A bit of a mental leap now because I am back home in Belgium, but just a week ago I was in the North-East corner of Ukraine, close to the Russian border in Kharkiv.
This was the host city for Veloforum, the annual gathering of cycle activists, cities and supporters of cycling in Ukraine.
Like all good cycling conferences this one included a cycle tour, not just because we all love to ride bikes but because cycle activists are always fascinated by each other’s campaigning stories – just like my special activists’ tour of Milan a few weeks ago.
I always have to remind myself what a privilege it is to be guided around cities all over the world by people who really care about the space around them. However this time we were spoiled, not only by the company but by the pleasure of the ride.
The previous day in Kiev had been a bit grey and grim and as I was headed for one of the most important industrial centres of Ukraine I rather expected a harsh industrial city and the onset of winter temperatures. I also didn’t expect much help for cycling as much of Ukraine is at the beginner stage in cycling infrastructure.
Well Saturday morning may have been cold enough for gloves and hat but it was a glorious crisp cold with bright sunshine that lit up the city in fierce light.
Secondly our route took us in search of the few sections of bike infrastructure that exist in the city and those lie to the north of the city centre alongside some of the city’s numerous parks. We found that the city’s industry was historically placed in large clusters that lie further out from the centre and left many parks and university sites around the historic core.
This made it a very attractive ride indeed because our three groups wound our way around the parks which were resplendent in autumn colours but also form some of the most important cycling connections in the area.
Our local hosts were highly critical of their few cycle lanes because they were shared with pedestrians and didn’t have very good connections at the ends.
However I was very impressed with the quality of the construction, especially one newly built section of 7km in length which rolled its way alongside a very large area of park.
If this is the start of an era of adoption of cycling infrastructure in Kharkiv then I can see why the city authorities might start here, riding it was a relief compared to the multi-lane highway nearby which was shared with vehicles of all types and ages.
Nearer the city we found some attractive tree-lined avenues that fed us back to the university for our conference – everybody smiling after a really positive experience of Kharkiv, perhaps better than most of us had been expecting.
Once again a special pleasure, thank you to our hosts, guides and of course translators!