Caption - Street scene in Malmo of pedestrians and cyclists navigating a traffic circle before a street of traffic with a local farmers market in the background. A multitude of users navigating shared space creating a diverse urban space full of activity.
Recently I had the fortune to visit the forward-thinking city of Malmo, Sweden. I had heard many stories about Malmo through colleagues, planning journals and one of their former mayors who spoke at a conference here in Canada many years ago. Malmo is known for being one of the most cycle, transit and active mobility friendly cities in the world. It also happens be just across the strait, or only fifteen minutes by frequent train from Copenhagen, Denmark who holds a similarly well-deserved reputation.
Malmo is the second largest city in Sweden with a core population of 344,000 people that is growing quickly. Founded in 1275, this is a city that has seen and continues to live through many transformations. From its old world city centre, two distinct eras of industrial waterfront development, new and modern styled shore development and a fairly young population the city blends a diverse variety of neighbourhoods and eras of infrastructure. Thus, consistency in accessibility features is one of their main challenges in accommodating visitors and locals alike.
In all my travels I have yet to uncover a place that has mastered accessibility, designing all their public spaces in ways that are consistent in their wayfinding, design features and accommodations to meet the needs of diverse users. So with that context in mind I enjoyed discovering Malmo, observing and learning what was working well and where progress could be made. The accessibility of space and desire to create inclusive environments is evident however with room for improvements.
Overall Malmo has made deliberate efforts to balance investments in infrastructure and services to help people move by transit, bike, scooter and foot. E-scooters have become commonplace in the city over the past five years and like in my other cities around the world are the latest user and competitor for space on the street. That said there does seem to be an odd hierarchy given to users. Cyclists and scooters tend to be given priority in all spaces above vehicles and pedestrians. This leaves pedestrians, and those with mobility limitations in a much more vulnerable space. There is a strange norm that a senior with a walker, mother with a stroller or person with a cane gives way to a cyclist. Staff from the city advised there is a dedicated role supporting coordination of cycling infrastructure and even another for skateboarders however nobody dedicated to pedestrians, the most vulnerable user.
After having some time to observe all these users dance through the streets, I was struck by the more mellow pace everyone moved at compared to North America. There is a collective consciousness among all the users; drivers, walkers, cyclists, scooterists that others are moving around them and to be patient. This is a key cultural factor for why everyone seems to stay safe and overall be less stressed. While having separated infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians helps with the safety aspect creating a cultural norm of shared, respected space is a far greater success factor in establishing accessibility.
A few specifics of good practice worked and where gaps existed for improvement:
Trained in town planning, an avid traveler and legally blind myself I write on issues and opportunities is see along my travels that could improve our cities from a visual perspective.