VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BRAIN)—Around 650 BIXI bike share bikes lined the courtyard of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre for Velo-city Global, the premier cycling planning conference, happening this week.
The second time that Velo-city has been in Canada—the first was in 1992 in Montreal, Quebec—this year’s event brought in 700 delegates from 40 countries and six continents, along with close to 200 speakers and around 100 support members.
At the opening keynote address Tuesday morning, Gil Penalosa called on policymakers and cycling advocates to prioritize the “must haves” of cycling infrastructure: physically separated bike lanes and reduced speed limits on urban roadways to achieve a higher cycling mode share in cities.
“If you have the right infrastructure, it will immediately affect the culture in a community,” he said. “We need to create more sustainable cities to accommodate the 2 billion more people [in population growth expected] in the next 30 years.”
“Gil Penalosa really rocked,” commented SRAM fund director Randy Neufeld, “and the key piece was his 60-second test: things that are nice to have and things that we have to have.”
The executive director of 8-80 Cities—a nonprofit organization based out of Toronto, Ontario, that promotes sustainable cities—Penalosa said that bicycle routes should be safe enough for everybody from 8 to 80 years old. Without a proper cycling network, “nice to haves,” such as signage, sharrows and bike parking, won’t be enough to attract the estimated 60 to 70 percent of members of the public who are interested but concerned about bicycling in their cities.
The consequence of not creating public spaces and the infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation, he said, is more traffic congestion, higher levels of air pollution and increased rates of obesity. In short, he said, “cycling infrastructure is a symbol of respect for people.”
Several panelists echoed this call, including Manfred Neun, the president of the European Cyclists’ Federation, which runs the Velo-city conference series. He added that connectivity between cycling routes—particularly physically separated lanes—transit and bike share facilities is an essential component of effective urban cycling infrastructure development. Partnerships and pilot projects are ways he suggested to move from the planning to the implementation stage.
Under the leadership of Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver, British Columbia, has launched several groundbreaking initiatives for the region, such as separated bikes lanes in the downtown core, on-street bike corrals and bike-specific traffic signals and boxes at busy intersections. Vancouver aims to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, an ambitious goal that will involve shifting the focus of its transportation system toward cycling, walking and transit users, Robertson said. The broader aim, he added, is to create more sustainable and livable communities.
“One of the challenges of living in a larger city is that it’s harder to have those community connections,” Robertson said. “Cycling is a way to have that community sense of connection that’s a challenge in urban environments. And that’s a huge bonus we cannot overlook.”
On the final day of the conference this Friday, Robertson and Neun are slated to sign the Charter of Vancouver, which is reflected in one of the conference’s major themes: empowering people and inclusivity. Based on the United Nations 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the charter will recognize the rights of children around the world to have access to biking.
Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis addressed the main theme during an afternoon plenary titled "Diversity and Empowerment: Building a Cycling Culture."
“The challenge is bringing in people who don’t necessarily agree with you.” His approach is to talk to as many different people as he can to get across the message that biking is a great way to get around.
In a press scrum after the keynote address, Ellis added that catering to the Lycra-clad road warrior and the fearless cyclists who will bike no matter what isn’t going to cut it. “You have to make it [your approach] broader than the traditional folks who cycle. … You have to bring in the broader community.”
Houston, Texas, he said, is in the midst of an approval process to potentially allocate $150 million for 2,000 more acres of green space and to double its bicycle trails to more than 240 kilometers over the next seven years, which would put more than 50 percent of Houston residents within 2.4 kilometers of green spaces.
Photo: Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis spoke during the afternoon plenary, "Diversity and Empowerment: Building a Cycling Culture."
Story and photo: Sarah Ripplinger