Q+A with Copenhagenize urban planner James Thoem


Now that we have had  some time to process the bad dream that was the American election results we can get back to fighting the good fight. The one about  making cities more accessible and welcoming to cyclists. Earlier this week we spoke to urban planner and bike enthusiast James Thoem about his work at leading design firm Copehagenize.

When James Thoem moved to Toronto in 2008 he realized his passion for exploring and understanding urban landscapes. He studied urban planning at the University of Toronto, and worked for a city councillor. After a stint in Stockholm during which he got his masters in urban planning he moved to his all time favourite city; Copenhagen, for an internship at Copenhagenize.

Now a full-time urban planner at Copenhagenize, he's collaborating with fellow professionals and community leaders alike. When he's not in the office or on the road (riding his bike, naturally), he's likely to be found skateboarding with friends in one of Copenhagen’s world renowned public spaces.
dandyhorse caught up with this globe trotting planner to get some insight into Copheagenize and the global movement to make cities more bike friendly.


What do you do at Copenhagenize?

My official title is urban planner, but my typical day-to-day can involve much more. I may spend the morning touring a delegation of American mayors through the city, showcasing what best practice infrastructure actually feels like, while in the afternoon I'll might be pouring over bicycle infrastructure blueprints from one of our clients, and providing feedback from a user-experience perspective. Evenings are reserved for Danish class, exploring the city, or just meeting up with whoever happens to be passing through Copenhagen.


How can we get more people biking?

It all boils down to infrastructure. I'm talking about a network of dedicated, connected, and reliable on-street bicycle infrastructure. One that allows people to get from A to B as quickly and conveniently as possible. When you take into consideration public health, air quality and maintenance costs, bicycle infrastructure is simply the most logical choice. And I'm sorry, but all the campaigns in the world encouraging citizens to commute by bike because it's green or because it's healthy will never result in the modal share increases unless they’re accompanied by quality infrastructure.



What do you think of Toronto's new bike lanes? Did you ride Bloor while you were visiting recently?

Sure did! Riding from Queens Park to Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu (the Korean restaurant with the orange facade at Clinton), I really got the feeling of how amazingly natural bike lanes on Bloor really are. These sorts of pilot projects can be an incredibly strategic method for rolling out new infrastructure. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next, there's still plenty of opportunity to build upon infrastructure design and inter-modality along the Bloor corridor.


What are your favourite bike lanes?

Thinking locally, that's got to be cycling along Copenhagen's Nørrebrogade. I often tell Canadian visitors that with such a mix of storefronts, attractions, and people, Nørrebrogade is the city's Queen Street West. Just three years ago, the city ran a pilot project reducing private automobile access, removing parking completely, widening cycle tracks to over three meters in each direction, and syncing traffic signals to cycling speeds. The pilot was so successful, the city moved to make the changes permanent. Now there's more than 42,000 people cycling along this stretch every day! But there's plenty of inspirations beyond Denmark. Look to cities such as Buenos Aires, Seville, or Ljubliana to see how serious investments in bicycle infrastructure have directly lead to improved streetscapes.

What city is making the most exciting advances as far as complete streets and active transportation goes? What is next in transportation innovation?

We just finished working with Almetyevsk, a small city in Russia with a very ambitious Mayor. The mayor wanted to see Almetyevsk become the most bicycle friendly city in Russia. And although there isn't much serious competition in this field, he still decided to go the full mile, laying 50 km of dedicated, connected infrastructure in just one year. And yes, they have even bought and rolled out a fleet of cycle track snowplows.

Oslo is another city to watch out for. As the city moves to make for a car-free downtown core, introduce 60 km of new bicycle infrastructure, remove all free parking in the city centre, and reduce car traffic by 20 per cent by 2020, they're really turning heads in Oslo, especially in such a car -entric country.

And in North America, since opening our Montreal office, we’ve been working with the City of Detroit to implement a connected network of fully protected bicycle infrastructure. The City’s new chief planner and his team came out to Copenhagen and have really come opened their eyes to how proper bicycle infrastructure can provide reliable and accessible mobility options.

If you want to follow up on more of the work being done in the City of Copenhagen and the Copenhagenize project check out these detailed reports: here and here.

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