"That will never work here - this isn't Copenhagen!"

“That will never work here – this isn’t Copenhagen!”

How many times have you heard that? Honestly, during a conversation about how to, or even whether to, develop cycling infrastructure with someone who thinks it’s a waste of time, the phrase, “that will never work here – this isn’t Copenhagen!”will be trotted out with tedious consistency like it’s the final blow to any argument for cycling infrastructure.

Here’s the thing though – half of the infrastructure they have in Copenhagen now wouldn’t have worked in Copenhagen when they were in the early stages of transforming their roads, either.

Transition takes time. It is quite rare, if not impossible, to go from step 1 straight through to step 10. The general populace has to be educated and convinced, a reasonable government needs to be elected, cyclists need to take action, and many other things need to happen before meaningful change comes to fruition. These are serious changes, and if they happen quickly, it is usually because of a rather significant event or series of events on a grand scale occurring. Say, an oil crisis, or thousands of people dying, many of them children. Hmmm… that sounds familiar…

I get a little annoyed when cyclists scoff, ridicule and get outrageously offended at genuine attempts at bettering infrastructure for cycling, especially when it is actually better than what it replaced. That ridicule is sometimes well founded, mind you. There are many newly implemented cycling layouts that have obvious problems and seem, at least on the surface, to have been lacking proper consultation or are a victim of a half-assed effort. Sometimes, however, cyclists just like to have a freak out over a real attempt to help because it isn’t perfect in their eyes straight out of the box, as opposed to saying, “thanks for the effort, chaps, now lets improve it this way, and do better with this next one…”, and that, like I said, annoys me.

At any rate (I seem to have gotten a little off track there), change doesn’t happen instantly. Most cities are just starting out on the road to change, only having had a few years with cycling being more of a political issue, and some countries are finding it rather difficult to leave their warm, cozy beds where cars have had a monopoly on our roads, and out into the crisp morning air where people matter rather than one particular mode of costly and dangerous transportation. Many European cities have had quite a few more decades to work this out, and as a result, are far more advanced than places like, say, Australia, for example.

You won’t, however, catch me arguing against the idea that Copenhagen’s way of thinking is also far more advanced than some others (*cough*Australia*cough*), taking a far more reasoned approach to matters of a political, legal, and social nature (that’s my opinion, but I’ll put the burden of proof on you to prove me wrong). Sadly, that kind of change requires a far more substantial cultural change, over, in most cases, a much longer time-frame (glacial), and may possibly require us to simply borrow the Netherlands government for a few years. They won’t mind much, right?

Actually, that would be amazing. It would be like one of those Wife Swap/Supernanny/Ship-your-kids-off-to-a-boot-camp TV shows, which I would most definitely watch.

I think I’m on to something there…

Anyway, I’m again wandering away from why I started on this post in the first place, and that was to show you this video:

This bit of cycling infrastructure would never work here in Australia – not any time in the near future, anyway. Even in cycle-friendly and hyper-aware Netherlands this looks a bit sketchy, especially the back-half of the roundabout, which even the video sort of admits (“experimental junction design, even in the Netherlands”). It will work though, because, like I said, they’re reasonable. They understand that a) everyone needs to get around and slowing down for one second in your car in order to let a cyclist through makes no difference to your travel time, and b) overall, it’s actually more efficient, for more people.

Can you imagine this roundabout just being dumped into an intersection in Adelaide? Ha! That’s such a ridiculous notion that it’s comical to imagine. First of all, the first person who came across it wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it, but I fear that the problem is more basic than understanding how it works. The primary problem is that, if the average driver encountered this cyclist roundabout, the thought that a main section of road infrastructure is built with cyclists as a priority rather than cars would never exist in the first place. It’s the mentality that needs to change.

Where the average person does accept that bikes in fact belong on the roads, it’s often with the understanding that while the roads are indeed for motorists, we legally have to share them with cyclists, which we will abide with, because we are enlightened persons. Not equal, but accepted… a little begrudgingly.

I’m taking the piss a little, but if you squint a lot and try not to think too much, that’s basically how it looks to many a cyclist.

But that’s now.

If you haven’t noticed, Australia isn’t actually trialing any new, experimental, cyclist-first infrastructure projects, and the cycling mode-share isn’t quite at the 27% that it is in the Netherlands (and upwards of 59% in some parts!), sitting at less than 2%. In other words, we are still rocking around on all fours, only just starting to figure out how to crawl when it comes to designing and implementing infrastructure for people rather than cars, and shouldn’t be expecting to run any marathons straight away. That’s the problem with this generation, who want everything right now and for free. What we need to do is focus on learning how to crawl, taking it one step at a time, but taking those steps boldly and confidently. We need to be excited about trying new things, learning from our mistakes, and admitting that there are already quite a few good ideas that have been used with great success elsewhere, and for quite some time now that we could try with little risk. We need to get involved and motivate our leaders to put pen to paper and make our cities more livable places.

We need to remind people who say, “that will never work here – this isn’t Copenhagen!”, that Copenhagen started somewhere too, which was with an oil crisis and thousands of dead people with far too many of them young children (over 400). They wanted a change for the better, and made a start at it.

So the question is, when do you want to start?


Header image: source