Velo-city 2015 Nantes – personal reflections

Gallery

This gallery contains 12 photos.

As usual I will be giving my professional reflections on last week through the channels of ECF and the feedback procedures for the conference. But just as I have done for the past 3 years in Vancouver, Vienna and Adelaide … Continue reading

Velo-city 2015 – the bike parade photo gallery. You had to be there! Merci Nantes

Gallery

This gallery contains 25 photos.

If I do not despair when I see an adult on a bicycle is an uplifting thought then the annual parade at the Velo-city conferences is the an evening for having your despair blown away for months to come. Host … Continue reading

Not despairing Down Under – I do not despair’s reflections on a cycling month in Australia

Bike at West Head Lookout Sydney

Photo Kevin Mayne

So Aussie is done. 28 days, 3 cities, about 20 bike rides and many more trips by train, tram, ferry and car.

And like all travellers I will come back to the question “how was it?”

Of course I am going to say “brilliant” – because what will stick longest in the memory will be the high points. Velo-city Global 2014 was full of inspirational people and I met many more en route. And I had some excellent rides that will always be fond memories.

I had hopes for a strong cycling presence on the streets because I had heard that there has been something of a renaissance of cycling levels, especially in Melbourne and Adelaide.  But when I reflect further on my overall impression of cycling and cycling culture in the three cities I visited I am more inclined to say “curious” and even “challenging” because there are many aspects that present our Australian cycling friends with big challenges.

First the good news.

If there is going to be great cycling in cities the opportunities don’t fall in to place by accident. Things happen because there is some mix of advocates, politicians and technicians who have vision, passion and influence. And faced by the challenges of their cycling culture they are willing to stand up and be different, starting to promote cycling as a mass activity not just a sport.

Velo-city crowd

There is no doubt in my mind that those people were at Velo-city and across Australia. Politically our Adelaide host was Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood who was a role model on the podium and at events like the Big Bike Brekkie where he seemed more like the Europeans by turning up in his day clothes and just riding.

Mayor and CEO of Adelaide on the Bike Brekkie Ride

Most advocacy organisations in Australia are not huge and are heavily reliant on events to boost membership and pay the bills. But Bicycle Victoria is per capita possibly one of the biggest cycling advocacy organisations in the world with over 40,000 members from a population of just 5 million, hugely impressive. The other organisations are no less passionate if perhaps not as big.

Bicycle New South Wales

The other community we met were the local promoters, entrepreneurs and activists who were great fun and great to be around. And of course in that community a huge shout out to Tina McCarthy our ride host in Melbourne. Her boundless energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

Altona ride in Melbourne

There are lots more people I could mention and many more who I didn’t meet but heard about and read their valuable contributions to the Velo-city discussions. I have no doubt that I was among friends and fellow travellers on the road to more cycling and I have to thank them for being great hosts.

The second bit of good news is that things are happing on the ground. At the moment the amount of really high quality cycling infrastructure is very limited so the signs have to be considered “green shoots”, especially because the quality infrastructure in the cities is far from established. The one high quality cycle route in Adelaide was only part finished and already there is a vote at the state parliament to try and get rid of it.

However in central Melbourne I saw that the much more established infrastructure was working because there were many more riders and some of them were not the usual suspects in lycra, this felt much more like a cycling city with a wider selection of riders.

Partly protected cycle lane in Melbourne Cyclists in Melbourne

The urban leisure infrastructure is well established and well used. I have posted how much I enjoyed the River Torrens route in Adelaide, the round the bay routes in Melbourne and the Olympic Park in Sydney.

Avenue of Gum trees River Torrens Linear Park Adelaide

As well as the urban routes I will long remember my ride out to West Head in Sydney’s Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, it was spectacular.Hills on the West Head Road Sydney

And these leisure routes were being used, there was a steady drip-drip of cyclists on all of them.

So on reflection I can report that these three Australian cities gave the impression that they could be joining the international group of “starter” cities that have begun their cycling revolution and could move up to next level where cycling starts to take a proper place in transport.

But, but, but……

This revolution currently looks different to anywhere else I have been. It isn’t Dutch or Danish, that’s for sure, but it is also different from the other low level cycling countries I have visited.

Just as Australia is inhabited by different looking animals as far as I could see Australian cycling culture is really all about different looking people, manly MAMILs  (Middle Aged Men in Lycra). Yes there are hipsters on fixies. Yes there are some women and young people and even people in day clothes just pottering about on bikes. But it seems to me that they are having almost zero impact on the understanding, reporting and promotion of cycling. Throw in the image of the Prime Minister thrashing about on a road bike with his mates to show his machismo and you can see what cycling promoters are up against. The Bike Brekkie in Adelaide was supposed to promote city cycling and most people turned up in lycra. Doh!

The start - bike brekkie Velo-city 2014

Some of the Australian advocates were also getting just a bit frustrated with the European delegates who they said were “obsessed with helmets”.  Having spent a month here I think I understand that much better. Helmets really don’t matter as much if the vast majority of cycling is a sport you dress up and something you do as an “activity” because you could take away the helmets and not much else would change. So the helmet issue is really the tip of a much bigger iceberg, the problem that so few people have any concept of cycling as a daily activity, as a normal mode of transport for short trips. I may have photographed a few people in Melbourne in normal clothes but when i observed evening rush hour the vast majority of riders were dressed for sport, not travel.

And I am really not sure some of the advocates are actually helping this situation either. I reported on the “extremist” cycling infrastructure in my last post, but it is much more than that. For example almost all the advocacy organisations rely hugely on leisure events for their income. That means their image, their web sites, their brochures and their exhibition stands are covered in images of people who look like cycle racers on fancy bikes and wearing lycra, sunglasses and helmets. To me the idea that these organisations represent what we would recognise as daily cycling just seems to get lost.

The other reason any possible cycling revolution looks different to me is because Australian cities really are really challenging places to promote cycling. As an English cyclist I didn’t enjoy cycling much 30 years ago when I lived in Australia and I still find the city layouts and transport patterns alien. In the central business districts there are grid pattern roads around huge tall modern buildings. Wide multi-lane highways leading right across the cities.Adelaide Post office

And then there are the suburbs, spreading and sprawling over a huge footprint because of the amount of space commanded by both houses and the huge wide roads that links them and the many out of town shopping malls. Car use and car parking dominated every aspect of the streetscape then and it is much worse now. In Sydney that is worse because it is steeply hilly, and hot.

Tookak Road cycle lane

Because of the colonial heritage I know some people thought Australia would be a version of Britain or Europe, just a long way away. In transport terms Britain is the easy comparison to make: they speak English, they drive on the left and they have failed to grow cycling for 30 years. Pretty obvious really. But wrong.

To my eyes there is almost nothing European about this urban form, it seems to have shaped itself on similar lines to North American cities which have developed over a very similar time period. In much of Europe we constantly battle over space, here there is almost too much of it and the cities have run amok. The few cities we have like this are more likely to be in Eastern Europe than anywhere else.

So whenever you cycle on road in Australia you have to be able to cope with extended distances because of the urban sprawl and I had to cross or turn on big multi-lane highways several times on every ride, a process that varied from challenging to terrifying, in particular in Sydney.

Beecroft Road Pennant Hills Road cycling facility

That is an impossible for all but the brave and it strikes me that without comprehensive national or state strategies for junction management cycling in Australia will be forever stuck with just the most fearless of cyclists. The existing on-road cycle lane network is frankly worse than useless as I wrote here.

I’ll make just one final observation that I found seriously disturbing.

One of the most important motivations for getting people cycling and keeping them cycling is the fact that cycling makes you feel better. It is fun. It makes us smile. We know there are mental health benefits of cycling. We know that according to research the health benefits outweigh the risks by factors as much as 20:1.

But probably because of the compensation culture in Australia parts of the cycling world somehow seems to have let their lawyers squeeze the joy out of cycling.

Take this sign beside a beautiful, smooth, car-free cycle track.

Trail safety notice Williamstown

Or this wording on the web site of a cycling organisation.

Welcome

Whatever happened to joy, spontaneity, freedom……..?

And when the cycle helmet discussion flared up in the media in Adelaide I was astonished to see on television that instead of the usual trauma doctors that we always debate with the entire debate in favour of helmets was being conducted by accident compensation lawyers.

It was all deeply depressing.

So what do I conclude overall?

From this evidence promoting cycling as a mass activity in Australia looks like a doomed enterprise. The advocates are probably right, the cycle helmet compulsion that we Europeans see as a huge barrier is actually as more a symptom of an underlying culture where cycling is a sport and leisure activity operating in a suffocating legal climate.

One international expert at Velo-city was so frustrated by all the lycra, the helmets and the accepting attitude of the advocates he said to me “I give up on this country”.

I disagree. Against the background of cycling in Australia the change agents at all levels demand our respect, our support, maybe even our sympathy and certainly our encouragement because every bit of progress that they make to “normalise” cycling is a bigger victory than it would be almost anywhere else.

And it can be done. The new lanes are going into the centre of the cities despite the opposition. And almost at the end of my trip I went out to Sydney’s seaside suburb of Manly. I found bikes at the ferry terminal like at a European station. And I found a whole community of laid back people just pottering about on bikes, carrying surf boards and children and generally living a bike friendly life. No special clothing, almost no helmets.

Bikes at the Manly Ferry terminal lady cycling with dog in Manly Cyclist with child at Manly Cyclists in Manly

It was lovely, a breath of fresh air, a real cycling treasure. If here, why not everywhere in Australia? C’mon Australia, every cycling day could and should be like this.

I do not despair.

Cycling on freeways and major highways in Australia – Cycling for extremists?

M2 cycleway from above Sydney

This is the second of my “what were they thinking?” posts about cycling in Australia. In my last post I looked at cycling facilities that seemed to benefit absolutely nobody.

I have ridden on all sorts of roads and transport conditions over the years and I cannot say some of them were at all pleasant. But I have never seen cycle lanes for fanatics built into the cycling culture as they were here. So this is today’s subject.

I’ll start the post with some examples.

Sydney’s M2 Freeway cycle route

Look at the photo below. Perfectly normal picture in most countries of the world, the access to a major freeway. (motorway, autoroute etc.)

M2 Freeway Sydney

M2 freeway cycle path SydneyBut then as we were driving along an odd image caught my peripheral vision. I grabbed my camera because I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, apparently in the emergency lane was a cycle lane marker.

Not only that, further on there were signs clearly showing that this was an officially designated cycle route. I was stunned.

M2 Freeway crossing ramp sign

It wasn’t until the third or fourth time that I travelled that freeway I saw an even more unusual sight. Just in the distance I could see this tiny yellow dot.

M2 freeway Sydney with cyclist

And of course as we got closer it turned into a cyclist, the only one I saw on the route.

M2 freeway cyclist Sydney

On other train and cycling trips I crossed the M2 and I managed to capture some additional pictures of this remarkable cycle route along one of the busiest highways in Australia. I never did see another cyclist on it, yet later on I actually found it listed on the New South Wales cycle routes map and it is the very first listing on the Wikipedia page for Bike Paths in Sydney.

M2 cycleway at junction Sydney

I almost laughed out loud when I read the description of the M2 Hills Motorway route on that Wikipedia page. It said cyclists were “poorly served” by the route. That’s the kind of language Dutch cyclists use to describe a cycle lane that has a less than perfect surface. “Poorly served” does not mean “left exposed in conditions so frightening almost nobody dare use them”, except perhaps in the mind of this small group of Australian cyclists who just don’t see this as abnormal.

Melbourne’s magical mystery cycle lanes.

Sydney wasn’t alone in catering for cyclists on its major highways. Although the Victorian freeways were clearly cyclist free I did see similar “facilities” for cyclists on some of the other major multi-lane highways around Melbourne. Allied to this were some very odd cycle lanes on larger suburban multi-lane highways. I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what this marking is for, but it was relatively common on the sort of road where I would think no sensible cyclist would want to be.

Cycle lane marking Williamstown Melbourne

In one case the strange markings even existed in parallel to a segregated cycle way. Ok, “sporty” cyclists may have wanted to be on the smooth asphalt but why they needed a 2 metre occasional paint splash to tell them that I have no idea. So why?

Riding with the trucks on Sydney’s major highways

I was staying in the North Sydney suburb of Beecroft which gave me access to some great rides in the Sydney’s Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.

The only problem was that these suburbs are traversed by some of the most hostile roads I have ridden in years, even if I stayed off the M2. However it appears that others in Sydney regard these roads as perfectly cycleable, in fact there are encouraging “facilities” to make this possible.

Beecroft Road SydneyMy first experience was the access from Beecroft Road onto the Pennant Hills Highway.  Beecroft Road itself was pretty horrible, but it was the only realistic way out of where I was staying so I gritted my teeth and rode up it.

I was more encouraged when I got to my first junction because there was a warning sign for vehicles to look out for cyclists and then a cycle lane. Hopefully that meant better cycling on the other side because clearly this had been planned?

Beecroft Road Pennant Hills road junction

How innocent I was. Sydney readers will have got a clue from the photograph itself. This was a junction with Pennant Hills Road, one of the most unpleasant and unwelcoming roads in Sydney, six lanes of nose-to-tail commercial traffic.

Beecroft Road Pennant Hills Road cycling facility

Once I crossed that junction there was just nowhere to go except a six lane highway which was just horrible. I stayed only a few hundred metres before I took the first available turning off and reconsidered my options. I had no choice but to follow Pennant Hills Road for a short distance on a number of my rides and on each occasion I used the sidewalk (pavement) to get between junctions even though I was on a quality skinny-tyred road bike.  I later spoke to quite a few people and was told that almost all cyclists used the pavement, including group rides from Beecroft.

So why anyone felt it was worth putting a cycle lane on any junction that joins Pennant Hills Road I have no idea, clearly what was needed was some realistic guidance and help to get across and away from this monstrosity, not an invitation to ride?

I also mentioned Mona Vale Road in my write up on three great rides in Sydney. As well as having to cross Pennant Hills Road this was my main access to the fantastic West Head Road in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. It is a bit different to the other examples because this was recommended to me as a “popular cycling road” because “you always see cyclists up there”.

Mona Vale Road cycle path Sydney

It was actually the “no choice whatsoever” route because getting from Beecroft to the national park or the nearby bays and coast offers no alternatives for cyclists, cars or commercial vehicles. So of course we all go together. That’s sort of ok when there is a big wide safety lane on the left, although it’s not exactly enjoyable.

But when the lane just disappears, the only protection is a small sign and traffic is doing 100kmph past your elbow.

Watch for cyclists sign Mona Vale Road Sydney

Cyclist on Mona Vale Road SydneyI saw some cyclists and I slipstreamed one chap for a short while. He stopped just before I turned off and said “I turn back now”. I now realise that his choice of bike ride was to thrash up and down Mona Vale Road and he actually turned back just before the opportunity to ride an attractive, quiet car free route. I couldn’t do it, I would lose the will to live if that was one of my regular rides. The second time I cycled in this direction I got a lift to the start of my ride.

My final example doesn’t have any photographs.

At around 6am on a Saturday morning we got our final lift from Beecroft to Sydney’s international airport. It was pitch dark and overcast, not a great day.

As we moved along the main dual carriageway towards the airport around 7am we pulled over to pass a slow moving vehicle driving with flashing lights. In front of it was a group of cyclists clearly out on a training ride. Just nearby was another group precariously stopped by the roadside, this time without support vehicle. I had heard that some racing cyclists in Australia go to extraordinary lengths to get some training before the roads get busy. Now I had seen them in action. Absolutely terrifying. Apparently 7 riders were hurt in a collision with a car on one of these rides recently. I hope last Saturday’s riders did have somewhere better to go, and that they got there and back safely.

So in the immortal words of Marvin Gaye “What’s goin’ on?”

I spoke to cyclists in Melbourne and Sydney including advocates and sports cyclists as well as leisure riders. Nobody at all said they used the roads where cycling is combined with high speed traffic. In particular the M2 Freeway attracted a “no way” response. I know elsewhere in Sydney and Melbourne they are gradually building high quality segregated cycle routes, even along the major highways. In particular the cycle route that follows Sydney’s M7 freeway gets rave reviews for being high quality, well designed and entirely protected from vehicles.

Interestingly most cyclists I spoke to in Sydney said they knew people who did use the unpleasant routes and there are even cycling advocates who regard the M2 Freeway cycle route as an essential part of their commute. This had once been a segregated parallel route to the motorway but the segregation had been lost during road widening and other changes leaving only the emergency access lane. Some cyclists fought to keep use of it because the motorway actually provides one of the only fast, direct and relatively flat routes into the centre of Sydney. The alternative is apparently much slower and in their eyes more dangerous, but is extraordinary to me that advocates will campaign for a facility that is usable by just a tiny rump of the cycling community.

I have to say a tiny minority because cycling is not a major means of transport in Australia. Mode share in Sydney reaches 3% in some suburbs but overall is just 1%. There is a bigger recreational community but it is still small compared to many European countries. But within this group majority of people who cycled that I spoke to were not going to use the high speed routes. So the number of major highway users must be very small indeed.

Every time I think about this I am drawn back to an excellent analysis of cycle users and potential cycle users that came originally from Portland in the US. It is now widely used because many people in the cycling world believe it is a very useful indicator of people’s attitudes to cycling on a much wider basis.

Image courtesy of Bikes Belong

Image courtesy of Bikes Belong

According the analysis about 1% of cyclists will cycle under almost any conditions. They include many sports cyclists but also include urban warriors who handle challenging traffic anywhere in the world. A further 5-6% are enthusiastic about cycling and have the confidence to tackle a lot of different riding conditions so they will cope with vehicular cycling but prefer some provision.

Then there are the vast bulk of the population who actually have a positive or at least passive view about cycling. They would ride if conditions are safe, but generally they have concerns that must be dealt with before they will ride.

Now in here in Melbourne and especially in Sydney I have found that the fearless cyclists group has at its head another even smaller minority. We have a comparison in mountain biking, they are the extreme downhillers, doing stuff even the brave decline. If they were a Tour de France mountain they would be “Hors category” – beyond measurement.

I am sure in Sydney some would argue “we have no choice” and from what I saw of suburban North Sydney I would have some sympathy with that view. After 10 days I could only conclude it was one of the most unwelcoming cycling environments I have ever experienced. However these cycle lanes made absolutely no difference to that impression, so I have no idea why they exist and even less understanding of my public authorities were convinced that these cycle lanes were worth spending money on.

I cannot help but feel that any effort to incorporate extreme cycling into the highway system undermines the possibility that cycling could ever be treated as “normal”. Surely it competes directly with the great efforts being made elsewhere to create high quality infrastructure that can be used by 60% of the population, not 0.01%. Ihope that all the work we did at Velo-city in Adelaide has encouraged and inspired the people who are making the new cycling facilities because they really are working against an extremist cycling heritage that will take a lot of unravelling before cycling can be an enjoyable activity for the majority of people.

But it can be done!

Melbourne CBD cycle path

I Do Not Despair’s final musings on Adelaide, our Velo-city Global 2014 host.

Central Adelaide seen from the Torrens River

Time flies at Velo-city, and it goes even faster when we have to dash off for a tour of long neglected friends and relatives around Australia and New Zealand.

So before I am swamped by the hustle and bustle of Melbourne and Sydney here are my final visitor’s reflections on Adelaide.*  The most common description of Adelaide I hear from Australians is that Adelaide is “just a big country town” which is something of a put down from its big brash neighbours. But as a country boy myself that isn’t a put down, it’s a commendation.

There is undoubtedly a grain of truth in the description. At its heart Adelaide remains a very accessible and relatively relaxed city. Its design helps, the 19th century utopian layout with green spaces and a circular park around the compact central district create a nice atmosphere. That’s the impression I really remember from when I first went there in the 1980s, work trips that sometimes involved a weekend break in the city. The city is working incredibly hard to keep, or maybe recreate that feeling, as a modern liveable city with improvements to the city open spaces, pedestrian streets and eating quarters where people want to spend time. I liked it then and I liked it this time.

Veggie Velo Adelaide

There are also still quite a lot of those 19th and early 20th century buildings that we can call “colonial” style, from government buildings to churches, pubs and shops. They are unmistakeably Australian and a vital part of the city character.

 

Franklin Hotel Adelaide Hindley Street Adelaide

However these are somewhat swamped by the modern buildings that are allowed to dominate the skyline and create the impression of much narrower streets, especially on the gloomier days.

Adelaide Post office Haighs Chocolates at the Beehive Adelaide

Biggest shock of all was to see the Adelaide Oval dominating the banks of the River Torrens to the North. I recall a traditional green painted cricket ground that nestled into the parkland and was an attractive companion to the nearby cathedral. Now it is a monster, but one that attracts up to 70,000 footie fans (Australian Rules Football) every weekend and is a major contributor to the city economy. As a fan I like these great cathedrals of sport, however I have to say that it just seemed a bit intrusive compared to what I remember.

Adelaide Oval and Adelaide cathedral Adelaide Oval at Night

The cycling environment reflected the city.

There is a huge amount of space for cycling and it would be so easy to grab a lane in most streets but at the moment that is not a political reality. The city Mayor and the state government of South Australia both understand the need to do something about the impact of cars on the city and to deliver the liveable city they want. But with big wide streets and low traffic levels compared to many other cities the imperative for change in travel behaviour isn’t there yet. The one segregated cycle lane in the centre lane has yet to be completed due to the anti-cycling pressure, but there are at least other facilities which can act as the forerunners for change.

Adelaide cycling Cycling Adelaide

I found it quite easy to ride most of the time and I think the traffic really wasn’t especially aggressive compared to many other cities I have ridden in. And the traffic levels really were very light, except for a brief burst in rush hour and the hours after the footie on a Saturday night.

However the huge roads with multiple lanes did make it almost impossible to work out how to turn right and I spent frustrating amounts of time stuck at traffic lights which made progress painfully slow. Some of our colleagues from countries that have superb infrastructure found it intimidating and it certainly isn’t conducive to nervous cyclists because of the difficult junctions.

Bike brekkie sea of lycraConfirming that impression the cycling levels were apparently low and completely dominated by sporty looking cyclists. You can see from my photos that I hardly ever had a cyclist as a backdrop. It was autumnal and rainy on some days – but none?  At the weekend along the Torrens there were lots of families but even in the city the number of riders in day clothes was almost non-existent. The mass ride for Velo-city was called the Bike Brekkie Ride and was meant to attract the city cycling community. If the turnout was typical it showed that the city really doesn’t have an underlying daily cycling culture.

Mayor and CEO of Adelaide on the Bike Brekkie RideThe Mayor and the Adelaide City CEO almost stood out in their day clothes. I was riding along in my shirt and jacket and felt like I had completely met the brief “to stand out in the crowd”, I even attracted comments to that effect.

And the cycle helmets really, really do not help. It is almost impossible in my mind to remove the “warrior” impression portrayed by almost cyclist I saw just because they were forced to wear a plastic lid. Normalised cycling remains a bit of leap of faith at the moment, it is going to take a lot more efforts to get to that point. However the sport and leisure base is strong so that should give confidence that there is an underlying demand waiting to be tapped.

On balance I would say that Adelaide is meeting the challenge of modernity and liveability in a way that I can really identify with. For those that know their British cities it reminds me of Cardiff – with many of the amenities and lifestyle options of a capital city but in a manageable package. I lived happily in Cardiff for 10 years so I could certainly do the same in Adelaide and it was a great place for a visit.

If the on line chatter after Velo-city is anything to go by so did our many other visitors.

*There are numerous reflections and commentaries on the Velo-city conference itself on other sources. I have linked to a number of them from my Twitter account  @maynekevin and our ECF web site has a daily summary on our news pages here

Some of my other favourites are the Australian ones by Steven Fleming ; Bicycles network and ABC television.

Adelaide town hall welcomes velo-city

 

 

Coffee and cycling? Bikes and baristas in Adelaide to kick off Velo-city 2014

Bikes and Baristas

My kind of place.

Off to the distinctly hip East End of Adelaide for a coffee at the “Bikes and baristas” Saturday event as part of Velo-fringe.

And joy – a bike jumble. Old bike bits, renovations, upgrades, fixies and lots of steel bikes.

Bikes and Baristas street Market Velo-city 2014 Adelaide

Sadly luggage limitations stop me cashing in. (And the watchful eye of my travelling companion). Indeed I might have made a killing with my personal collection of 1960s and 1970s European cycling rubbish had I but known.

But a very cool start to the week if you like that kind of thing. .And great coffee!

Bike sale Bikes and Baristas Adelaide Velo-city 2014 Bicycle jumble sale Velo-city 2014 Adelaide

Velo-city Global: Taipei on the rise

A copy of an article I have just written for the ECF web site.

Original article here with better formatting

Cycling Taipei riverside pathsThe Velo-city Global series of cycling conferences took a big step forward last Friday, 7th March 2014. As the countdown for Velo-city Global 2014 in Adelaide began, ECF’s managing team traveled to Taipei to attend the first workshop leading up to the next Velo-city Global in 2016. ECF Director of Development, Kevin Mayne, explains how the Velo-city series can transform Taipei, promote inter-city exchange and push for a holistic improvement in cycling conditions. 
ECF President Manfred Neun

ECF President Manfred Neun

The first workshop in Taipei was a unanimous success.  As ECF President Manfred Neun pointed out: “Our new partners in Taipei are not only keen to develop cycling in their city but they have shown they want to work with cities everywhere. Each Velo-city conference benefits from being part of a family, I have talked to many people who say they are afraid to miss one because the content is evolving so fast. The Taipei delegation to Adelaide will now be part of that strong momentum.”

It certainly appears that Adelaide and Taipei will have a lot to talk about together and to share with colleagues from around the globe. Both are “climber cities” in cycling terms, working their way up from relatively low mode shares to establish cycling as mainstream mode of transport. However both have developed a strong leisure and sport cycling base in recent years that gives encouragement that there is a pent up demand for cycling.

Taipei’s strengths showed at the workshop

Collaboration: At this first event the city already attracted support from the Commissioners for Transport for the six largest cities in Taiwan, representing a population of over 16 million people. ECF’s Manfred Neun set out a ten point cycling agenda for them to consider over the next two years which could return the human dimension to transport in any city. Also speaking was Lloyd Wright from the Asian Development Bank giving a strong regional perspective and two well-known Taiwanese figures from ECF’s academic network “Scientists for Cycling” Professors Jason Chang of National Taiwan University and Hsin Wen Chang of Chung Hua University.

ECF Secretary General and Velo-city series Director Bernhard Ensink with Jason Chang Hsin and Wen Chang from the cities panel

ECF Secretary General and Velo-city series Director Bernhard Ensink with Jason Chang Hsin and Wen Chang from the cities panel

Commitment: This workshop was only the first in a series of events in the two year run up to Velo-city 2016. It was launched by the Mayor Hau Lung-Bin and well backed by his team and the large cities. The city also seems determined to show what it can do in the transport sector as it already has a very successful mass Rapid Transit (MRT or metro) and has achieved what few others have done in providing a single ticketing system for all its public transport including the fast growing Youbike public bike sharing system. These were political commitments driven from the top.
Strong political will: This workshop and many more to come are launched by Mayor Hau Lung-Bin and well backed by his team and the large cities

Strong political will: This workshop and many more to come are launched by Mayor Hau Lung-Bin and well backed by his team and the large cities

Industry leaders push for more leisure cycling…

Collaboration and commitment also sum up some of the cycling achievements of Taipei and indeed the whole of Taiwan in recent years. Up to 10 years ago the flagship of Taiwanese cycling was its world leading bicycle manufacturing sector but industry figures recognised that a lack of a cycling culture in home markets was undermining their capacity to “learn by doing”.

The first developments were partnerships in leisure and tourism with a mix of cycle touring routes, riverside cycle paths, mass participation rides and visible leadership by the top companies such as Giant. All this was a close collaboration with cities, tourism authorities and other public bodies. A national cycling master plan was created to support this change.

…but Velo-city is a opportunity to crystallize measures and coordinate change

Daily cycling is however a very different challenge but it is now one that the six cities seem committed to take on board with Taipei and the largest city of the south Kaohsiung in the vanguard.

The usual concerns of budget, space and safety were all highlighted at the workshop. They are all facing a real challenge of where to put their cycling infrastructure because the instinct is to grab space from the pavements and share space with pedestrians. In many places the sidewalks are broad enough to accommodate cycle paths but there is some way to go in public education for it to succeed.

Taipei cycling achievements

-In the last year cycling mode share in Taipei is up 30% to 5.5%, a figure many European capital cities still cannot match.

-The Youbike bike sharing is hitting usage figure that match with the world’s best, over 10 uses per bike per day.

-Almost uniquely for a low mode share city the cycling revolution in Taipei is female. Elsewhere in the world climber cities struggle to attract women cyclists until they have created safe segregated cycle networks. In Taipei women are 50% of the cycling population and a majority of Youbike users.

-Noticeably helmet wearing levels are low. This suggests a younger generation of women don’t feel intimidated as they make cycling part of their daily lives. Middle aged men in lycra (MAMILS) they are not.

From Taipei to Adelaide: Infrastructure and other hot trends in cycling policy

What has pushed their thinking toward using pavements is not just cars. Like so many other Asian cities -and even some European ones- it is scooter culture that has been the response of the population to both congestion and limited incomes. On Taipei’s streets this is a highly challenging environment for the nervous cyclist. ECF gently encouraged our hosts to be bolder and think about taking space from cars, not pedestrians.

lady cyclist and scootersThe mix of fast moving traffic on broad streets presents the other lesson that Taipei will want to learn and share with cities all over the world – junction design for cyclists. The latest thinking in infrastructure development is always a hot topic at Velo-city, Adelaide will just be the next step in an ongoing debate. In Taipei now most cyclists cross with pedestrians using the walk signals at traffic lights but the conflicts and accidents remain high. In ECF’s presentations and other speakers’ comments the successes of the Netherlands, Copenhagen and New York were mentioned as case studies for comparison

Our trip to Taipei was summed up by ECF’s Secretary General who is also Velo-city Series DirectorBernhard Ensink said “Velo-city series is in good hands, we have groups of cities with strong ambitions and distinct identities in Adelaide, Nantes and Taipei. Our new partner Taipei is already thinking hard about its agenda and will send a strong delegation to Adelaide. I am really looking forward to working with them all.”

Schönbrunn Palace, summer palace of the Hapsburgs

Gardens Schonbrun Vienna Schonbrun Palace Vienna

If you read this blog regularly you might anticipate that all I did in Vienna on my is cycle, think about cycling, talk about cycling – and eat.

Not true! It is a pretty special city of course in its own right with an extraordinary heritage of the various versions of the Austrian empires. However I have always been so busy with the cycling blog posts I hardly get round to publishing the tourist photos.

Time rectify the balance a bit.

On the day after Velo-city my wife and I made our way out to Schönbrunn, summer palace of the Hapsburgs in the Vienna suburbs. According to Wikipedia it is the most visited attraction in Vienna, I went there last year as well and thoroughly enjoyed it so I was keen to go again which is quite unusual for me.The audio tour and other materials give a good feeling of the various royals who lived there and wrap them up with the history of this enormous empire at its peak. Inside it is just extraordinary opulence, outside it is all about scale.Gloriette Schonbrun Vienna

This time it was hot and sticky so the gardens and courtyards were blazing but the gardens looked great. No photography allowed inside so this post is just a short gallery of the outside including the views across the gardens to Maria Theresa’s Gloriette looking down on us and the more secluded spaces like the orange garden.

Oranges at Schonbrun Orangerie Schonbrun

Thanks Vienna – you were looking great for Velo-city #VC13

Thank you Vienna

Almost time to finish, but all the delegates seem to agree that they saw a new Vienna this week. Bike culture on the streets, but even the historic urban architecture was looking particularly spruce.

It was for me! Last time I was here we were swaddled up against late spring cold, now we saw an outdoor city, a lively city, stunning weather after the rain of the early week.

Danke

Radcorso – stunning night in Vienna with 5000 cycling friends at #VC13

Radcorso Vienna Photography team

Intrepid ECF photographer Chloe trusted me enough to let me pilot the cargobike around Vienna last night for a fantastic evening of bikes, of sights, of scenery and the fellowship of the wheel.IMG_1541

She captured hundreds of shots which will take some sorting, but suffice to say we had a ball. Over 1000 delegates were joined by nearly 4000 local riders for a great evening out, part festival, part bike ride.

Hard to believe it is almost over for another year, but there will be a rich repository of blog material for the next few weeks! (And lots, lots more on Twitter, follow me on @maynekevin and #VC13 for the Velo-city coverage)

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