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The Globe and Mail

How to get urban dwellers cycling: Make it normal

This stretch of Toronto's King Street West, lined with cabs and delivery vans of beer, choked with midday drivers dodging streetcars, is not the most bike-friendly block. But Andreas Rohl is pedalling around on a bike as though it were the most normal thing in the world.

Which is the point.

Mr. Rohl, Copenhagen's bicycle guru, was visiting Toronto this week from Vancouver, where he's working on a new walking and cycling strategy for the West Coast city. He sat down with The Globe and Mail after his keynote talk at the Ontario Bike Summit.

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What are you doing here?

Actually, I'm here because of my son: I had a baby son last year, in March. And so, going on paternity leave, I thought it would be great to go and work somewhere else.

Why should cities try to get people biking in urban areas?

It's very much connected to traffic – getting good mobility for a lot of people in a city in a way that's very cheap, is flexible for the individual, is fast, is convenient. … But it's also about health: If so many people are biking, it's like half your population is exercising an hour each day. And you improve people's quality of life by giving them options.

So how do you get people onto bikes?

I think the main thing is treating cycling as nothing special. If you have Option A and Option B, and Option A takes you 15 minutes, it's comfortable, Option B takes you 25 minutes, it feels dangerous, most people will choose Option A. … The bottom line is just making it the most attractive choice.

Have you ever heard the phrase "war on the car"?

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Yeah. I think I heard it here – someone mentioned it today.

What do you think of it?

It's a phrase that doesn't make sense. I go in cars, sometimes. I really like it. … [The phrase]creates hostility: Either you're a cyclist or a driver. And, first of all, it's not true: Most people are both. But also, it's damaging.

Some people argue making bike lanes hurts drivers because it takes space away from cars. Is that true?

In some instances it's true, definitely. But my Copenhagen experience is in the long term, it's not. … In the long term, you have better conditions for car drivers by creating more space for bikes. … But definitely, in the short term, if you have a street with four lanes and you take out one or two for separated bike lanes, then there's less space for cars. That's just a fact.

Some people say it's not so much bike infrastructure that makes it safer, but just the number of bikes on the road. How does that work?

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There's safety in numbers. The more cyclists there are in a city, the safer it gets for each cyclist. … Because everyone in the city gets used to them. In Vancouver, there's a fear of what you call "dooring." … In Copenhagen, it's not very high on the agenda because all Danes, they know, when they get out of a car they have to remember to look.

Have you ever been doored?

No. But I've doored someone.

Really? In Copenhagen? What was that like?

It's a long story. … I was a student, working part-time delivering stuff. We were on a street where we were not allowed to park, and then there was a police car behind us. So I was rushing out and wasn't looking. … But the woman I hit was going very slow. So nothing happened. But I think it's about realizing that every human being makes mistakes.

This interview has been edited and condensed.




The West Coast city has no shortage of recreational or occasional cyclists – its mission now is to persuade them to take their steeds to work.

About 4 per cent of Vancouverites commute by bike; in some neighbourhoods, the number is as high as 10 per cent. To boost those totals, the city is beefing up its bike-lane network (400 kilometres and counting) and creating segregated lanes where possible.


Relations between cyclists and motorists in Canada's most populous metropolis have been tense at times. In 2011, Toronto for the first time removed on-road bike lanes (about three kilometres' worth, on Jarvis Street).

But the city's highly mobilized two-wheeled commuters have an ally in Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who has pledged to expand both on- and off-road routes.


The Public Bike-Sharing Company's Bixi creation has become synonymous with shared short-haul two-wheel transportation not only in some Canadian cities, but internationally, as well.

The Montreal-based company exported its bike sharing program to London, Boston and elsewhere. But it ran into financial trouble last year, when it required a multimillion-dollar bailout from the municipal government.

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