By Dianna Waggoner
This is the last day of this Velo-city Global 2010 conference, a good time to collect a few postcards from the week.
I'll remember the young woman architect from Beijing, anguished over how to return her country to its historic bicycle centered culture at a time when the middle class views a car as the best status symbol imaginable. The Israeli organizer who leaned over his dinner plate to talk about his project to find funding to complete a 1.5 kilometer strip of bike route so riders won't have to decide between a highway filled with speeding cars and trucks or slogging through the desert sands. The dapper man from India whose organization is promoting tricycle rickshaws instead of taxis. And the PhD student from Mongolia – a place that has little enough infrastructure, never mind tracks for bicycles that are mostly considered children's toys. She came here to learn how to find governmental funding but discovered that she would be more successful with a non-governmental agency, and along the way connected with many people who were happy to help her.
I was reminded that all of us, cities and riders and volunteer activists and planners, face the same challenges: infrastructure and funding. Jean-Christophe Boillat, a transportation director from Lausanne, Switzerland, which is built on the side of a mountain, described their efforts to encourage bike commuters. With a couple of dramatic additions, it was planning business as usual: create cycle paths in flat, or in Luasanne, less hilly, areas, then connect those routes with public transportation. Allow bikes to go the wrong way on streets if the slope is less than a nearby street. But, here's where it got unusual. The city is also installing bike elevators to connect two levels of the city. They widen cycle lanes as they approach the crest of a hill where, no surprise, tired riders need a bit more space. After the summit, heck, we don't even need a bike lane because everyone knows that a bike can zoom downhill faster than cars.
And cold weather riding? Kati Kiiskila shrugged and said she was stumped when she was asked to present her research on winter cycling in Finland. "I don't know precisely how to define 'winter cycling', she said. "When you have winter you have cycling." It's that simple. She said 27 percent of all riders, half of them women by the way, simply add a few more layers, slap a pair of snow tires on a beater bike and get on with their lives. They make this choice for their health and because it's the quickest, cheapest way of getting around. Those who hang their bikes up for five or six months give the same reasons as cyclists around the world – it's too slippery, cold and dangerous. And the solutions? Scrape the roads clear of snow and ice, and wear more layers. In Oulu, Finland, she said snow plows give bike routes first priority and are cleared for the 7 a.m. two-wheeled traffic influx, then the roads are cleared.
"Our city is flat and small," she said. "And people are proud of their reputation as winter cyclists."
Mostly I'll remember being surrounded by healthy, lively people and seeing more smiles than usual. Maybe it was just that the skies had turned blue after weeks of gray, rain or that most of us had arrived at the conference after a commute surrounded by our fellow cyclists on dedicated cycle paths. Not a single car had honked at us, and no pedestrian conflicts. Most of all, we felt normal, just part of the morning rush-hour crowd going from one place to another using the most sensible form of transportation.
Now the big news: get ready Vancouver because Velo-city Global is coming to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2012. Canada, you’d better get moving!