With the World Bicycle Day just behind us, we had an opportunity to remember Professor Leszek Sibilski from the United States who led a campaign for a day dedicated to cycling and succeeded when the UN adopted a Resolution declaring June 3rd as the day of cycling. But there have been many others who helped to get bicycling at the level at which it is now. We call them bicycle advocates.
Promoting bicycles as one of the most important means of transport in cities and building appropriate cycling infrastructure is just one part of the job. There have been few strong personalities and opinion leaders who have defended the rights of cyclists against prohibitive or discriminating policies in many European or North American cities since the 70s until today. We owe them a lot because cycling in the city streets has never been safer than it is today.
When Ballantine published Richard’s Bicycle Book for the first time back in 1972, his opinions were revolutionary. Born in 1940, he became an important bike-commuting pioneer after the first oil crisis hit the World at the beginning of the 70s. Not only did his book include a complete description of all kinds of bicycles and the distinctions between them, useful information concerning bicycle maintenance and fitting advice, it also stated that cyclists have inalienable rights to use existing roads. In order to make cycling safer, Ballantine suggested building new types of streets and cycling thoroughfares. Even though he’s not with us any more, there’s no doubt he’d be happy to see how cycling has developed in countries like Denmark or the Netherlands.
A Scottish-American songwriter, music producer, writer, actor and lead singer and guitarist of the new wave band Talking Heads, David Byrne has also been a cycling activist. While living in NY, he always used the bicycle as his main means of transport. Byrne spread cycling enthusiasm, praising the freedom and exhilaration that he experienced during rides. In 2009, Byrne published a book called Bicycle Diaries and in the same year, he auctioned his folding bike in order to raise money for the London Cycling Campaign that has fought for better cycling conditions in the UK capital since 1978. Byrne is also known for designing bicycle racks in shapes that correspond to the locations where they are placed, such as the dollar symbol at the Wall Street or an electric guitar in Brooklyn.
If we were to name one person who has promoted cycling as a dominant means of transport in several European cities, it would be Mikael Colville-Andersen, urban designer and mobility expert with Canadian and Danish roots. In 2009, he founded the Copenhagenize Desing Company in Copenhagen that has established a new vision of city-bicycling for the 21st century. He’s known for sophisticated observational techniques that make it possible to understand the needs and desired lanes of the cyclists in Copenhagen. Using scientific methods, he published his work in a ground-breaking book called The Choreography of an Urban Intersection. Journalists nicknamed him the Pope or Bieber (after the famous singer) of urban cycling. A devoted advocate of bike commuting, Colville-Andersen is considered the author of the term “Cycling Chic”, which refers to cycling in common fashionable clothes instead of practical but ugly sportswear. Following the ideological legacy of his predecessor Jan Gehl, he’s cited as one of the most influential urban planners of today. Among other ideas, Colville-Andersen suggested that mass cycling could improve life in our cities. Fortunately, we’re witnesses of his believes coming true.