A Taste of Europe

This isn’t the first time I’ve been to Europe, and it probably won’t be the last. However, this trip is probably the longest period of time that I’ve spent here. Over that period of time, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some places while I’m simultaneously studying Urban Planning at Birmingham City University. I’d never really paid attention to ‘urbanism’ while travelling until I entered the program and it’s afforded me a pretty unique perspective on cities that I visit. Here’s what I noticed:


s/o to Kellen for making this amazing video of the trip. Copenhagen is undoubtedly the cycling city. Why is it the cycling city, and how did it get that way? While I was there, I found out a few of things:

  1. Tax on cars: 180% (yes, one hundred eighty percent)
  2. Copenhagen is surprisingly flat.
    • There are no steep hills
    • No sudden changes in elevation
  3. Cycling infrastructure is prioritized everywhere
  4. There’s no stigma with cycling because everyone does it (and looks really good doing it)
  5. There’s no mandatory helmet law
  6. It’s cold and snowy, but people know about jackets and snow is managed


A photo posted by Alex Gaio (@alex_gaio) on

Barcelona has a pretty small core, which isn’t unlike any of its European counterparts. One interesting thing I learned about Barcelona is that its bike share system only offers annual subscriptions. The reason why is there was massive opposition from local bike rental shops. Barcelona also has really cool right-of-ways and intersections. Here’s what a typical high street would look light. Quite grand and wide, but not dominated by auto traffic. A lot of the time, there would be seating in the middle chunk of pavement, sometimes with full-service tables from restaurants and bike markings on either edge of the centre pavement section. Here’s how one looked that I walked on:


Second point. Cool intersections. I’ve never seen this done before:

Barcelona’s octagonal intersections where there’s space for parking and dumpsters.

A typical intersection looks like a square where there are four corners. Barcelona would ‘trim’ those corners, per se, and then use the space that trimmed corners created to store dumpsters and parking. Not exactly pretty in this application, but interesting nonetheless. There’s lots of potential for what that space could be used for.

4544827697_6f73866999_b    octagon-512


I’ve wanted visit this city for a long time. I’ve been amazed by its transportation network and by it’s ultra cool mayor and her efforts to curb pollution and make sustainable living more accessible. Also, Vélib’. I spent lots of time on transit while I was there and really liked how much attention to detail was given to consistency and branding. This is becoming more common around the world, but Paris is pretty good at working across operators to ensure legibility.

Hashtag elegance.

Something else is Paris’ strange obsession with having mixed bike and bus lanes. While it’s better than nothing, I found myself spending more time shoulder checking and making sure there wasn’t a bus pushing me than enjoying the ride or paying closer attention to other road users. Maybe I’m a n00b, but it’s something that I didn’t get accustomed to biking in Paris.

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Alex Gaio

I'm an Urban and Regional Planning Student at Ryerson University interested in the nexus of transportation, public health, and environmental sustainability. I'm fascinated by sustainable, active transportation and its ability to tackle all three challenges. I'm a two-time American Public Transportation Association Scholar and Recipient of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute Undergraduate Scholarship.