This is the forth in a series of articles on the recent Velo-city International Cycling Conference – with this one written by Giulia Grigoli of Dublin Cycling Campaign / Cyclist.ie.
Velo-City 2022, Ljubljana, was my third Velo-City, having attended and presented before at Velo-City 2019 in Dublin and at the hybrid remote-in person edition in 2021 in Lisbon. I arrived a few days prior to the beginning of the biggest international conference about cycling, so on Sunday afternoon I started exploring a bit of Ljubljana and I could appreciate from the beginning how liveable and pleasant the neighbourhood was. Trubarjeva cesta, one of the roads that lead to the city centre, is very quiet, safe and nice to walk in. The car-free city centre was one of the best things I experienced in there.
The conference started on Tuesday, the 14th of June with an amazing plenary session kicked off by Professor Jan Gehl, who immediately set the tone for the next 4 days; it was the first time for me seeing him speaking in person and I was honoured to have had this opportunity.
One of the messages he so simply, but strongly, conveyed and that stuck to me the most was about remembering that when we talk about cycling, we always talk about people and that we shouldn’t forget that cycling should be something that brings us joy. He also spoke about how his mother-in-law would use her bike as a walking stick when she couldn’t cycle it anymore, which I also found fascinating.
Highlights from the sessions I’ve attended
Changing mind and Behaviours one ride at a time
Lucas Snaije from BYCS spoke about the Human Infrastructure concept, which means “Developing initiatives that reinforce cycling cultures and the ability for all individuals to access and perceive cycling as a viable, safe, empowering mode of transportation”. He mentioned the need for a paradigm shift from considering behavioural change interventions as “soft measures”, which resonated with me a lot, together with the fact that “Solutions to behavioural barriers are often seen as a ‘nice to have’”, while it is probably the most important aspect to be focusing on to develop inclusive cycling cultures in tandem with providing the built cycling infrastructure. One of the recommendations that also echoed with the work I’ve been doing on the research Women on Wheels is the significance of the advice to “Emphasise storytelling with a focus on diversity”.
Other highlights from this session was the presentation of Martti Tulenheimo on social media campaigns to keep people cycling through the winter-time in Finland. These campaigns reached an incredible number of 1 million people. Niccolo Panozzo from SCOTT sports spoke instead about e-bikes try-outs in a very little rural town of Germany populated by quite affluent rich people and the idea was that they’d swap their car keys for an e-bike for a short amount of time. Many people continued cycling after the try-out.
Pitch your idea match-making session
Hosted by ECF Director of Projects, Goran Lepen, I was invited to participate in the match-making session, the first of this kind, where people with new project ideas or existing start-up ideas pitched their work and connected, after the end of the session, with potential new partners, collaborators or investors. I was very happy to briefly mention the work on gender and cycling that I’ve been doing with the Dublin Cycling Campaign, and I was accompanied on stage by Ines Sarti Pascoal, who’s also enhancing awareness of the gender gap in cycling and improving women’s participation in her cycling advocacy organisation (MUBI) in Lisbon. The idea is to continue this conversation on gender and transport with the ECF and possibly write together a proposal for further research through the Erasmus+ platform, so watch this space! 😊
After the match-making session, I had the pleasure of talking more with Annarita Lesseri, who also pitched the idea of the start-up she works for: Pin Bike which gives rewards to people who cycle in the form of money or vouchers/tickets to different leisure activities. A number of pilots are active in many Italian cities and in Turkey, Portugal and Estonia. I look forward to talking to Annarita again about the possibilities of working together in Dublin.
In the afternoon I tried to divide myself between two sessions: Kids on bike: early practice for an active lifestyle, where I learnt about an inspiring project, Safe4Cycle, where online training material has been produced to train up children and youth to cycle and to create education about cycling as a legitimate mode of transport and lifestyle. It was interesting to note how the online format proved very successful, with the practice partly happening only at the end when Covid restrictions were lifted.
In the second session, When one in four is not enough: Implementing Smart Cycling Policies, Ruben Loendersloot spoke about Active-Travel oriented planning, and he raised important points such as listening to citizens as they have plenty of on-site experience, which is another conclusion I also came to in my transport planning career.
Working towards more gender and equality
On Wednesday morning I spoke at this incredible panel session about my research project on gender and cycling developed with the Dublin Cycling Campaign: Women on Wheels. Since I had already presented last year (2021) in Lisbon the main findings and recommendations from our research, this year I took a slightly different angle and gave my perspective of being a transport planner and engineer, who’s been involved in social science research on gender and cycling and how this has impacted my perspective on the type of data and analysis transport planners mainly focus on, highlighting the fact the qualitative research should always be integrated in the process of transport planning to better understand real people’s experiences, needs and unmet demands in order to shape more desirable futures, rather than just using models and quantitative data that do not provide us with a full picture and appreciation of the potential for people’s propensity to change behaviour.
The presentation was well received and got a mention on the official event ECF daily report: “When we talk about women’s mobility; the perception of safety and the quality of infrastructure is key. We need a holistic approach to transport planning”.
It was such a pleasure and an honour to be part of this great panel and group of women, all so supportive of each other. It was also very interesting to see again how research conducted in different parts of the world still shows that the main barrier to having more gender equality in transport, is the lack of representation of women in the sector and where decisions are taken. As Berta Molnár also highlighted in her presentation, society really needs to re-think gender roles if we really want the provision of transport services to be equal and to suit women’s needs and their different travel patterns.
Cycling to School: from safer routes to school streets
In the afternoon I attended this panel, which reported on different solutions adopted to support active mobility around schools in different cities and countries (Belgium, Austria, Brazil, Slovenia, the UK and in Ireland).
Conor Geraghty, Senior Engineer of the Active Travel team of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRCC), presented The Active School Travel project, which aimed at delivering a connected and coherent network of cycle routes between schools in the County, using the least amount of new infrastructure. The project resulted in a success with one school reporting 91% of students travelling sustainably (bus, walk, cycling). It also demonstrated that using quick build facilities and thinking strategically (at a network level) can help with getting the support – and this can be followed by the expansion of schemes and larger interventions.
Health benefits of cycling
Finally, I really enjoyed, Melissa Bruntlett’s presentation on “Re-thinking urban space mental health, and the urban experience”, where she spoke about different aspects and maybe less obvious benefits of cycling through her own experience. For example, the importance of context and environment in shaping our perceived reality and the quality of our experience on the bike. Streets can be pleasant places or threatening places. When we can actually enjoy cycling and the environment surrounding us and we see people’s faces, we naturally feel more connected to others, thus increasing the production of happiness hormones.
The technical visit by bike to Ljubljana city centre
On Thursday morning I took a break from the lectures and went on one of the technical visits of the city centre of Ljubljana. The cycle tour gave us the opportunity to experience first-hand the benefits of the full pedestrianisation of Ljubljana’s city centre. The pictures (below) speak for themselves – many squares that once were car parks are now places where people can linger, rest on a bench, walk with their dogs and families. Those spaces have been given back to people, rebuilding social life. What I found very clever was the idea of providing electric mini-trolley vans to transport people with disabilities, mobility issues or simply people carrying heavy weights for free around the city. The lift can be booked by phone, making the services very accessible and is paid by the Council. Given the extensive area that became car-free, I think this solution helped with making the pedestrianisation solutions fully inclusive and accessible.
The Gala dinner and the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) Cycling Awards
On the last night, the Gala dinner was magnificent – hosted at a stunning location, Ljubljana castle, where we were welcomed by a very Irish rain shower, and some lovely food and wine.
On that night the winners of the first edition of the ECF Cycling Awards were presented. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council proudly won the Cycling Infrastructure Award for the innovative Coastal Mobility Route project which contributed to make cycling safer and more inclusive along the coast and helped with connecting communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also sustained the local economies of the little villages connected by the new cycle infrastructure, with 2 million cycling and walking trips in its first year.
Conor Geraghty, Senior Engineer of the Active Travel team, received the prize on behalf of the county. I was very happy and proud to see Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council winning this prize. It was well deserved as the Coastal Mobility Route project demonstrated that change can happen and it can happen faster than we think if enough will, trust and support are built between the Council and the citizens.
Being also a member of the Active Travel team of the Council, I was very proud for the win, so the Gala night just meant double celebrations for me too! 😊
For me one of the main take-aways from this experience is that with the right mix of good will, expertise and leadership anything can be achieved. Dublin and most cities around the world could be transformed as radically as Ljubljana was in the last 10 years. One of the last panel discussions also reminded us that a 10-year span is not so long as we may think, so it’s all down to keeping the focus on the things that really matter and to think big.
I loved seeing so many panels truly gender inclusive and so many good lines and strong messages delivered by women both at plenary and parallel sessions. Gender mainstreaming, for example, was mentioned at a plenary session by both Heather Thompson from ITDP and by Karen Vancluysen from Polis.
It was also good to hear different speakers calling for a change of paradigm in transport planning and talking about listening to the voices of citizens because they are the experts of their own lived experience in their local areas and streets.
Last but not least, it was amazing to be part of this big crowd and getting to know other advocates from Cyclist.ie, having fun together and being at Velo-City again representing both the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.
Thank you all for making this experience so special!