Massed hire bikes for Velo-City Vancouver attendees (credit - ECF)
Massed hire bikes for Velo-City Vancouver attendees (credit - ECF)

Velo-City Vancouver: a report from the international cycling conference

The Velo-City conference, held 26-29 June in Vancouver, Canada, featured presentations on recent cycling research, examples of successful programmes and policies to promote cycling, and campaigning news from around the world. By former CTC Campaigns Coordinator Debra Rolfe (now living in Vancouver).

Velo-City is the annual international cycling conference, and therefore attracts a range of people interested in cycling: campaigners, academics, politicians, planners, traffic engineers, and public health practitioners, amongst others. This truly inter-disciplinary event happened 26 – 29 June this year in Vancouver, Canada. It was the first time since 1992 that Velo-City was held outside Europe, and it was a great opportunity to learn more about what people in auto-dominated places in North America have been doing to turn their cities around, as well as hearing from places with established cycling cultures.

One of the major themes of the conference was the importance of politics in creating great cities for cycling. As the first keynote speaker Gil PeƱalosa noted, five elements are critical for creating cities that support cyclists aged 8 to 80: urgency, political will, doers, leaders, and public engagement. Other speakers throughout the conference echoed these sentiments, including local politicians from Copenhagen, Vienna, and Adelaide, Australia. Maria Vassilakou, the deputy mayor of Vienna, discussed plans to double the city’s cycling mode share (currently 5%) in five years by improving infrastructure and the built environment, but also through outreach and communication. This has included the development of the Vienna Cycling Agency, which is a thinktank for all things cycling, and the Cycling House, which is a space dedicated to cycling-related events and meetings.

The importance of the built environment in encouraging cycling was another theme that came up repeatedly. Many cities in parts of the world that have not traditionally had a strong cycling culture are currently investing in cycling infrastructure modelled after Dutch and Danish examples. Fiona Campbell, the manager of cycling strategy for the city of Sydney, Australia, spoke about the progress they have made on installing 200 km of cycletracks, which has led to an 82% increase in cycling in just three years. Planners and engineers from American cities such as San Francisco and Seattle discussed recent changes they have made to some of their major streets to make them safer and easier to use for cyclists. Interestingly, an academic study presented by Kerstin Robertson found that land use, such as the availability of destinations and mix of types of land uses, was more important to whether or not people cycled than the availability of transport system features, such as cycling infrastructure.

The conference explored many other issues related to cycling. These included: integrating cycling and public transport, public bike programs, cycle parking, cycle freight and logistics, using new technologies to promote cycling, cycle tourism, and social and cultural diversity in cycling. Every Velo-City produces a charter that aims to draw attention to an issue related to cycling. The Charter of Vancouver was entitled ‘Children and Cycling’ and called for cycling to be considered a basic human right. Further, it called for all children to receive cycle training in school and for programs that promote cycling to school to be widely adopted.

Velo-City was four days of exposure to some of the latest information and ideas in cycling, as well as a time to hear more about older developments. With hundreds of speakers spread over dozens of sessions, many of which happened simultaneously, there was far too much to do and see. Furthermore, as with many conferences, some of the most exciting parts were outside the sessions. I enjoyed helping lead a tour of cycling facilities at public transport stations around the city. Afterwards, I took a small group of people to look at two murals of cyclists painted along a bike route in my neighbourhood. It was refreshing to see how excited they were about something I passed by everyday. Like so many other parts of the conference, it was an amazing learning experience, and also a lot of fun.

Bio: Debra Rolfe, formerly Campaigns Coordinator for CTC, is now an urban planner and the research coordinator for the Health and Community Design Lab at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Images from participants and organisers of the event are on Flickr.