Dal sessions aim to make cycling easier in Halifax

A Copenhagen consulting firm has plans to make Halifax, and cities across North America, more bicycle friendly

Narrow streets and a lack of bike racks on transit buses make it difficult to commute by bicycle in Halifax (Photo: Adam Scotti)

Mikael Colville-Andersen wants you to use something that will help you live longer, experience less illness and lead a more productive life.

It will also save your municipality money on road repairs and health care costs, and increase the livability of your city.

He wants you to use a bicycle.

"The bicycle is an amazing product. A multi-vitamin. A Viagra pill for the urban landscape. You can call it all sorts of things," Colville-Andersen said during a public discussion Tuesday night. "The problems that it solves for cities is amazing."

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Mikael Colville-Andersen adresses the audience in a public discussion about cycling in Halifax (Photo: Marie Hanifen)

The top ten bicycle friendly cities in the world, according to Copenhagenize

  • Copenhagen, Denmark: 55% (37% city wide)
  • Groningen, Netherlands: 55%
  • Greifswald, Germany: 44%
  • Lund, Sweden: 43%
  • Assen, Netherlands: 40%
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands: 40%
  • Munster, Germany: 40%
  • Utrecht, Netherlands: 33%
  • Vasteras, Sweden: 33%
  • Ferrara, Italy: 30%

Colville-Andersen is CEO of Copenhagenize Consulting. He works with cities internationally who want to see more bicycles used as a means of transportation.

He delivered a lecture at Dalhousie University Tuesday night called 4 Goals for Promoting Urban Cycling that pointed to the need for better cycling infrastructure in North American cities such as Halifax. There were about 150 people in attendance.

While the event includes a public lecture, the real heart of the discussion is the two days of training sessions that follow. The sessions, named "Kickstand," were created as a combined effort between Copenhagenize in Denmak and Mobycon, a consulting firm in the Netherlands.

The sessions are designed to bring ideas from locals and experts together to change policies or create infrastructure that will increase the potential for cycling in cities.

While the public forum is a free event, the two-day sessions are not. They cost $600, and have a capacity of 30 people. According to Colville-Andersen, city councillors, urban planners, architects and other professionals have signed on for the session.

Premier Darrell Dexter has agreed to attend the session today.

Last September, Copenhagenize Consulting published the first ever bicycle friendly city index. They looked at 80 cities, not including Halifax. 

There were 13 parameters, including the public's willingness to share the road with cyclists, public interest in cycling, bike share programs and cycling infrastructure.  Amsterdam and Copenhagen topped the list.  Before the company came to Nova Scotia, they also looked at Halifax's criteria.

"It's not very impressive, I'm sorry to say," Colville-Andersen said.

There are a lot of reasons why cycling in Halifax isn't easy. Halifax features many narrow streets, making bike lanes and other infrastructure challenging to install.

The city is also sprawled out over thousands of square kilometres, with large tracks of land separating one urban centre from the other. Only about 98 kilometres of roadway in Halifax contains bike lanes, and those lanes are often disconnected and random.

That, combined with the fact that bikes are banned from city buses and old buses are not equipped with bike racks, makes it very difficult to bike around the city.

But Colville-Andersen is hoping to change that.

"A to Bism."

According to Colville-Andersen, 37 per cent of commuters in Copenhagen heading to work or school get there by bicycle.

And while we often associate cycling with fitness or environmentalism, in Copenhagen it's primarily used because it's a quick and easy way to get from point A to B.

"We're like rivers," he said. "We always choose the easiest route. If you make that the bicycle, people are going to do it."

But for this to work in a city such as Halifax, better infrastructure, such as more bike lanes and proper bike lane maintenance, need to be in place to make cycling as easy as possible, Colville-Andersen said.

Bicycle marketing

Cycling in Halifax often gets a bad rap. Many consider it dangerous, or think it requires expensive bikes and sports clothing. And then there's the issue of showing up sweaty to work after a long bike ride.

"Nobody at Copenhagen has showers at work," Colville-Andersen said to laughs from the crowd. "They just ride a bit slower if it's hot."

Colville-Andersen has more misconceptions to debunk. Contrary to popular belief the risk of head injury is higher for car drivers than it is for cyclists, he says.

Instead of pointing to the hazardous sides of cycling, Colville-Andersen would like to see a more positive approach to cycling. He wishes to make it cool and glamorous while promoting its good traits.

"This is the power of marketing," he says. "We do it with dog food - we can do it with urban cycling."

The bull in the china shop

"Instead of running around bubble-wrapping pedestrians and cyclists and wagging our fingers at these people," he said. "We should start looking right at the problem."

The problem, according to Colville-Andersen, is the car.

Many European cities are drafting laws to decrease automobile and cyclist collisions. Seventy-five cities in Europe now have 30 kilometre speed limits in densely populated areas.

Many European countries also have a law called "strict liability," meaning that if the driver of a car hits a cyclist or pedestrian, the driver of the car is automatically at fault. These measures are estimated to have reduced pedestrian and cyclist injuries by up to 40 per cent.

The re-democratization of urban cycling

Cycling began in the late 1880s, and was used by many in cities as a primary way to get around. However, for the last 40 years, bicycles have been branded as sports and recreation equipment, something that Colville-Andersen takes issue with.

Instead, bicycles should become an everyday tool again, like a vacuum cleaner or chair, he says.

The lecture was sponsored by Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Dalhousie's Department of Sustainability. It was hosted by the Halifax Cycling Coalition, a non-profit cycling organization that seeks to raise awareness of cycling issues in Halifax.

The "Kickstart" sessions are the first in a series that will be given across Canada. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver are all slated for lectures, but no dates have yet been set.

Comments on this story are now closed

The comment about only Metrolink buses being equipped with bike racks is outdated. Metro Transit won't retrofit the older buses with racks, but all new buses added to the fleet are equipped and for many months now buses on regular routes have racks.

Posted by Veronica Price | Feb 3, 2022

Thank you for your comment Veronica. I'm sorry that I missed that. The article has been updated!

Posted by Marie Hanifen | Feb 4, 2022

It was such a great idea that Dal sessions aim to make cycling easier in Halifax just like how you clean the house with a h2o mop. I know that their aim would really make a big change on many peoples mind. I hope that they would be able to achieve what they really aim.

Posted by Jake Winsor | Feb 10, 2022