Jan Gehl on Sustainable Transport in Copenhagen and NYC

While in Copenhagen to film the Danish capital’s world-beating bike infrastructure, Streetfilms’ Elizabeth Press caught up with urban planner extraordinaire Jan Gehl for a brief, canal-side chat. In this clip, Gehl explains how cycling and transit fit within the city’s sustainability agenda, and why "unnecessary transportation" threatens the global climate.

With Mayor Bloomberg in Copenhagen today for a gathering of mayors at the UN climate summit, Gehl also got in touch with Streetsblog recently to offer his take on New York’s recent livable streets advances. Apparently, word has reached Copenhagen of the Bedford Avenue bike lane removal, a setback which Gehl says shouldn’t obscure the Bloomberg administration’s track record on walking, biking, and public space:

A heartfelt welcome to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Michael Bloomberg can participate in the assembly of mayors from the major cities of the world backed by impressive accomplishments achieved in just a few years as part of the ambitious and impressive program for making New York one of the world’s leading cities regarding sustainability policies.

Throughout the world the New York programs of introducing an extensive bicycle infrastructure, a new bicycle culture and a general improvement and humanization of the public realm has been well noticed and hailed, and the City of New York is now seen as an inspiring example of things to do to improve the quality of city life and in the same process to address the climate challenge through city policies.

I keep up when I can on news from New York. I recently saw someone express the idea that bicyclists should protest against Mayor Bloomberg when he comes to the climate meetings next week in my home town of Copenhagen because part of a bike lane in Brooklyn was moved.

You will have to excuse me if I tell you that that is one of the more absurd things I have heard in a long time. Mayor Bloomberg should properly be celebrated as one of the world’s most important leaders in making cities more friendly to people and bicycles.

It is easy to get excited when something like a local bike route changes. But I ask my friends in New York to also consider a wider perspective.

Copenhagen is seen as one of the world’s capital cities of bicycling, but did you know that New York has established more kilometers of bike lanes in the last three years than the renown bicycle friendly city of Copenhagen has in over forty? Yes there is the difference in scale, but the fact is that New York is catching up with a speed that I have never seen in my years of travel and work in cities around the world.

Mayor Bloomberg established PlaNYC as the city’s map for the future, and he hired Janette Sadik-Khan to give New York a new trasportation policy. Beyond all the new bike lanes, how many New Yorkers three years ago could have imagined the new public plazas, the cycle tracks in Chelsea, the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, and Summer Streets, not to mention the big changes on Broadway?

There is indeed quite an impressive array of environment friendly accomplishments carried out in just a few years which makes New York stand out among other major cities of the world. At the coming summit of mayors from around the world Michael Bloomberg can indeed look the other mayors straight into the eyes with justifiable pride and hum with some confidence: "If we can make it here, you can make it anywhere." Keep up the good work. The world is watching and hopefully following the example.

  • JK

    “Mayor Bloomberg should properly be celebrated as one of the world’s most important leaders in making cities more friendly to people and bicycles.”

    Yes and yes! And his administration should be self confident enough to remember that in a democracy, those that want better bicycling and buses should speak at least as loudly in the public square as those who do not.

  • And I ask my friends in Copenhagen to consider the perspective of those actually affected by Mr. Bloomberg’s transportation policies.

  • “did you know that New York has established more kilometers of bike lanes in the last three years than the renown bicycle friendly city of Copenhagen has in over forty?”

    Yes, well, NYC is over 10 times the population of Copenhagen, so you are going to have to lay a lot of infrastructure to get comparable. Don’t get me wrong, NYC is doing some great things. I’m just not sure this is a good comparison and probably would not repeat it as a statistic.

  • According to me Mayor Bloomberg should effectively be recognized as one of the most essential management to make places more helpful to people and bicycles.

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