Velo-city 2023 Leipzig – Report – Katleen Bell-Bonjean

In the following article, Katleen Bell-Bonjean from’s Executive Committee (and Gort Cycle Trails) shares her reflections on the 2023 Velo-city International Cycle Planning conference that was held in Leipzig in Germany. The event was co-organised by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), of which is the member for Ireland, and the City of Leipzig.  As always, we encourage supporters of’s work to join up or make a donation so as to enable us to ramp up our cycling advocacy programme.

Mary Sinnott from Waterford and I were the two Executive Committee members that represented at this year’s Velo-city conference in Leipzig. With 1500 participants attending from around the world, it was the biggest Velo-city event yet. 

It was also a special event for me, as I was taking part in an international panel discussion about Pushing for Action – Leadership in Cycling. Keep on reading to find out more!

Mary and myself getting drenched at the Bike Parade

Check out this video compilation of the bicycle parade. I am glad to say that by the time we finished, the sun was shining 🙂

My main areas of interest are around cycle tourism, rural cycling routes / cycle safety, bike-sharing, cycling data about gender, and questions around how do you best design the public realm?

Giving the thumbs up at Velo-city!

Trends in Cycle tourism globally and various EuroVelo Routes
I found this session particularly interesting, with speakers from Canada, The Netherlands and  the ECF giving a detailed overview of usage stats on the various EuroVelo routes around Europe. As I live a short distance from Adrahan/Kinvara, one of the access points of EuroVelo #1 in the west of Ireland, I was keen to learn about the usage stats. Cycling tourism is becoming more popular in Ireland, and data shared showed that, even in winter, there are 52 cyclists using EuroVelo1, trebling in the summertime to 159.

One interesting statistic presented was about when people start during the day and when they take a break. In warmer countries like Spain or Portugal, cyclists tend to start earlier and have a break shortly after lunch for a siesta.

In Ireland, thanks to our maritime climate – read, it’s not that hot – cyclists tend to start later in the morning, and don’t have a siesta :). Find out more in the ECF Data hub.

Note that EuroVelo #1 in Ireland was recently officially opened and members of were there too! Check out this article

Pushing for Cycling: Leadership in cycling Panel Discussion
I was very excited in January when my abstract for this year’s conference was successful to talk about the social media campaign I headed up, and how we as a group of volunteers campaigned in the depth of Covid to advocate for the Athlone to Galway Greenway to come via Gort by collaborating with local communities along the route.

There were two further panelists from France and one from Australia, and in our warm-up call prior to the conference, I learned how a traumatic event was a catalyst for change in cycle safety in Australia. Stuart Outhred explained how Amy Gillett died after a car crashed into her near Leipzig. The  Amy Gillett Foundation is Australia’s leading cycling safety charity. Their vision is for zero bike rider deaths on Australian roads. 

Find out more about what #redroute5 has to offer here and the website of the Galway to Athlone Cycleway here. Below is my presentation:

There were a few questions posed during the panel discussion and the one that stood out for me was as follows – Your campaigns are great, but shouldn’t that be done by the local policy makers? I think it’s a good point, but I believe that sometimes grassroots community activists lead the way on topics to show the opportunity, and how working together can lead to real change.

The little city that could – Bike-sharing policy in Tartu
With a population of less than 100,000 persons, Tartu in Estonia may not be on anyone’s radar, as most bike share schemes focus on much larger populations. However, bike-sharing is very successful in Tartu because it is integrated with public transport. Once the user has a public transport pass, use of the bikes is free (or a very small charge). The result is that high school students were the biggest users! I talked to the presenter afterwards to find out if there was a breakdown in gender. As it turns out, there was no significant difference between boys and girls. Typically there are more boys cycling than girls, however this study shows that both genders equally used bikes.

NextBike Bike-sharing Scheme 
On that note, we were all given free access to a Nextbike, Leipzig’s main public bike-sharing company. I picked up my bike near the accommodation we were staying at. I still have to get used to seeing bikes parked at random places and the amount of graffiti in Leipzig!  There is  QR code at the back of the bike, and scanning the QR codes enables you to unlock the bikes – simples!

It was those bike locks that proved the weakest link in their bike-sharing scheme. Social media can be tricky… a TikTok video became viral where someone showed how you could smash the lock with a hammer and, in the space of a few days, their stock of functioning bikes went from 3000 to just 600. Eventually, they developed an in-house lock that was indestructible. A video was then made to show that no matter how hard you knocked on the lock with a hammer, the lock would not break. I never knew that vandalism is a real issue when operating a bike-sharing scheme! 

Public Realm: Practical  Workshop about a Leipzig junction
I found this one of the most interesting sessions as it was hands-on with real-life situations where we are asked to add public realm to what I would call a spaghetti junction somewhere in Leipzig where you have pedestrians, cyclists, trams , buses and, oh yes, cars:) There were a few questions to ask yourself: how would this new public realm make you feel, what use will this public realm have? As I am not an engineer, I found the maps hard to read, and as we started to understand what we were dealing with, our initial reaction was to just think about the cyclists. As this exercise was about public realm, it made me realize that when designing public realm projects you really have to design for all users and the status quo of traffic flow/speeds needs to be questioned. 

Thank you to for giving me the opportunity to attend. As always it was an invigorating conference with much knowledge sharing and proof that we are leading the transition! 

All images above were taken by Katleen Bell Bonjean except for the featured image which is an ECF photo – used with thanks to ECF.

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