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Till Koglin - October 2022

We continue our series with Till Koglin, member of the Urban Arena steering group and one of the heads of the Mobility, Transport and Accessibility unit.

Where you are from and what your path has been to get to where you are now?

My path is not very straightforward. I come from Germany, from a small village outside of Lübeck called Göldenitz. After going to school for 9 years, I did an education as administration clerk and after that I started my high school degree via distance learning. But I moved to Sweden and I did my high school education here. I studied Human Geography as a major and Political Science and Economics as a side subject. Afterwards I became a PhD student at the  Department of Technology and Society at the division of Transport and Roads here at Lunds University. I did my PhD in the area of Transport Planning, with the focus on cycling and sustainable mobility. As a social scientist among engineers it was not always easy, but I managed and I received my PhD in 2013.

Some time after that I got some finances for my PostDoc and later on I became associate senior lecturer. I was promoted to senior lecturer in 2018 and that is my current role at the department. This year I became a reader as well.

What are themes of interest for your research?

For my PhD I did a comparison of planning for cyclists in Copenhagen and Stockholm and I was wondering how come Copenhagen is doing so well with cycling compared to Stockholm. Both cities have similar shares of cars driving in the cites, about 40%, but the cycling percentage in Copenhagen is about 30% while just 6% in Stockholm. When cycling around the cities and conducting my research, I noticed that it was much easier to move around in Copenhagen. That is when I started to look into power relations, politics, economics and traditions. As a social scientist I am more interested in that. I do not have to look at an intersection, since we already have the knowledge about what is good or not, but I look into the context around it and the implications. It is all about politics.

Lately my interest has shifted more towards theoretical thinking. Peter Cox and I edited together a book called The Politics of Cycling Infrastructure, where we take a political theoretical turn on infrastructure. This year I received funding for a minor project with researchers of the Histroy Department, which is about Walter Christaller and his heritage and Nazi ideology in planning. Why we still teach Christaller’s theories and how we problematize them. We want to expand this project into how Nazis took away spaces from Jewish people.

So your Department is Technology and Society and more specifically the unit of Transport & Roads. How is it connected to the Urban Arena?

I think basically all our research is urban. While our other divisions work with real estate and energy resources, our unit of Transport & Roads does research on urban planning and transport planning. We analyze traffic safety, which traditionally has been dealt with on a larger scale and with cars, so we focus on pedestrians and cyclists, since they are the most vulnerable road users. We have different research groups within our Unit.
My research group is Transport Planning and Mobility and we do research on cities and sustainable transport systems. We have some minor projects on rural areas, but we mostly work in bigger urban areas, as well as smaller cities and villages. It is all about the urban, since most people now live in urban areas or semi-urban areas. We focus on different aspects like accessibility for disabled and older people or public transport and the urban space. Personally, I do planning research on a larger scale in terms of politics and power relations. We know what we have to do and create our plans accordingly, but the built environment is completely different. We make the same mistakes the whole time like mixing cycling lines and pedestrian paths even though the users have different needs.

Where do you see your research agenda going into the future? Are there emerging concepts or practices that you want to explore?

I would like to study more the rationalities of planning like the culture of planning. To tap that into the theories of power relation and critical  thinking, like the Frankfurt school. I use the theories of Marcuse and Habermas. I think his research about how technology became science is so interesting. Social sciences have changed from thinking theoretically and metaphysically to more quantitative. A similar thing has happened in transport planning as well. Transport planning was invented by water engineers during the 50s, which is why flow is so important for transport planning. That has shaped the rationality of transport planning and made it more “neutral”, it is seen as a science, compared to social sciences, that have the connotation of not being scientific. Transport science has a quantitative feeling to it and is measured with calculations, numbers and flows. My methodology within the transport planning is different and often misunderstood, which often leads to missing fundings.

I enjoy focusing on space and its creation like with the theories of Lefebre and Bauman. Everyday there are multiple conflicts for bike drivers and car drivers. So there are always battles over the urban space, which has been meticulously planned with measurements and numbers, that have been decided at some point by one person.

Another project, which I really would like to do, started when I was a PhD student. With my research I was part of a big project called HASTA - Sustainable Attractive City.  At the end of the project we wanted to do more research about it, checking pedestrian cyclists and traffic speeds. We wanted to launch a project about Shared Speed, where the speed limit in the city should not be higher than the speed of a cyclist, so at the top 20km/h. Like that everyone could share the same space. We had a collaboration with Gothenburg, but unfortunately we did not get any funding at that point. Missing fundings is a common problem researchers have to face, even if they know their research is of importance.

On the other side do you have a favorite city, where in your opinion mobility works well?

Absolutely, Freiburg in Germany. During my studies I heard all the time about Freiburg and how good the transport is there. I almost got sick of that city, even without ever being there.

So when my wife was on parental leave, we took the chance and moved to Freiburg, where I joined the university and held different lectures. We stayed there for 8 weeks and I really loved the city. There are no cars in the city center, since it is very complicated to get around and there are just very few parking spaces. Most spaces are taken up by cyclists or pedestrians. Calculating all commuting trips in Freiburg, the car share is just 26%, which is the lowest one I have ever seen in a city. They have different policies, like no external shopping centers or big stores and a certain limited amount of parking spaces. Therefore there is a beautiful booming city center with a lot of life.

Do you have some wishes about how the Urban Arena could develop or continue changing?

I think the Urban Arena should be more in contact with municipalities and politicians. We have to change the mind of the politicians, in order to actually change things. I think more debates and discussions can be interesting, also with people with whom we do not share the same opinion. Just being invited to seminars and discussions with like minded people is easy, but if we can have debates with different parties with different opinions, the outcomes can be more interesting and fruitful. Communication and creating understanding are key elements to create better urban spaces.

Sidansvarig: info@urban.lu.se | 2022-10-19