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Gehl on Wheels

Copenhagen’s sage of post-car culture pedals into New York.

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This summer, Jan Gehl, the 71-year-old Danish traffic-curbing guru, took NYC planning chief Amanda Burden and transportation czar Janette Sadik-Khan on a bike trip around Copenhagen to show them what could be done for New York. Now they’ve invited him to work with the city on how to make biking and walking safer and easier here, just as he has in Melbourne, London, and Stockholm. He’ll be in New York on November 6 to give a talk at the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side. He spoke to Tim Murphy.

Can New York really be tamed?
I don’t have any vision of taming New York, and I don’t think it should be. I do think there’s an imbalance between the various uses of the street that can be adjusted.

You still bike daily. Do you bike when you’re here?
Once it’s reasonably safe, you can ask the senior citizens to bike. I shall be happy to be the first. My younger colleagues bike a lot here to find out how it is. It’s a matter of age and daring, and a few other things.

Like being crazy?
That’s your words.

Is London’s congestion-pricing plan working?
Traffic has dropped there by 18 percent. And when London was given the 2012 Olympics, suddenly everybody was eager to improve the city very fast. If you can only get an Olympics, everything will be fine.

How can we reduce traffic in midtown?
There’s a number of ways, but congestion pricing may be the easiest and most-proven means of doing it quickly.

So you think it’s necessary?
Did I say that? I didn’t say that.

With all the bike theft here, could a Copenhagen- or Paris-style bike-sharing system work?
I certainly think so. These bikes would look different and be geared so that they’d be a little bit awkward to bike long distances on. At first in Copenhagen people collected them, but after a few years, that was not so interesting anymore.

What do you think of the new bike lane on Ninth Avenue?
It’s grossly overdone. You can make the whole thing one third the width.

Have you told the city this?
Not yet. I will next week.

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