Winter Cycling Congress Heads to Winnipeg in February 2014

We spoke to Winter Cycling Congress conference director Anders Swanson about the premiere wintertime active transportation conference.

The 2nd International Winter Cycling Congress takes place in Winnipeg, MB, from February 12-14, 2014. The event is the premiere wintertime active transportation conference presenting idea-packed sessions full of projects, unique best practices research, interactive workshops, lively discussion, and fun evening activities.

In anticipation of the event we spoke with conference director Anders Swanson:

Momentum Mag: What is the Winter Cycling Congress?

Anders Swanson: The Winter Cycling Congress is the world’s leading celebration of winter … by bike. It is a forum for the exchange of technical information and culture. We explore what’s needed to make sure everyone has the chance to unlock their own city/ place/ town simply by riding a bicycle in the snow. It is a gathering of professional engineers, planners, artists, opinion-leaders, and more. The conference focuses on everything from the latest, simplest details (like how to keep a cycle track open all winter) to the important role played by divergent interests such as fashion or health. The conference turns outward at times so that the public in the host city can share in the celebration. We partner with local governments, major business organizations, and companies working in the field to showcase the best of what a winter city can offer. This year, we have more than 60 speakers arriving in Winnipeg from Finland to Cleveland, from the Yukon to Holland, and more than five days of conference related events.

MM: Why is there a need for a Winter Cycling Congress?

AS: Simply put, winter is something we all need to talk about. The “bike commuting craze” is taking over the entire world. There is no jurisdiction in North America, for example, that isn’t now at least thinking about planning for bikes. But what to do about winter? Even though bicycle modal share averages actually rise the further you go north on the planet, in some places people still don’t even realize that it is indeed possible (not to mention extremely popular in places) to bike in a “real” winter. In that sense, we are changing a conversation. Winter presents both design challenges (hey, where did that white bike lane go?) and opportunities (new crossings made possible on frozen rivers and lakes, for example). We are gathering to address them, build on them, and move them forward.

For a government, with all this new bicycle infrastructure being built around North America and the world, it is a chance to double their investment simply by keeping networks open for the “other” half of the year. There is no cheaper investment in cycling infrastructure than simply keeping what you’ve already built open in the winter. 

MM: Who should consider attending the Winter Cycling Congress?

AS: Everyone with a passion for what winter has to offer – whether they are active in the fields of design, society, sustainable transportation, and culture – should consider attending. We don’t have all that many delegate spots left (we have already achieved our original attendance goals and are projected to be at capacity), but we would love to have you. Act soon. This is going to be fun.

MM: Why bring the congress to Winnipeg?

AS: Two reasons: winter culture and momentum. Winnipeg is rapidly gaining a reputation for vigorous bicycle infrastructure investment and the results are showing. Statistically, our bicycle commuting numbers are rising more rapidly than most other places in Canada. Less is known about winter numbers, but the amount of people riding bicycles year round is clearly rising. As a result, we have been learning what’s needed to extend the possibility to everyone. And … we know winter. Winnipeg has slowly started to shake off the stigma of being a cold city, and has learned to embrace – and even celebrate – our cold winters. Winterpeg is no longer an insult, it is an honor. And whether its the skyrocketing activity on the now-famous River Trail, the 45th anniversary of the Festival du Voyageur, or all of the exciting conference activities planned for 2014, there is lots going on. Also, we make excellent perogies.

MM: What city has impressed you the most when it comes to conditions for winter riding?

AS: Oulu, Finland. Birthplace of the Winter Cycling Congress. There could have been no better place to begin a series of worldwide conferences exploring the needs of winter cycling. Everyone can ride in the winter, if you take care of the details, and nowhere on Earth is this made more clear than in Oulu. In fact, one might ask, how did the conference end up in Winnipeg? Winnipeg is impressive too – when you take it in from the right angle. We love exploring Winnipeg in the winter, but it could be better. Obviously, Winnipeg’s slowly growing – but still incomplete – network of infrastructure makes Oulu’s comprehensive system look like (whatever the winter equivalent is of) Shangri-la. However, we are banking on the fact that we, as a city, are not alone. What we plan to do is take the lessons learnt by the best and brightest and apply these – and more – to the context of an up-and-coming bike-friendly North American city.

MM: Why should everyone get out on their bikes this winter?

AS: Don’t take our word for it. Try it. Because there is always a time and place for you to ride a bicycle in the winter. At least once. Sure, some people might have a long daily commute, others may be (wisely) waiting for those snow-cleared bike lanes, but in the meantime, there is always a trip worth taking by bicycle. If you don’t try it at least once, you will never know. Next time you are headed out to the convenience store, or headed to a neighbor’s a few blocks down, consider inflating those tires, pulling any old bike out of the garage, and going for a ride. Pick your route. Take it one block at a time. Dress warm. You won’t be disappointed.  

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