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Leaders Bring Home Lessons from Seville

Published April 22, 2011

By Wendy Booher

SEVILLE, Spain—Randy Neufeld came up with the idea to invite elected U.S. officials to Velo-city 2011 while visiting Spain last February. Velo-city 2011 would highlight Seville, a city transformed by creating a cycling infrastructure, implementing a public bike-sharing system, and by redesigning several plazas, roads and public spaces.

“When describing bicycle advocacy in the U.S., it was easy to show my Spanish contacts the things we had in Spanish, like the Chicago Bike Map, safety brochures, and the Active Trans website,” said Neufeld, cycling fund director for SRAM, who was at the Velo-City conference in Copenhagen last June when they announced the Seville conference.

“Language is always an issue in these exchanges and I started thinking how cool it would be for Latino elected officials from the U.S. who spoke Spanish to come to the conference in Seville. It would also be an opportunity to inspire them and help the U.S. cycling movement become more multicultural,” said Neufeld.

Ten council members representing seven U.S. cities attended Velo-city 2011 last month on a scholarship program created through a partnership between SRAM, the Bikes Belong Foundation, and Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. While bilingualism wasn’t a requirement to qualify for a scholarship, each council member was fluent in

According to Bikes Belong’s Zach Vanderkooy, cycling as transportation is increasing in nearly every major American city. “City leaders are realizing that the cities with the highest quality of life are going to be the most competitive in attracting new businesses and the best and brightest professionals,” said Vanderkooy.

But, Neufeld said, the key is to enable city officials to experience progressive bikeways first-hand. “In the U.S., we have trouble getting road engineers and planners to try innovative European bikeway designs,” he said. “We are only successful where there is a political push from the top, but that won’t happen without public officials experiencing built-out systems. You don’t really grasp the broad range of participation, the economic impacts and the way it works with car traffic without experiencing it.”

Fifty-six of the 915 participants who arrived in Seville to search for and share solutions to global health challenges, threats to the environment, and unsustainable economies came from North America. Among them was Caroline Samponaro of New York City’s Transportation Alternatives, who spoke about cultivating inclusivity for effective advocacy and education.

Sue Knaup, executive director of One Street in Prescott, Arizona, gave a roundtable talk titled, “Nurturing local courage for social bike programs: Inspirations from Uganda.” Knaup, who also teaches a course at Prescott College called “The Bicycle: a vehicle for social change,” invited her students to Velo-city to learn how the theories and practices they covered in class were put into practice at the international level.

The University of California at Davis dispatched Susan L. Handy to talk about biking in adolescence; Ellen Barton of Whatcom Smart Trips discussed how to increase bicycling without construction; and World Bicycle Relief’s Michael Kollins spoke about promoting cycling in the developing world.

Cycling infrastructure not only serves citizens but industry interests as well, noted PhD candidate Pedro Malpica, who attended to conduct research for his doctoral thesis. While conference organizers trumpeted Seville’s successful morphing from a city choked by traffic congestion to a city that’s centered on community rather than cars, Malpica pointed out that bicycle-related business was the largest growth sector in Seville during the past four years.

“It’s not just an issue of business numbers, but business types,” Malpica said. “In addition to retailers, there are now businesses for cyclo-tourism, bike rental, insurance, and advertising via public bike-share schemes.”

Due to higher volume sales, bike shops have had to improve their product offerings to stay competitive. Stores that sell specialty items have extended their reach beyond the local market to serve consumers with more refined demands.

“The very concept of ‘bike shop’ is becoming rare in Seville,” Malpica said. “There are now specialty shops that exclusively sell racing bikes, folding bikes, or stores that only sell vintage bikes—the degree of specialization is enormous. This only happens if you have a large and diverse market.”

Vancouver, British Columbia will be the setting for Velo-city in 2012 and organizers from the host city were in Seville to gather strategies for promoting their event and to present their successes with bicycle networks in cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Velo-city 2012 will take place June 26-29.

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