Architecture and urban design cannot be seen as separate from the culture for which they are intended. However, that culture itself is not static but can be crafted and pushed into certain directions by ambitious forward-thinking combined with political will. As an Irish-Dutch office, based in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, we are continuously comparing and contrasting three distinctive cities; Dublin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Realising how certain attitudes and cultures have been nurtured and manufactured in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it is interesting to consider how Dublin could benefit from implementing similar strategies. In this first post, we would like to discuss a trademark characteristic of both Copenhagen and Amsterdam; cycling.
Copenhagen and Amsterdam are without a doubt Europe’s cycling capitals – in which they both have considerable pride. Due to the success of cycling they are continuously moving towards bike over car-based infrastructural investment. Simply put, it is more cost efficient in terms of capital expenditure to build a lightweight bridge or cycle path than a roadway or bridge for vehicular access. It also reinforces cycling as a viable mode of transport while being on message in relation to the ideas on healthy cities for the future. As a result of the exponential growth in cycling traffic across cities in Northern Europe, it has long been a necessity for these cycling capitals to embrace the bicycle as the key component within the transportation hierarchy.
The histories of how both the Danes and the Dutch became so bicycle dependent cultures share similar timelines and factors. In Denmark, cities in the sixties suddenly became congested and polluted. Some proposed controversial road projects started to push the Danes away from using the car. The Dutch describe a reaction to the high mortality rate of children on roads in combination with the oil crisis, as the joint catalysts for considerable reform to the car-centric urban policies that had been pursued previously. In both cases the use of bicycles has on many levels radically altered how these cities work and are experienced.
Famously, the bicycle is king in both countries and there are municipal policies to back this up. Cars are banned or actively encouraged not to enter certain parts of the city, while a large amount of urban infrastructure is now based around two wheels rather than four. Some of examples of this include the multi-storey bicycle parking near Central Station in Amsterdam by the Irish-Dutch firm VMX, the Nesciobridge that links up to the artificial islands of IJburg to the city, the Cykelslangen in Copenhagen or the latest new cycling landmark for Eindhoven – the Hovenring; a suspended cycle path roundabout hovering over a busy intersection. These landmark structures with their distinct design not only provide exclusive access to those on bikes by prioritising cyclists over motorists but also significantly promote awareness and a pride in cycling. They all add an air of exclusivity to people on their bikes; allowing cyclists to sometimes literally be elevated above the car. There is also Den Grønne Sti in Copenhagen; a 10km long green cycle corridor that runs diagonally through the city. This provides a fast and pleasant route whilst at the same time linking a series of green spaces, university campuses that form a linear parkway through the city. These projects not only clearly illustrate that both cities are keen to improve the journey and number of cyclists by putting their money where their mouth is, but also how design itself can promote, reinforce and cement a certain culture and way of thinking.
It is clear both the Danes and the Dutch understand the merits of freeing up their cities from cars and promoting the benefits of a cycling population. Dublin may not have the cycling legacy of these other European capitals, but it should also be noted that both countries have had periods in the past with targeted marketing campaigns aimed at getting all strands of society on their bikes. This culture didn’t develop by accident, but required long term investment and political determination to get a critical mass of the population to believe in it.
It’s amazing how porous Dublin city centre still is for cars; because you can get right to where you want to go by car, a lot do. Consequently there are more and more cars in the city centre. It is also striking to think that all of the recent high profile bridges across the Liffey in Dublin – the Rosie Hackett Bridge, the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the James Joyce Bridge – are partly in existence to facilitate cars to move through the city. The old adage reminds us, if you build it they will come, so why is Dublin hell-bent on bringing more cars into the city centre?
The most recent census data put it that 69% of Irish people travel to work by car whereas 36% of Danes and 30% of the Dutch cycle daily. Having said that, there is a documented substantial growth in Dublin with regards its status as an emerging bicycle city according to the 2013 list The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities In The World. Surely it would be prudent to capitalise on this growing trend and start to introduce a cycling hierarchy for a city that is eager to develop alternative modes of transport. What’s required is a number of key infrastructural projects that will signal Dublin’s commitment to cycling and actually improve the day-to-day lives of people moving in the city. Thankfully the success of the Dublin Bicycle scheme will not allow anybody to hide behind the ‘Ireland is not ready for that’ rhetoric. Producing good cities is rarely about innovation. It involves looking at your neighbours, learning from their success, and working hard to make change happen.
 Census 2011 showed that 1,136,615 people either drove to work or were driven.  Cycling Embassy of Denmark states that 36% of all Danish adults ride a bike to work daily or once a week.  According to FietsBeraad, 30 percent of Dutch commuters always travel by bicycle, and an additional 40 percent sometimes bike to work.  The Copenhagenize Index 2013 is a comprehensive ranking of 150 global cities generated by Copenhagenize Design Co.