a north-south bikeway and offers full permeability for people on foot or bike but it is closed to through motorized traffic. The bikeway links up to a heavily traveled off-street pathway just south of Rolfsgatan.

Lönngatan, a street that carries around 15,000 cars per day and four bus lines, divides South and North Sofielund.  Despite the heavy traffic, cycling conditions on Lönngatan are quite comfortable thanks to a wide two-way cycle track that runs along the south side. Strategically placed bollards or railings at the entry points to the intersecting streets allow for easy access for people on foot or two-wheels. All six blocks south of this dividing line have been closed to motor vehicle (including Rolfsgatan) to protect the neighborhood from cut-through traffic. The result is a place that welcomes all human-powered forms of travel.

Following the end of WWII, the city began constructing massive apartment complexes to accommodate and attract more residents. Quickly, the historic part of Sofielund was sandwiched between densely populated areas and the city center. As was common with housing complexes built in this era, the immediate surrounding areas experienced rapid decline giving this part of town a lasting image as havens for crime and drugs. This negative perception endures to this day.

Still, based on the cars in some of the driveways, it is clear that many residents have the means to move to the more affluent western portion of the City, if they wanted to. What is unclear is how concerns about security affect the livability of this particular street.

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A tribute to my faithful companions

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I could not have said it better myself!

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Western Harbor – a planned sustainable oasis resists becoming another suburban island

For 100 years, the Western Harbor was home to a major shipbuilding industry located at the edge of the Öresund strait, which separates Sweden from Denmark. The land was originally claimed from the sea to create a home for Kockums, a Swedish shipbuilding firm. When the industry vanished in the mid-80s taking with it around 6,000 jobs overnight, it set in motion a complete transformation of the district into an internationally acclaimed model for sustainable dense urban communities.

The Bo01 district – known as the exhibition area – along the area’s western edge was a neighborhood constructed for the 2001 European Housing Fair complete with ecologically built (high- and low-rise) houses and public spaces, many designed by internationally renowned architects. The idea was to showcase green-building techniques and a compact approach to growth and development where residents can live a car-light lifestyle.

The nature of the pilot project allowed for a high degree of flexibility and innovation in the design of the street system. Roads in the district are primarily pedestrian only or “pedestrian speed” (Swedish version of the woonerf) streets. The dimensions of the roadways and materials used display a diverse range of techniques to convey their purpose is first for placemaking and secondly for traffic. Touring the Bo01 site, you can’t help but be impressed by the skinny streets, beautiful architecture and integration of nature into the built environment. The Turning Torso, the 54-story skyscraper designed to mimic the twisting human form, is an absolute wonder to witness.

The Western Harbor is in the heart the city, just west of the central station and a short distance from pretty much anywhere. The concept was to offer an urban lifestyle where residents would not need to own a car. The City built more than 8 km of bikeways, extended frequent bus service to the area and set the parking ratio to allow for less than one parking space per unit. The only problem is that most of the people who can afford to live there, also can afford to own a car, or two. As a result, cars are nearly as ubiquitous as bikes. There is a hope that as the rest of the district develops, making the connection to the Central Station more pedestrian-friendly, and perhaps even a streetcar line is introduced, the vision of a car-light neighborhood will be realized.

Link to more info on the Western Harbor: http://www.malmo.se/download/18.3101c0911206abdf07380001750/GuideVastraHamnen_EngelsktOriginal_Web.pdf

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