If you’ve been following bicycle blogs for any amount of time at
all, you’ve probably stumbled upon Mikael Colville-Andersen, who runs
the blogs Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic. (We often feature his posts on the Streetsblog Network.)
On Tuesday afternoon, he brought his inimitable style of bike advocacy
(pretty spiffy, though low-key) to Columbia University.
Colville-Andersen says biking should be marketed as "a multivitamin
Viagra pill for the urban landscape." Photo: Sarah Goodyear
title of his talk was "Marketing Bicycle Culture to Subconscious
Environmentalists." Basically, Colville-Andersen’s message came down to
this: We need to promote bicycles as the incredibly practical, fun,
stylish, sexy and healthy items that they are. We also need to present
them as being mainstream, not the province of a subculture (whether it
be Lycra-wearing or fixie-riding).
In Copenhagen, bicycling is mainstream — 37 percent of
commuters in the city use bikes, and 55 percent of trips overall are
made on bikes. As Colville-Andersen pointed out, people on bikes in the
Danish capital are not "cyclists" — they’re people. On bikes.
did this state of affairs come about? According to Colville-Andersen,
in the 1960s Danish cycle culture was "dying," as it was all over the
world in the post-World War II era. Then, because of what he described
as a combination of visionary urban planning and visionary political
decision-making, the city embarked on a long-term program of creating
consistent bicycle infrastructure that would make everyone feel safe on
And now, everyone does. Colville-Andersen
said that people in his home city laugh at him when he says he’s going
abroad to lecture on Copenhagen’s bicycle culture — because to them it
has become invisible. A bicycle is simply a tool, like a vacuum
cleaner. Most Copenhagenites surveyed say they choose to travel by bike
because it is simply the easiest, fastest way to get from Point A to
The result is a measurable financial benefit to the state, because people who
cycle regularly are healthier and put less stress on the roads. And of
course, the benefit to the people and the city, whose citizenry is engaged with the life of its streets, is incalculable.
suggested that bicycling needs to be marketed — by government and
cycle manufacturers — as glamorous, exciting and convenient. "We’re
homo sapiens," he said. "We don’t respond well to finger-wagging. In
order for someone to get us to do something, someone has to show us how
easy it is."
To reach the "subconscious environmentalist,"
the everyday person, Colville-Andersen suggested bicycling should be
sold as "a multivitamin Viagra pill for the urban landscape." It’s an
assessment he says is not inaccurate.
had plenty of fun and useful information for Americans who want to
improve the cycling landscape, he was at a loss when confronted with
the question, "Is there any way wearing a helmet can be sexy?" The
Copenhagenite is well-known to be no great fan of bike helmets (he’d like you to know that motoring helmets
are available and perhaps more advisable). He graciously allowed,
however, that some in this country (and this city) might feel more
comfortable wearing them.
But sexy helmets? He hemmed,
hawed, and finally put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "No, they
can’t be sexy," he said. "But just ride a bike. That’s what matters."